Devil May Cry 5 – Exclusive First Hands-on Preview

I was lucky enough to play Devil May Cry 5 at this year’s Gamescom. While I’m more familiar with Bayonetta, (I enjoyed what I’ve played with previous Devil May Cry games), I quickly got into the swing of things and saw the method behind the madness. There seems to be a few tools to help new people join in the fun, but it looks like fans of the franchise will get a bang out of this.

While the demo did not touch on story that much, you’ll know what’s going on pretty quickly. Several years after Devil May Cry 4, a giant demonic tree has grown in the middle of Red Grave City- a place that is sure to look familiar if you have ever been to London.

This tree has allowed all manner of nasty demons to pour out, just in time for Nero’s demon hunting agency to lend a hand. Speaking of, Nero’s demonic arm Devil Bringer has been sliced off by a mysterious figure. Nero now has Devil Breaker, a robotic arm built by Nico, the granddaughter of Nell Goldstein, the creator of Dante’s Ebony and Ivory pistols.

Throughout the demo, the giant tree is always looming in the distance, and the whole city is torn up by giant roots running through it. Along the broken ground and buildings there are petrified husks of people frozen in place like something out of Pompeii.

There was not a living creature in sight save for the demons running around. While the area I started in merely looked abandoned after a riot, the further I progressed the more ruined the city had become. Even the ground had sunk or risen several stories due to the giant roots stitched into everything.

It seems the tree is acting as more than just a battering ram to open the human world to demons. During the demo, Nero runs into a giant demon called Goliath. The beast says he wants to become the new ruler of the underworld.

After a church-ruining boss battle and dodging fiery debris sucked up and spat out by the beast’s second mouth, it says “The fruit is mine, I will rule the Underworld, not him!” While Nero seemed more focused on finding who has his arm, it seems there’s something afoot beyond the end of the world.

The gameplay should sound familiar to those who have played past Devil May Cry games and similar genres.  You have a single attack button that can perform different combos depending on when you pause during a string of attacks.

Locking onto a target while inputting a direction and an attack lets you launch foes into the air, slam them into the ground, or lunge towards them. You also have a gun that you can mash to keep a combo going, or hold down for a bigger blast. One last old-trick has a new twist. Taunting (which increases your stylish ranking) can now be done mid-air.

Nero’s Red Queen motorbike-engine-sword also makes a return from Devil May Cry 4. The player can “rev” the blade via the Exceed mechanic. Either revving up the blade or doing so just after an attack hits to fill a meter. This then covers the sword in fire and increases the damage of attacks, and can even add additional hits to specific attacks.

By revving just after an attack connects, the Exceed gauge can be fully filled. This gives you something else to consider while fighting in order to maximize your ranking. That combined with the timing of hits to make different combos would be enough for most, but there is one more layer.

The main new trick is the Devil Breaker – Nero’s mechanical arm. It acts like a heavy attack that ends a combo. This mechanical arm can also be over-loaded, creating a more powerful attack at the cost of breaking the arm. Nero has access to different kinds of arms- two during the demo- and each arm attacks differently.

Overture for example creates large electrical blasts, and when overloaded can be attached to enemies like a sticky-bomb and detonated early by shooting it. Gerbera hurls Nero through the air and extends aerial combos, or can be overloaded to shoot a massive laser- or many smaller ones that ricochet if used in the air.

The above ties into the fact you cannot choose to switch your arms. The arm has to be destroyed. By overloading it, getting attacked while it is overloading, or using a Break Away- tearing it off yourself and hurling it at a foe as a sort of “emergency escape” from attacks. While it sounds restrictive at first, I eventually understood the methodology.

While each arm has “ammo”, you can usually find plenty of spare arms lying around. Though enemies can destroy these pick-ups if they touch them first, it seems you have plenty of ammo to get high ranks (outside of deliberately sabotaging yourself).

Rather than use the weapon you like over and over again, you are forced to use all the arms as you cycle through them. It becomes another thing to master. Knowing what your current and next arm will do, and when you want to use the next one or unleash a powerful attack with your current one.

