The Elder Scrolls IV: Shivering Isles is the expansion to the epic Oblivion role-playing game by Bethesda. If you don’t already have Oblivion, go get that first, play for six months, then come back here again.
The Shivering Isles is the private domain of Sheogorath, the Daedric Prince of Madness, with a Scottish accent, no less. Hardcore fans of Morrowind probably pursued many Daedric quests in the original game – or maybe not, as those quests were often morally ambiguous, involving the slaughter of innocents. The isles are accessed via a portal that opens up a few game days after you install this addition onto your computer. A guard will warn you extensively not to enter, but no adventurer will heed such a warning – travel to and from the isles is simple enough, and, despite the warnings on both sides, involves no penalty. This is a good thing, as there are no trainers and few decent merchants in the isles.
The dynamic leveling system of the base game means you could go to the Shivering Isles with a first-level character or one that’s completed the main quests of the original game (i.e., past level 20) and be challenged equally either way, but it’s fairly clear the designers expected a hero at least in the late teens: it’s fairly easy to pick up a whole suit of steel armor within minutes of arrival, and other, similar trinkets are just a bit out of the power range of a starting player. The quests themselves generally don’t require high-level skills, however, and beating them relies far more on a player’s ability than the character.
As befits the domain of a prince of madness, most everyone on the other side of the portal is insane. While it’s still easy enough to figure out what the quests are from the ramblings (the player’s journal is still always lucid), many of the quests – the majority, in fact – involve the character doing not very nice things to admittedly nutty people. Nonetheless, these quests are fun, and often go beyond the usual “bash some guy’s head in” quests that were the hallmark of Oblivion. The highlight of such quests, and there are many contenders, involves preparing a dungeon for an invading band of adventurers; as they go from room to room, you get to decide whether to slaughter them, or simply drive them insane (insanity seems much more amusing, for what it’s worth). Afterwards you get to take all their stuff.
"...these quests are fun, and often go beyond the usual “bash some guy’s head in” quests that were the hallmark of Oblivion."
In addition to the insane people, the isles are also inhabited by an entirely new collection of monsters. While some of these are a bit familiar in animation, notably the Grummites, who are pretty much goblins (right down to having lockpicks as loot), most of them have new and exciting ways to smash you, with unusual jumping and spell attacks. Similarly, there are a couple dozen new books and a like amount of new spells for the player to find, all unique to the isles (but almost all are useable in the main game).
Serious crafting finally comes to the Oblivion world, in the form of Madness or Amber armor and weapons. Special smiths are capable of working with one or the other, so, provided you have a “matrix” (i.e., blueprints) and sufficient raw materials, the smith will happily and freely produce spiffy looking and useful equipment for you. What is created is level-specific, so you may as well wait until level 23 to get the best possible stuff, as finding the proper matrix is a matter of luck and crushing a sufficient number of monsters.
Alas, Shivering Isles doesn’t offer much in the way of character development beyond the new spells and equipment; there are no new skills, so if your character is already maxed out in all abilities, the isles will be a pleasant but not very profitable diversion. Of course, if you’re that much a fan of Oblivion, you’ll get this expansion anyway.
This expansion is a must-have, plain and simple. A gamer on a budget could wait a bit for the price to come down before buying this addition to the game, as exhausting all possible adventures in Oblivion can take a year of real time, but anyone ready for some different-flavored action won’t be disappointed by this worthy addition to the Elder Scrolls series.