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Phil Larsen
06 Apr, 2007

The Elder Scrolls IV: Shivering Isles Review

360 Review | Cool your hot temper with a shivering island song.
A console with a hard drive is like a wheelchair with a jet engine. Sure, the Xbox 360 may not have the largest of drives, but it’s certainly more than capable of handling hefty expansions – an aspect of console games now implemented with ease. Bethesda ploughed ahead and created the first “official” expansion to their role-playing masterpiece Oblivion, entitled Elder Scrolls IV: Shivering Isles. Adding dozens of hours of gameplay and weighing in at 994MB and 2400 Microsoft Points, it should be high on the digital list of any RPG fan.

It’s easy to set up – charge the expansion to your Points account, start the download – then go eat an Eskimo Pie or something. It will take a long time download, but once finished it’s a simple matter of popping in your original Oblivion disc and loading up an old save, or starting a new game entirely. Once loaded, a new quest message will appear informing you of a mysterious door being opened in Niben Bay, near Bravil. Surprise surprise, this is the gateway to the Shivering Isles, an archipelago bent on madness with the aptly-named regions Mania and Dementia.

Shivering Isles doesn’t revamp or revolutionise any part of the core Oblivion engine we’ve been playing for over a year. Every aspect of the presentation and gameplay is largely identical, save for the fact that it’s an entirely new land mass to explore. This may cause disappointment in some gamers, who have long since conquered the land of Cyrodil and are looking for a grand new concept of Elder Scrolls, but most will just be happy with the extra content. It’s an expansion, priced and distributed accordingly – don’t venture forth expecting Elder Scrolls V.

Mania is far more dangerous than it looks.

Mania is far more dangerous than it looks.
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The Shivering Isles is an area roughly one fifth the size of the original Oblivion world, and contains plenty to see and do. The main quest involves the Court of Madness recognising your character’s superior abilities, and inviting you to New Sheoth on invitation from Sheogorath, the Daedric Prince of Madness. The Isles are in peril from the advancing Greymarch, and it’s up to you to save the day and rise to the rank of Madgod (with an additional ten Xbox Live Achievements and 250 points to be gained along the way). The true motivations of Sheogorath are somewhat unknown – as the name implies, he is quite literally insane, and constantly confuses himself and everyone around him with bizarre speech. In fact, most citizens of the towns are somewhat addled, and this may lead to some frustration with vague speeches and baffling quests.

Both the Mania and Dementia areas are equally deadly (and the in-game tips will be quick to warn you in this regard before making decisions), and the opposition between the two sides (particularly in the capital New Sheoth, where Golden Saints and Dark Seducers are forced to live alongside each other) makes for some very interesting quest ideas. In the same way you became champion of all the guilds in Cyrodil, regardless of differing cultures and ideals, you will manipulate both sides of insanity in Shivering Isles to achieve your end goal.

As is typical with Elder Scrolls gameplay, you aren’t bound to complete any particular task. Simply explore for hours, uncovering the many hidden caves and dwellings of various Isle inhabitants, or head straight to the main palace and put your questing power to the ultimate test. Most of the effort seems to have gone into the world itself – new spells, enemies, weapons – but the overall experience remains the same. If anything, Shivering Isles contains higher dungeon-to-town ratio, meaning many quests will involve delving deep underground to achieve objectives.

I wish he brought chocolate instead of pain.

I wish he brought chocolate instead of pain.
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This isn’t to say the quality of content takes a massive downturn. Like the brilliant Whodunit? and Through a Nightmare, Darkly quests in the original, you’ll encounter a number of unique situations. Becoming a torture expert has a number of perks, and deciding the physical or mental fate of a bunch of hapless adventurers is an excellent example of intelligent design. It’s possible to call the whole “two sides” concept a gimmick, but the depth and power you have in controlling how the events unfold is of the highest standard. One particular village consists of a bunch of human doubles, representing Mania and Dementia – and they hate each other. This is open-ended gameplay at the centre of the definition. It’s up to you which “side” to join, which eventually results in the dominance of one group through whatever means you see fit. Or, just kill them all. Or walk away.

Unique weapons and new materials form a means to achieve goals in this crazy old world. The world is covered in an array of new plants and fungi for use in alchemy, and two separate vendors will craft new forms of weapons and armour for you using amber or madness ore - depending on your favour towards Mania or Dementia. Your class will determine your proficiency in spells or melee combat, but a decent mix can be used - a hilarious summoning spell for your reluctant advisor Haskill becomes available fairly early. Your new goodies need to be put to the ultimate test, and enemies are actually a very strong point of the new additions. Common foes include tree-like Gnarls, dopey Grummites or intimidating Scalon, and each kill results in all-new loot, good to use in crafting or for a quick sale at the local vendor. The enemy design is uniformly excellent, and adds just the right amount of kooky fun to a truly abhorrent world.

Doesn't look like a baby to me.

Doesn't look like a baby to me.
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Technically speaking, the graphics remain completely unchanged – but the art design makes Shivering Isles entirely unique. The two regions, Mania and Dementia, are quite different in style. Mania is a comparatively bright, vibrant world with sunshine and trees, while Dementia is soaked in fog and dotted with ominous, sprawling plants and swamps. Load times actually seem to be a little shorter, despite several noticeable instances of lag during normal play. An impulse trip to the highest point on the Isles will be yet another jaw-dropping experience, and the awe it inspires is testament to just how good the original Oblivion was – and how the gameplay and graphics have aged beautifully.

This may not have been a priority (or feasible option) for the development of Shivering Isles, but the soundtrack is completely unchanged. It would have been far more appropriate to change the world soundtrack to something a little more compelling in order to suit the twisted world. Most of the same voice actors have returned, save for a few key characters - and there wasn’t even enough variety in Oblivion to begin with. The original melodies are still great, but after adventuring in Cyrodil for 100 hours, it’s a tremendous shame to loop the same pieces in a completely fresh environment.

This isn’t a completely unconditional purchase. If your own Oblivion adventure has long since come to a close, and you would need an entirely fresh approach to make the trip back again, then Shivering Isles probably isn’t worth the time. The revolutionary gameplay Bethesda develops with every new Elder Scrolls instalment is still here in fine form, but Oblivion was such a long game in itself some players may have reached their personal limit of appreciation. However, there needn’t be any hesitation to burn those points if you're still yearning for some more medieval madness, because the Shivering Isles adds even more incredible gameplay to an already stunning RPG formula.
The Score
Oblivion was one of the best games of 2006, and Shivering Isles continues the legacy of excellence.
Looking to buy this game right now? PALGN recommends www.Play-Asia.com.

Related The Elder Scrolls IV: Shivering Isles Content

The Elder Scrolls IV: Shivering Isles now on Xbox Live
27 Mar, 2007 Available for 2,400 points.
TES IV: Shivering Isles due for retail release
07 Sep, 2007 Storage required? Madness, I tell you!
Shivering Isles to cost 2400 Microsoft Points
10 Mar, 2007 That horse armour doesn't seem so bad now, does it?
2 Comments
7 years ago
looks great, wonder if all the armor/weapons we got beforehand are now useless.

just wondering but are there anything about new homes to buy and such? i really like my homes >.> like a medievil version of a real estate. and they should give you a new maid if you accidently killed her and stuffed her into one of your display cases >.>
7 years ago
A fantastic expansion to one of my favourite games of all time.
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  Pre-order or buy:
    PALGN recommends: www.Play-Asia.com

Australian Release Date:
  Out Now
European Release Date:
  Out Now
Publisher:
  Bethesda
Developer:
  Bethesda
Players:
  1

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