This is a Japanese role-playing game that's trying to appear Western, and at first glance that makes it look hopelessly bland - compelling you to traipse around a dull-green world fighting goblins and ogres with swords and magic. Don't be fooled: this is one of the most interesting, exciting games we've played in years.
Get lost at night, and the reserved visual style suddenly makes sense. It gets dark at night, and you can barely see a thing. You can hear things, though. Nasty things. You did remember to bring extra oil for that lantern, right?
Modern RPGs always talk about danger, but very few have the balls to follow through. Caves are a place where you go to find treasure, and monsters are something you kill for XP. The Western obsession with smooth progression has left much of the genre feeling like an unexciting plod, but Dragon's Dogma does something different.
When you first head out into the wilderness of Gransys, you'll be ill-equipped, weak, and you'll probably get killed. Characters will tell you not to travel at night, and advise you to stick close to the roads. Caves do contain treasure, yes, but usually death as well. Dragon's Dogma is a ruthless reminder that too many fantasy games have lost their sense of adventure.
You'll set off on a quest at the crack of dawn, in the hope of reaching your destination before the sun sets. When it starts to get dark, you'll be faced with tough choices. The forest to your left looks like it might be a shortcut, but you've got no idea what's lurking in there. Quick-travel is only possible with rare single-use items, which gives every journey a real sense of tension. There are friendly faces out there, but you'll have to find where. In the meantime, don't be too quick to trust distant campfires.
The game's visual style won't initially impress, but the subtle attention to detail will. The magical effects and animations are superb, creating some of most impressive monsters we've ever seen. The source material might not be original, but the execution is absolutely top-notch. Skyrim's dragons can naff off.
There's a sense of physicality to the game that reminds us of last year's excellent Dark Souls. There are no invisible walls to stop you rolling off a cliff, and you can also jump around and climb up stuff. Fast assassin types will unlock double-jumping, while mages can learn to levitate. Oh, and you can also pick up strangers for no reason, and throw them around for your own entertainment.
The combat feels weighty and physical too, with giant beasts that you can climb up and stab, and smaller enemies that you can knock over, pick up, and then throw off a cliff. There are a variety of different strategies for handling each type of foe you'll meet, and even after 30 hours of fighting the same enemies you'll see battles unfold in ways that still feel like a surprise.
The combat can get repetitive at times, but there's so much to try that it's rarely a problem. You can switch between classes really easily, and there are nine different ones to master. By the end of the game we'd maxed out three, and while all of the skills don't transfer across, the awesome stat-boosting augments do. Each class handles combat in a totally different way, and access impressive skills as you level them up. Warrior types will master combo-style combat, while magic classes steer towards epic destructive spells. Choosing the right pawns to support you here is vital - the awesome top-level Sorcerer spells take ages to cast, so you'll want strong protection while you're warming things up.