Elder Scrolls IV: Shivering Isles

You’ve saved Cyrodiil from destruction, your cupboards are overflowing with equipment, and only mods can sate your taste for adventure. Or perhaps you’ve just started to explore the world of Tamriel and seek a special kind of quest, that which only a Mad God can spoil you with before you decide to save the world. Fortunately, Bethesda has been working on just the right fix for dungeon crawlers hoping to add a few more hours to their game in Oblivion as well as inject a little insanity into their characters’ lives. The Shivering Isles bring plenty of quests, and just enough troubles, into the lives of players that step through the gate leading into Sheogorath’s playground.

The Shivering Isles were treated on a PC. It is also available for the Xbox 360 through its Marketplace.

It’s a Mad, Mad World

The expansion can be started at any point in the game, allowing veterans and those that have just started out in Oblivion to experience its many challenges but it is probably best suited to players that have had a chance to get used to Oblivion’s nuances. Filled with plenty of new, and tough, monsters just waiting to sink their weapons into you, the Shivering Isles are nearly a quarter of the size of Cyrodiil itself and filled with small towns, dungeons, and a city with a split personality. There’s a lot to do and see here as you try and save Sheogorath’s land from complete annihilation.

It seems that the Daedra Lord has plans for you, or rather, would like to stop the destruction of his home and have you do it for him. Every thousand years that marks the end of an Age, and event called the Greymarch arrives to literally wipe the Shivering Isles off the face of Oblivion itself leaving Sheogorath to rebuild things from scratch. This time, however, he has a plan. Oh yes, it’s a cunning plan. A brilliant plan. A plan that only the sharpest tongue and the finest mind filleted with fantasy and foul phenomena can conjure up before breakfast. And you’re going to help him.

The rewards are obviously going to be great. After all, the Mad God might be insane but he’s also generous to those that help him. Or not. Or maybe he just wants to invite you over to pluck your eyes out. You’ll just have to trust him and hope that you don’t get killed by what he’s got in his head.

Have Quest, Will Travel

The Shivering Isles have a split personality all their own. When you pass the ‘test’ to gain the right to enter the Shivering Isles, two doors will lead you to either side of the Isles, earning a power that is keyed to whichever state of mind that you prefer. Of course, the doors only offer one choice but once in the Isles, you are free to travel wherever you please despite what you may have decided.

Those with an artistically maniacal bent may find themselves passing through the door to the land of Mania, filled with color and bloom along with inhabitants that balance their mental state between artistic genius and euphoric insanity. Or you might decide that you want to receive a sadistically appropriate gift that your character can use when you enter Dementia, a dark and foreboding land whose people revel in paranoid delusions, twisted desires involving plenty of blood, and gruesome hobbies. No matter what you choose, both sides of this personality have plenty of baggage to sort through.

The Shivering Isles’ problems are spread across twenty to thirty hours of quests. Both lands sport plenty of new scenery ranging from massive, Alice in Wonderland-like mushrooms, psychedelic skies, underground, root filled passages, to depressingly dreary swamps and watery slums. New monsters ranging from shambling, tree-like Gnarls to horned, frog-like Grummites will offer up new challenges. Golden Saints have also returned, their deceptively radiant beauty blending into the kaleidoscope of Mania as part of Sheogorath’s two sided police force, with Dark Seducers taking care of his business in Dementia.

There are quite a few creative quests and there’s plenty of new dialog to go along with them, all voiced by the same voice actors for the most part so if you are already tired of hearing the same people in Oblivion, you’ll find no respite here. You’ll be asked to do things such as help a town with its own split personality, with the townspeople asking you to ‘deal’ with their other selves. Or you might find yourself building a golem to help defend the Shivering Isles from the Greymarch. One special quest will even cast the player in the role of a temporary dungeon master, asking them to take part in the destruction of a group of foolish adventurers by choosing what to throw in their way. Should you break their mind with traps and trickery, or permanently hobble their progress by crushing them with a demented approach to bloodletting?

