Dragon's Dogma is an open-world role-playing game created by those who have worked on Capcom's biggest titles, including Resident Evil. While traditional on the surface, it offers exciting battles with climbable monsters, challenging combat and the ability to command and share party members online.
From the outset, Dragon's Dogma doesn't appear to be the most individual of role-playing games, from its charmingly rustic but somewhat uninspired visual style, to a familiar story of an awakened dragon terrorising the world.
But what makes it stand out is a unique party system that's smartly interwoven throughout all of the game's systems - from combat to exploration - as well as the tantalising prospect of taking on mythical beasts up close and personal.
Scaling massive monsters and surviving sneaky ambushes
Dragon's Dogma's most standout moments are against powerful beasts that require teamwork and a careful approach to defeat. The size difference of the dragons, chimeras and trolls compared to your hero means you'll need to scale them in order to stand a chance.
While an immediate comparison is Shadows of the Colossus, instead of directed hikes across massive limbs, in Dragon's Dogma you can freely start climbing and begin hacking away instantly to wear them down.
Not only is it as fun as it sounds, but targeting specific areas, like one of the many heads of a chimera for example, means you can weaken them permanently and improve your chances of winning.
Climbing isn't a foolproof strategy, though; despite their size, beasts can be very reactive to your presence, and will be eager to try and shake you away. Certain creatures will even perform a body slam into the ground, crushing and killing you instantly, requiring you to have a little more forethought before blindly climbing on board.
When it comes to combat with foes more your size, whether they be orcs, zombies or harpies, a fair comparison would be to Dark Souls. While your attacks are faster and more varied, and it's not nearly as punishing, it requires similar levels of caution and forethought, whether it be with holding up a shield when exploring new areas, checking corners for ambushes or the risk of being exposed to flanking attacks in wide skirmishes.
Pawns provide a helping hand in exploring dungeons
A key difference to combat, however, are Pawns; a team of three non-controllable party members that can be hired to fight with you in combat and help explore dungeons, and prove to be the real meat of Dragon's Dogma.
The intelligence and behaviour in any game is always an uncertain and worrying prospect, but the Pawns of Dragon's Dogma appear to be an invaluable tool in helping you survive and explore the world. While you can only provide basic orders, it's very impressive that they can perform a number of helpful roles without any direct commands.
In battle, they're more than capable at fighting off enemies and healing themselves of their own accord, and smartly target the weaknesses of larger enemies. Having a class diverse party is key, and Pawns make good use of their individual strengths.
If you're playing as a close-quarters warrior and you're up against flying beasts, for example, other Pawns will engineer a number of ways to bring them down to your level, from firing arrows or even physically pinning them down and shouting for you to lay down the final kill.
Outside of battle, micro-management is kept to a minimum as they happily walk around and collect loose items they can use - from dropped loot to picking berries off trees - and actively point out other routes for you to consider. Also, Pawns actively learn more about specific areas and monsters as the game progresses, aiding future encounters.
Your own custom entourage that can be shared with the world
You'll have a permanent Pawn with you at all times, born out of the same character creator that you use at the start of the game, allowing you to create a companion who aesthetically and tactically will be of personal value to you.
Others, meanwhile, are randomly generated and appear in taverns, towns and roads as you travel around the world, giving you a regular opportunity to mix and match your party (and recruit them again later) if you so wish.
But what's most interesting is that you can also hire Pawns downloaded online, whether they're made by personal friends or by some of the world's most talented players. Facebook sharing allows you to request certain Pawns or even show off your own creations.
If you make a custom Pawn that other players download for their own journey, you'll receive gold as reward, providing an incentive to create powerful and unique characters, and could potentially create player-fuelled marketplace not unlike Forza's custom liveries.
The adventure itself ticks all the boxes from what you'd expect from a big-budget role-playing game, with fully-voiced characters to interact with, sprawling cities with dozens of backstreets to explore, and a diverse set of sidequests to delve into - from clearing local ruins of monsters to chatting your way through local travels to investigate local cults.
There's no doubt that Dragon's Dogma is entering a competitive space with the likes of Skyrim and The Witcher 2 readily available, but thanks to its clever and capable Pawn system - one that we can't wait to see evolve when players start sharing their own creations - and some scene-stealing monster encounters, there's more than enough to be excited over when it launches next month.
Dragon's Dogma will be released for Xbox 360 and PS3 in North America on May 22 and across Europe on May 25, and comes with a free demo of Resident Evil 6.