Oblivion: Shivering Isles PC Review
You played Oblivion, right? Well, you certainly should have, son. While it was a bit light on the narrative side of things, its well-balanced mix of exploration, dungeon-crawling, bizarrely addictive character improvement and, good old fun made it far and away the best RPG of 2006, even if it was filled with bugs and needed a comparatively meaty PC to even run it in the first place. Well, either that or an Xbox 360. But we’re reviewing the PC version here, so hush up.
Shivering Isles is an expansion pack for Oblivion – not the first one to be released, but certainly the first ‘proper’ one. The previously-released Knights of the Nine expansion added new quests and items to the game, but Shivering Isles adds an entirely new island to explore, as well as all the new quests, characters and equipment you’d quite rightly expect.
Here’s the really funny thing about it, though. I reinstalled Oblivion so I could play the expansion, and had to make a new character. Now, being the timid sort, I made one almost identical to the one I had last time around, and decided I’d level him up just a bit before taking him into the new content (which, incidentally, I didn’t need to do – you can happily play the expansion with a completely new character). 30 hours later, I’m still in Cyrodiil. I haven’t even touched the Shivering Isles stuff. And I’m not even retreading old ground – quests and locations that I’d never spotted before were cropping up all over the place. Point is, it’s a testament to the talent of the developers that, when they release an expansion pack for a game, you can spend just as much time enjoying the original all over again, before even glancing at the new stuff.
Now, the way the new content is introduced does feel a little cheap at first – to cut a long story short, a blue swirly magic portal just appears in the middle of a lake, and it allows passage between the familiar land of Cyrodiil, and the Shivering Isles. After a quick chat with a fellow who reminds us of Richard O’Brien (but without the sense of humour), you’re treated to your first glimpse of the new island. Veterans of the Elder Scrolls series can be forgiven for thinking that it looks somewhat familiar – after the considerably more realistic-looking hills and forests of Cyrodiil, the Shivering Isles actually look quite alien, and not totally dissimilar to the locations found in Morrowind. There’s a reason for this, of course – the Shivering Isles are a magical realm dedicated to the concept of madness. Split into two areas – Mania and Dementia – the denizens of the island are all total squirrel-bait, and it can take a while for you to get used to their inane witterings. Similarly, their madness is reflected in the design of the island’s capital city (which looks absolutely incredible, by the way) – at first, it’s a total pain in the backside to find places due to the seemingly illogical layout, and the massive statues and giant faces carved into the walls are terrifying and fascinating in equal measure.
Thankfully, it’s not just the visual design that manages to hold your interest – the new quests also throw a fair few curveballs your way. From being granted the ability to summon the Richard O’Brien-a-like to help you out whenever you like, to operating the traps in a dungeon to decide whether the adventurers inside die or go insane (distressingly, you have to pick one or the other), the Shivering Isles quests certainly have some nice ideas that go a bit beyond the usual fetch-and-carry or dungeon-clearing quests that most RPGs are so happy to rely on. And that’s not all – after spending so much time surrounded by such strange locations and people, you start to feel a bit mad yourself. It doesn’t help that this is reflected in your character’s journal entries, which show occasional quirks that imply you’re really losing your grip on reality. Subtle, but it works.
Clearly, then, the tone is very different to that of the original, and many players might find it pretty unsettling at first. But you get used to it, and hey – if you think you’re going a bit too mad, you can easily hop back to Cyrodiil to chill out a bit. On the whole, the original and the expansion balance each other out incredibly well, and Shivering Isles will make a welcome addiction to any self-respecting RPG fan’s collection, regardless of whether or not they’ve spent much time with Oblivion.
Well worth buying – just make sure you’ve got plenty of free time to sink into it.