Quests like these, though, are the exceptions. Many of the others will have you feeling like a medieval UPS delivery person or armored Terminator as you retrieve lots of stuff for a lot of people or be asked to kill everything at a certain spot. There’s not a lot of variety to what you have to do on the whole, although the writing explaining the reasons for doing so…especially coming from the Mad God, Sheogorath, himself…help to tell his story well. While you won’t get the feeling that you’re talking to a Malkavian, Sheogorath’s mad facade and psychotic moments of lucid thought combine together to make him one of the more unique characters of Oblivion and help to keep things interesting even when the quests can seem dry. Quite a few others play their parts with just as much enthusiasm and as a result, the story in the Shivering Isles is easily a match for that found in the stock Oblivion setting.

New items are also introduced alongside a simple crafting system with which you can ask certain blacksmiths to create armor for you as long as you have the right materials. Don’t expect to create deeply customized pieces of protection, though, as your choices are somewhat limited in what you can ask them to do, although they be easily used as a base with which Oblivion veterans may want to tweak even further with their favorite enchantments. There are also a few new weapons that the player can discover along with many other accessories that they’ll either find or earn during their quests.

And when you manage to survive the Shivering Isles and save them from annihilation, there are also other rewards that top off your service to the Daedric Prince, including one or two powerful relics that will be added to your collection. This is reportedly the last official expansion for Oblivion from Bethesda and when you make it to the end of this particular quest, it certainly feels like a grand farewell to the title as your character takes part in a pivotal moment of the Elder Scrolls’ lore that may be every bit as important as that in the main quest of Oblivion itself.

Two Faced Problems

The Shivering Isles have issues, and not all of them mental. The occasional scripted event failed to start or continue, prompting a reload from an earlier save to try and jumpstart events. There were also issues within the capital of the Shivering Isles itself, in the district of Bliss where I’ve seen the AI occasionally go completely berserk and start what can amount to be a small civil war in the streets as citizens and Golden Saints start fighting when one of the inhabitants decides to go a little too far in their pickpocketing. Unfortunately, their solution was apparently to kill everyone which had happened during one session, two that died having just given me a small side quest to do for them. My fix for this was to simply reload and hope that the pickpocketing AI decided not to try its luck that time around.

Spellcasters are also going to feel as if they’re in unfriendly lands as there doesn’t seem to be any spellmaking altars handy in the Shivering Isles. The same goes for enchantments. If you want to make spells or enchant your own pieces of armor while on the go, you’ll have to step back through the portal back to Cyrodiil and zip on over to where you can flex your magic before heading back to the Isles. Although fast travel makes the journey easier to bear, it might be easier to simply download and install a mod or mod it yourself to fix what can feel like a major inconvenience.

The Shivering Isles boast several towns and a large city, but don’t expect the towns to be any larger than a few homes. Most of the towns consist of only a few buildings that act as houses for the NPCs and can come off as being pretty empty experiences aside from the quest or two that someone may ask you to help out with there. Don’t expect them to be anything like what you may see in Cyrodiil such as with the port of Anvil or the snow covered cobblestones of Bruma as two of these “towns” are small enough to fit in Count Skingrad’s castle courtyard.

It’s Hard to Be a God

If you can’t get enough of Oblivion and want to experience a quest that will add even more goodies to your collection and give you the chance to carry the burden of a god while taking part in an event that will leave its mark on the Elder Scrolls, you’ll find what you are looking for in the Shivering Isles. An entertaining tale of insanity, desperation, demented paranoia, and drug induced mania celebrates what may be Bethesda’s last hurrah to the latest chapter of Tamriel’s history and despite the generic nature of many of its quests, I had plenty of fun in keeping my marbles together. Blood will be borrowed, minds will be broken, adventurers will be tortured, and your character will be tested as you attempt to accomplish that which even a Daedra Lord has failed to do.

- World 1-1

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