Just when we thought The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim and Dark Souls had tied up our next twelve months of fantasy RPGing with a neat little bow, Capcom had to go and announce a project that has clouded our crystal ball somewhat.
Not that we're complaining - the Japanese studio has been busy farming out almost every major IP it owns to external studios, so it's encouraging to see an all-new project as ambitious as Dragon's Dogma seems to be emerging from the company's inner folds.
The game's positively bursting with promise. It's a pure blend of Capcom's Monster Hunter and Lost Planet, and sees one nameless hero on a crusade across vast ancient lands to hunt down a malevolent dragon. So far, so brain-shrinkingly obvious. But on the other hand, while most RPGs would be content with throwing you up against goblins, orcs and the odd towering troll along the way, Dragon's Dogma has far greater ambitions...
Yes, there will be packs of small beasties to slay, but Dogma's most exciting can-we-pre-order-yet feature involves scrapping with towering monsters such as giant griffins and mountainous hydrae. In similar titles you would usually run around these creatures' feet, stabbing toothpick swords into their ankles to slowly ebb away at their humongous health bars.
And in all those games there would be a massive disconnect between the supposedly awesome battle and your actual, feeble actions onscreen.
Dragon's Dogma is different. Capcom's looked to Shadow of the Colossus to see how leviathan fights should be done, and in doing so they've crafted a dynamic combat system which we're eager to try out for ourselves. Play as a mel?e fighter and you can sprint into battle and grab hold of your monster adversaries. Once there you can clamber and shimmy your way over and around the bucking beasts, clawing at tufts of fur and body as you angle yourself into a striking position.
Like Team Ico's numerous colossi the monsters all have weak points hidden on certain areas of the body. Half the battle is spent shuffling to these spots while the fiend's thrashing around in protest. Make it to these areas and you'll be able to circumvent armoured flanks to deal massive damage and fell legendary creatures in record time.
Taking on monsters by climbing over their exterior means combat will prove to be as much of a puzzle as it is an exercise in hacking and, for that matter, slashing. Each creature type boasts unique anatomies to ensure every battle is different, and if Capcom's smart they'll chuck in a few skyscraper-sized legendary foes to fully harness the Shadow of the Colossus vibe.
A 360 Monster Hunter is something we've been after for a long while (our lucky Japanese counterparts have had Monster Hunter Frontier for over a year now) and Dragon's Dogma could well satisfy that craving. Rolling hills teeming with lusus naturae (that's Latin for... er, hang on, let us Google it) feel like modern day takes on Hyrule Field - only this time around there are countless things to keep you occupied while you navigate the world.
You don't always have to grab the crampons and start climbing on your enemies either: if hanging back and firing off spells and flaming arrows is more your style, Dragon's Dogma will oblige. There will of course be plenty of side-quests to seek out along the way. Towns and cities are home to dozens - hundreds, even - of NPCs and you can bet your bag of rupees that many of them will beg you to undertake slaying and fetch 'em quests for small rewards.
Venturing out into this hostile world isn't advisable without backup. Fortunately you needn't go it alone. In a very Monster Hunter-esque move you fight the good fight alongside three other characters. So far all the official talk regarding your party has been limited to AI partners - Japanese mag Famitsu claims one of your companions will be an NPC you encounter in your own world, while two more will be NPCs 'borrowed' from other players connected to Capcom's servers.
But as almost every other Capcom game now boasts co-op campaigns we'd be stunned if you couldn't ditch AI fighters for real players. Given that Monster Hunter and Lost Planet are built for co-op it'd be barmy for Capcom to limit Dogma's online interactions to simply pilfering NPC allies from friends' games.
Regardless of whether you play with friends or AI companions, the mix of immediately gratifying combat and dense questing is likely to please fans of both action-adventure and traditional RPG genres. It's no wonder the Japanese giant has been tasking external studios with furthering their Resident Evil, Dead Rising and Devil May Cry brands: Dragon's Dogma's impressive reveal hints at a franchise with the potential to rise to somewhere near the top of the Capcom IP pile.
Throwing all available bodies at a project this bold makes perfect sense. A successful console-lite World of Warcraft-meets-Shadow of the Colossus hybrid could well result in one of the richest pay-offs in Capcom's lengthy history. We'll be following this one... dogmatically...