Dragon's Dogma is a game without a heart. On one level, that's a pun.
After a brief prologue, you create your character and are soon forced to watch as the eponymous dragon casually digs its claw into your chest and plucks out your heart like a pit from an olive. Your job is to reclaim it.
Capcom's ambitious new roleplayer is made valuable by its combat. Climbing on a chimera's back to hack away at one of its many heads doesn't need to make sense, it only needs to thrill you, and it does.
If, like a lot of RPG gamers, you have a taste for risk and reward, try not to give in to temptation too early. Bravery is often met with death after brutal death, as if the game is trying to steer you away from taking premature chances and fighting above your station. That's fine sometimes, but you are obliged to drop your adventurous instincts and play a reasonably linear game for longer than you might want to. For a game with so many tantalising locations and opportunities to explore by day and night, it is a cruel hand that slaps you down.
Dragon's Dogma offers a masterclass in how to do hit-and-miss sound, with the soundtrack alternating the usual orchestral tunes with some fist-pumping metal, as an imaginary game based on Manowar might do.
The dialogue is less impressive, sounding like the dumped cuts from a sword-and-sorcery audition reel, and it's really half-arsed olde English to boot.
If you're playing on Xbox, install the game to your hard drive to sidestep some playability issues, like battles freezing up, or your pawns reacting in shock to the arrival of enemies many moments before the game loads them up.
Fortunately, the pawns' artificial intelligence in combat is much better. They won't save your backside every time but if you recruit well, your chances of sidestepping annihilation are altered quite favourably.
Back to that pun: Dragon's Dogma could have been a Skyrim beater, but it lacks the heart to go all the way. It's a huge game - your adventure will outlast the dragon itself - but it begs you to give it a chance despite its failure to feel real, or even complete.
Clench your jaw and give it a try. The longer you stick with it, the more likely you'll come away with a sense of satisfaction.
Platform: XBOX 360, also on PS3