The Shivering Isles - a land split between a twisted, dark Dementia and a vibrant, deadly Mania. Welcome to the lair of the mad god, his realm, and his rules
The Shivering Isles - a land split between a twisted, dark Dementia and a vibrant, deadly Mania. Welcome to the lair of the mad god, his realm, and his rules.
Oblivion had burst onto the RPG scene and set a true milestone in what could now be accomplished by development studios. Tamriel, a vast landscape in which to explore with the freedom to go explore it, take up quests or create your own virtual life – it was your choice to make.
This is no “Alice in Wonderland”
Welcome to the Shivering Isles, sane one
Shivering Isles encompasses no physical land within the Heartlands, so this expansion doesn’t add an extension to the map. Instead a mysterious portal door appears, again with much like the rest of the game it is entirely your choice to go through or not. Of course having shelled out some clams for the game, you’re likely to walk through.
One thing is certain, the Shivering Isles are a very different place from what any Oblivion player is used to. The entire realm seems alien and you can see the content struggle between Dementia and Mania taking place in the very environment surrounding you. At first you appear inside a very normal and boring room, speaking with a servant to this new-on-the-scene Daedric Lord. Soon the very room explodes in a swarm of butterflies, an unexpected and brilliant introduction to how things will proceed from here on out.
Graphically nothing much has changed, but the surroundings are a lot more compact and believable, if that’s possible in a mad realm of a God. The isles are divided in two, with one half as Mania and the other Dementia. The first is bright and generally looks and feels “happy”, while Dementia is a depressing and dark swamp mess. Given that the entire realm is a mental manifestation from Sheogorath’s delirium, it can be forgiven while the land is so warped which is fantastic for the atmosphere but it can be a real pain to navigate.
One thing that has really been improved upon, evolved even, is the characters themselves. From the low bums to Sheogorath himself, everyone seems more interesting and you can feel a greater attachment to the land. The general quirks you’ll see along the way can range from the creepy to just plain funny. With the split between Mania and Dementia, you see a varied expression of the madness that inhabits the Shivering Isles.
The same limiting, annoying, UI
Main quests are much better, in challenge and interest
The main quest, the whole reason why the mad god opened the door portal in the first place, is not only better structured but it also feels more worthy of your time. With the better characters and dialogue you feel as if you should care more and it really does wonders for your motivation when out and about, especially in that damn swamp. You’ve been recruited to solve a little problem between the powers of order and chaos, no biggie, just need you to put down wave upon wave of enemies.
Speaking of enemies, you won’t be seeing a simple regurgitation of foes – the mad realm has some new tricks in mind. From weird walking tree thingies, amphibian tribe-like lizards, which heal in water, to incredibly shiny knights – oh and let’s not forget the hulking flesh Atronachs. You’ll want to use a mix of strategies for them; the Atronachs can be especially unkind to your face.
For the explorer types you’ll be able to pillage and plunder many a “secret” hiding hole somewhere, the isles are covered in things to discover. That means some nice new items too; the new weapons can be pretty nasty so they are well worth the effort to invest your adventuring into. After all, an adventurer is only as good as his plundered swag.
To get that swag though you’ll need the dungeons, while many other things have taken a more improved step in the right direction – dungeons haven’t. They can be seriously frustrating ordeal as some have become practical labyrinths, and not the good kind. Many now overlap in corridors making map work a total nightmare and they’re none to shy about dropping you into traps, madness most foul.
Side questing was never too interesting in Oblivion and it looks like that unfortunate tradition is carried over, admittedly some are interesting and don’t fall into the usual mundane “go here and deliver this” or “pickup that” template. The main quest is where the fun and real adventuring is to be had so if you only stuck to those, you wouldn’t be missing a whole lot elsewhere.
Levelling up your character is still very much the same; personally I disagree with the fundamental mechanic tied to this. Shivering Isles follows the same rule of “anywhere, any level”, meaning you can explore any part at any level as the monsters etc will only ever be as strong as yourself. While this may sound great in the beginning, it does feel like you’ve been robbed after a number of days play. You’ve just become a grand champion, woot, now no one could possibly stand against your muscle might – wrong. There’s no sense of true power in this style, when I’ve poured hours into a character I want to be able to see my prowess as I effortlessly cut through foes.
Right now there are still a number of significant flaws, game crippling for some. Apart from the lacklustre UI which continues to plague the gameplay, a number of coding issues has caused many their own madness of Mania. Patches have trickled out but they’re still in the beta stages for the moment so if you’re the “polish or bust” kind of gamer you may want to wait it out until the community gives the all-clear.
A true strength of Oblivion though in overcoming a number of shortcomings was the power and freedom of its mod accessibility. There have been an enormous number of fan made mods for the original, these range from adding some new weapons or clothing to entirely new locations. It looks set then that Shivering Isles will come under a wave of ‘mod contractors’ too, and with such a large fan base it’ll be taken into the fold soon enough.
Palace of the Mad God, Prince Sheogorath
Some twisted pleasures await you
Undoubtedly if you already have Oblivion then this expansion, the Shivering Isles, is practically already in your hand. It’s a real treat and even a break from the normal (boring?) lifestyle in the Heartlands by comparison. There’s a bounty of new swag, interesting characters and quests to be had in these isles of Mania and Dementia; a great expansion to an already great game.
Top Game Moment: Prince Sheogorath, I love to hate him – plus he’s just plain nuts.