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The Elder Scrolls IV: Shivering Isles (Xbox 360) artwork

The Elder Scrolls IV: Shivering Isles (Xbox 360) review

"The paranoid Duchess is convinced someone's out to get her, so you get to escort her inquisitor around town to solve this mystery. Whenever a citizen isn't being forthcoming enough for your tastes, just give the order and (to the townsperson's horror) he'll torture them with a good old-fashioned shock spell to loosen their lips."

If you're like me, you might have thought at some point while playing through Oblivion, "Man, this game's sweet and all, but it really could use a few more folks who are batshit crazy!" And that, I suppose, was Bethesda's reasoning behind creating their Shivering Isles expansion to that game.

Well, there also might have been the desire to put forth a truly creative side-story to all the goings-on players might find themselves slogging through in Oblivion, as Shivering Isles definitely is quite imaginative. Installing this expansion causes a mystical gate to appear on some previously meaningless little island located near the slummy town of Bravil. It doesn't take long for players to deduce something wacky must be on the other side of this portal, as not only does a guard posted outside it warn you that everyone who enters the thing winds up insane, but his words are instantly proven. Some random statistic of an NPC staggers through the gate babbling incoherently before attempting to jump the guard and getting the old-fashioned sword-through-the-gizzard treatment. So, ready to step into the asylum?

Upon doing so, you find yourself in.....a drab room!?!? Only populated by a bland-looking chap who offers you a seat across from his desk?!?! Don't fret, friends -- this is what we call the calm before the storm; the prelude to insanity. This fellow, named Haskill, is the trusted servant of the Daedric Prince Sheogorath, known as the Prince of Madness. You've been teleported to his domain, as he is in need of a champion. All you have to do to prove you're deserving of this honor is to make it to his castle. Which is a bit easier said than done, as you have to pass through the Gates of Madness to enter the majority of the Isles and that place is guarded by a gigantic Gatekeeper whose only purpose is to prevent the unworthy from going through those gates.

After solving that problem, though, the fun has just begun. As Sheogorath gradually explains, his domain has been under a bit of duress for an eternity or two. Every thousand years, an event called the Greymarch happens. A powerful being known as Jyggalag appears to lead the Forces of Order in a campaign destined to destroy the Isles. Afterwards, Sheogorath regains control and rebuilds his world, only for the Greymarch to happen again. And guess what? It's nearing that time once again and the deity is hoping you can help him break the cycle.

From here, insanity ensues. Sheogorath's land is divided into two sections: bright, vividly-colored Mania and dull, drab Dementia. This division extends all the way to the capital city of New Sheoth and even the Prince of Madness' palace. Virtually all the inhabitants of this place are insane to some degree, whether it be the violently paranoid Duchess of Dementia or the poor chap in New Sheoth who's unreasonably terrified that any given wall in the city could collapse upon him at any time. As Sheogorath gives you quests, he mixes in inane babbling and complements with horrific threats to get his point across. All in all, merely existing in his realm is a surreal experience.

While you're essentially doing the exact same sort of thing you'd be doing in Oblivion, such as delving into dungeons to find various important artifacts or improving peoples' disposition towards you to get necessary information, the twisted creativity applied to Shivering Isles gives this expansion a different feel. The Isles are completely separate from the province of Cyrodiil and possess new monsters, alchemy ingredients, spells and equipment -- while adding a sort of twisted humor that kept a broad grin on my face for much of my trek through the place.

You're quested to go to one ruin in order to "activate" it. Once this mission is accomplished, you find out that this place is a very elaborate trap for adventurers, who now will be attracted by its "siren's call". In fact, three happen to appear at just that moment and you get to follow them through three rooms to make decisions that will either slaughter them or drive them insane. The paranoid Duchess is convinced someone's out to get her, so you get to escort her inquisitor around town to solve this mystery. Whenever a citizen isn't being forthcoming enough for your tastes, just give the order and (to the townsperson's horror) he'll torture them with a good old-fashioned shock spell to loosen their lips. On the other hand, the drug-addled Duke of Mania needs a magical chalice to remove his addiction to a substance known as Felldew. However, for you to access the cave it's located in, you need to imbibe this drug. Initially, the effects are pleasurable and boost your stats. However, as that effect wears off, you instantly enter withdrawal and suffer through the debilitating depletion of those stats. You'll find yourself craving that next fix just to make it through the day until you finally reach the chalice and are cured of your addiction.

It's not just Sheogorath and his nobles who give you quests, though -- a number of people in New Sheoth and a handful of scattered villages also have missions for you, making Shivering Isles essentially a smaller-scale version of Oblivion. Unfortunately, it seemed like the vast majority of these non-essential quests were either extremely simple disputes between New Sheoth residents or little more than item-collection missions. Two dueling store owners request items such as Amber and Madness Ore to make weapons and armor. A woman in some settlement asks you to collect of each of the land's alchemy ingredients; while if you come across some inexplicably bizarre item, odds are the keeper of the Museum of Oddities will pay handsomely to take it off your hands.

All in all, I loved the main quest arc of Shivering Isles, but very little of the optional stuff really interested me. I think I only did one optional quest that involved any real effort on my part and that's because it at least sent me into a dungeon to kill monsters (and resulted in me collecting a nice shield). Another minor problem I had was that there are no attribute trainers in the Isles, so if I wanted to boost something in preparation of leveling up, I'd have to take the gate back to Cyrodiil to handle that business, which was a bit time-consuming.

Still, I'm sure as hell not going to complain too much. I basically got this thing for free as part of the Oblivion: Game of the Year pack and had a blast dealing with Sheogorath and his nutty subjects. I had fun accomplishing his missions and collected a goodly amount of useful stuff, such as a magical sword that switches its power between fire and frost every 12 hours (and regains its charges in the process). Oh, and my character is now known as the Madgod, which means my greatest ambition in life has now been realized in video game form, at least. Shivering Isles was a creative and enjoyable way for Bethesda to finalize their work with Oblivion before moving on to other projects.


overdrive's avatar
Staff review by Rob Hamilton (November 05, 2009)

Rob Hamilton is the official drunken master of review writing for Honestgamers.

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