Nero also has a wire he can use to pull non-large enemies towards him. This lets players extend combos more than ever before. While it sounds overpowered to be constantly juggling an enemy, encounters always featured several enemies.

While a little sluggish (as expected for a demo of presumably an early level) they were smart enough to not walk into my attacks and attempt to attack me from other angles while I was wailing on their friend.

The game also features “auto-assist” so you can pull off unique combos even when mashing the attack button. I used this for a little bit and I can see how it can help players focus on learning how to use the Devil Breaker and Exceed mechanics while attacking, before learning how to pull off the various combos and launchers.

It will not be necessary for those familiar with games like this, but it is a nice touch for those who are new to these style of games. The game did reduce my final score by x 0.8. I am not sure if this is too little for how helpful it is, or too harsh considering the toggle is also set to the camera controls and could theoretically be hit accidentally.

The game looks great, and I never encountered any lag or dropped frames. Red Grave City looks exactly like London with its mixture of older Gothic style buildings and modern skyscrapers. They even got smaller details right like road markings.

Sparks and explosions look gorgeous, and light produced by sources like this create accurate changes to light and shadow. Debris knocked around by larger enemies seems to bounce around fairly realistically based on the weight they should have and what is knocking them aside.

The game also keeps its style the series is famous for. The “rule of cool” is back with a vengeance. As players do better in battle, their stylish rank goes up. There is a little more incentive this time, as dynamic music adds more layers to the music that is playing for that battle.

The rank letter even pulses like sub-woofer while visualized sound waves fluctuate behind it in time to the music. It seems you will have to be the best of the best to get the full musical experience however.

For example, I only got some of the vocals for Devil Trigger even at S rank. I was hoping that A or S rank would give you the full sound-track version, while higher ranks would have had additional features. Then again, encouraging you to get the highest ranks is the meat of games like this.

A lovely little touch is how the HUD looks like broken glass, and images behind it refract and warp like you would expect. It looks fantastic and clearly a lot of work went into it for something so minor to make a big impact.

There are other touches to small things as well. Using a traditional UK phone-booth to call on Nico’s shop, and getting a cutscene of her van hurtling through the air to get to you. Instead of a key for a door, you get a Niddhogg Larvae to make giant roots rot and explode. Dead people petrified crumbling to ash and blown away by the breeze as you so much walk into them.

While Nero seems to have gotten his new haircut from Ninja Theory’s DMC, he’s as cocky as Dante and happily taunts his enemies with a swagger in his step and not a hair out of place. He’s a lot more brutal on the put-downs than Dante, but he still has an overflowing confidence that never oversteps into being juvenile or edgy like “Donte” was.

One moment he casually steps out of an ambulance after being hit by it, the next he’s calling a two story demon who has hopes of becoming the next ruler of the underworld a “knuckle scraping fart in the wind”. Nero will even banter with bosses during battles with them, as the boss’s confidence slowly turns to anger and then concern as their health is whittled down.

The demons I saw in the demo looked a lot more savage and fetid than compared to the last game, but seemed to lack that creative spark. They felt like they fit better into DMC than past Devil May Cry games. While this just may be personal preference, the enemies I saw during the demo I almost dare say looked generic.

Rotting scythe carrying humanoids and smaller twitchy fly-like creatures. This is almost made up for with the boss, Goliath. Sure it is a giant monster with two curly horns and black shaggy fur, but the giant maw in its stomach, black jagged scales, and multitude of eyes made it feel a little closer to what I was expecting.

Overall, Devil May Cry 5 is shaping up to be the sequel we wanted after the fourth game. It is stylish, funny, and packed with deep combat mechanics to make mastering it all the more satisfying. The missteps are minor and I have high hopes the full game is going to pull that trigger fans have been begging for.

Devil May Cry 5 is coming to PC, PlayStation 4, and Xbox One on March 8th 2019.



Ryan was a former Niche Gamer contributor.

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