The Elder Scrolls IV: Shivering Isles review
Explore the Daedric realm of madness, complete with giant mushrooms and odd-looking monsters.
The Shivering Isles is the first proper expansion for Oblivion. It's possibly the least intrusive expansion of a game ever, since if you don't sleep in the game world, or press the people of Tamriel for new rumours, you could completely miss the fact that an island with a strange portal has appeared in Nibben Bay.
After the prerequisite "story setup" encounter with a knight outside this portal, you can step through into the realm of Sheogorath, Daedric Prince of Madness, much as you do when entering an Oblivion Gate. After a chat with Haskill, chamberlain to the Daedric Prince, you're unleashed into a kind of purgatory, replete with giant mushroom trees and odd characters. Adventurers are held here, prevented from entering the Shivering Isles proper by a monstrous gatekeeper that holds the keys to the twin realms Mania and Dementia. So you must kill him to get in.
The Shivering Isles is the embodiment of the mad prince's bipolar personality: Mania is a land of bright colours, weird flora and even odder fauna; Dementia, on the other hand, is dark both visually and psychologically. It's gloomy, depressing and ridden with tangled, clawing roots. The theme of conflicting psyches is ever-present, from the settlement of Split - where every resident has a double - to the contradictory patter of its ruling prince. However, the ramblings of Sheogorath become tiresome after a short time. Luckily, you can spacebar through the drivel and check the quest log afterwards, or ask Haskill for clarification.
The scripting is a shame, as the voice acting is good. Sheogorath's changing accent convinces you that you're dealing with someone who's not altogether sane, and that you'd better do what he says before his fragile mind changes.
Sheogorath tends to send you on fairly mundane quests; the first sees you repairing a dungeon to protect the realm from interlopers in place of the gatekeeper you've just killed. Hack your way through and you'll find you're given control of this dungeon for a set of adventurers, choosing whether to send them mad or kill them outright (and steal their equipment) in a series of rooms. You're not given any choice over this, so if you're playing as a good character - the assumed alignment of the main Oblivion quest, despite claims you can play as an evil-doer - it's a touch jarring. The same is true of the majority of quests that see you rising through the ranks of Sheogorath's Court of Madness.
While Sheogorath's quests tend to be of the retrieve-this or clear-that-dungeon sort, other quests given by less powerful characters are usually fun. One involves a man paranoid that his walls will fall on him as he sleeps, so it's up to you to find a safe place for him to rest. This leads to negotiating with beggars who are understandably hesitant to accept a bed swap, given the unpredictable nature of a realm that directly apes the fractured conscience of its ruler.
Just travelling around the world is a treat for the eyes too. Alchemists should note the many new plants, most of which will make useful potions. The creatures are also worth looking out for, if not for their strange looks, then because some of the monsters are a tricky match even for a power-levelled character kitted out with top-notch equipment and spells. You could go to the Shivering Isles straight after the character-creation dungeon at the start of Oblivion thanks to the controversial universal levelling system, but we'd recommend getting yourself kitted out before attempting to become a Madgod.