TESIV, The Shivering Isles: A Review
Without a doubt, The Shivering Isles is a stand-alone title without the need of "Oblivion" near it. With its 30 hour long campaign, a map that's one-eigth of Cyrodiil, a fantastic story and fascinating rewards throughout, this is by far one of the best expansions I've ever seen for an RPG. This alone is enough to sell for around £34.99 upon release, because it is the feature length runtime for a standard RPG. It contains hundreds of objects that help tell the story of the Shivering Isles, and players who have just started playing Oblivion can dive right into this! This expansion has no level limitations, no quests that become available later for whatever reason, and no characters that aren't fully interactive. And because it doesn't tie in with the events of the Oblivion Crisis, this can take players' minds off hardcore questing and defence of the realm, and casually stroll through Sheogorath's plane of madness.
You may be here asking yourself, "but why should I pay the relatively fair price of £15 for this expansion?", and that's a good question. This is really only for those who need a second opinion on the game, or are looking for something different. If you're a madness-enthusiast like myself, one will love nothing more than exploring the realm of Sheogorath the Madgod, and learning more about his ways. If you enjoy Oblivion but feel that you're limited to options (few games offer endgame content like Oblivion, so don't ask for too much), I recommend this expansion that will offer much enjoyment! With its new areas to explore, more opportunities to dungeon-delve, newer, creative beasts to slay and the zaniest of NPCs to chat to, you'll get your money's worth in no time.
Let's dive into my Shivering Isles review, and see how we can give it a score out of nine!
When you have downloaded the content, you will need to wait 24 in-game hours before you get a quest notification called, "A Door in Niben Bay". This will then allow players to head out to Niben Bay, near Bravil, and swim to where this mysterious "door" is. If you're having trouble finding it, then look for the strange fauna and plantlife growing near an island with three heads, and a glowing mouth. There, you will bear witness to a guard fighting a Dunmer who has just exited the gate, blurting all kinds of mad riddles. From the moment you get there, you can see that new animations come with this expansion, but are unfortunately only found on civilians in the Shivering Isles. With the Dunmer slain, you can loot his body that has some new clothing items, and talk to the guard at the door. He'll warn you not to go in, because whatever comes out is crazy-fied. As you progress through the story you can revisit him at the same place and see that he has new quotes, noticing your exposure to insanity. Inside you'll meet Haskill, who you must talk to in order to gain access to the Shivering Isles proper. Once he vanishes, and the butterflies (you'll know when you see it) flutter away, you'll see the true potential of Bethesda's art teams.
Along the way you'll meet an important figure called the Gatekeeper, a rather aggressive fellow who holds the keys to Dementia and Mania, the two towns that form the city ahead. Dementia is the dark and dingy place of the depressed but also dangerous. Definitely more suited for an evil character. But Mania is a bright and vibrant area, filled with beauteous buildings and plants which its residents like to paint and sing about. Definitely for the high-spirited player. Slaying the Gatekeeper may be quite the challenge, but it is compulsory for access to the gates of madness. Kill him, loot the keys, and wander through the doors. Depending on which door you open, you'll recieve a spell which can be used once per day. You can change the spell by going through the other door. Your choice doesn't matter.
As you wander through the Isles, you can choose to head along to meet the big cheese himself, or you can explore and find some map markers for fast travel and conviniece. It's totally up to you how you play the game from now on. Enjoy the exploration!
So what's going on?
The whole plot of the Shivering Isles is that Sheogorath, the Daedric Prince of Madness, is looking for a champion. A knight in shining armour, if you will. But he doesn't want just anyone; Sheogorath requires someone who can keep their head together while crazy things go on around them. He also needs someone to keep the citizens of the Isles in order, and make sure the beasts aren't overpopulating and running rampart. Basically, he needs a gardener, a guard and an exterminator. Be you level one or fifty, you'll do just fine!
But that's not the main problem though, because there's about to be a big change. A realm-shaking change that will rock the foundations of the Isles! It will utterly unmake everything Sheogorath has built, and he'll have to do it all over again! It's like when a big bully comes along and kicks your sand castle down. You don't just give up, you've got to do it again. For eternity. For the most part though, you'll be fixing the Gatekeeper, governing either Dementia or Mania and helping the civilians kill or be killed. To prevent spoilers, that's all I can say. But Sheogorath tends to hide the main reason why we're here until later on, when the main questline is coming to a close, and there's few quests left to help it.
As stated before, the main questline can send you in many directions, but familiarizes you with the travelling and the amount of time you'll spend in one area. Sometimes you'll be expected to travel miles on end, but this is a good opportunity to take in the glorious sights and environments. If you don't like them, then I am entitled to laugh at you. You'd better get used to them, because they're everywhere. And gladly, nothing can change that. This is the Prince of Madness, remember?
The questline will have you engaging with Sheogorath's elite guard, the Saints of Mania, and the Seducers of Dementia. Each are dangerously loyal, and will kill many (including themselves) to preserve his name and happiness. Quests will involve going to one side and setting up an ambush, trading tactics and infiltrating ruins to see who has what and where. I think it's these quests where replayability is best found, as players will constantly try to find out what different possibilities there are. How well does the frontal assault work? What about going from behind? Should I tell each other the tactics and get them into a huge scrap? Depending on your style, it's up to you. It doesn't affect the game in many ways, which can be a bit unfortunate as decision making at this time was popular (see Mass Effect's impact with dialogue options).
Other quests in the main storyline will require you to meet people because Sheogorath owes them a favour, and vice versa. And some may be to help the war effort in the upcoming chain of events. Admittedly, there's some boring things that I wish could be skipped (having to solve the problems of the Duke and Duchess of the city), but overall I think there's something for everyone in the main questline. Plus, it feels like it involves you more, and it can be more personal because of your own choices.
Compared to Cyrodiil, there's few quests inside the city. These can the odd quests that involve helping someone find a certain item in the wilderness, talking to a series of civilians to solve a problem, or just kill a certain person. It's totally up to you how to do things a lot of the time. The most famous quests are probably the "forge your armour" quests, where you have to collect so many pieces of Amber/Madness Ore to forge pieces of armour. The whole set can grant you a blessing of sorts, granting bonuses to stats, though I've never seen this myself. Amber is found in the Gnarl nests and in many plant forms, while Madness Ore can be found in rocky places like tombs and also on the Baliwogs. Amber is light armour forged in Mania, while the Madness Ore armour (I think it's Obsidium) is heavy, forged in Dementia. My favourite inner-city quest is in Dementia, where players must help a man kill himself. You can do it in a conventinal way, or more creative ways. Seeing the most obvious creative way is hilarious, as the animation is pretty bad!
Wilderness and Settlement Questing
As you'd expect, most of these are to explore hidden caves and retrieve a lost heirloom or great treasure, often with a twist. Oblivion had enough of these as it was, my favourite being the game in Bravil about becoming the prey for a blood-sport game, for those who don't pay their debts. But in the Shivering Isles, there's more. Most are complications, one example would be about a village that has its residents cloned, and you have to choose who deserves to live or die (the manics or the demented). One of the most memorable quests is about some haunted ruins, where hundreds of people are cursed by Sheogorath for not holding the fort. In this quest, players must retrieve certain items and hand them to the original owner so they can hold off the attackers. For example, an archer has lost her arrows. Retrieve them so she can repel some invaders before she dies, or she is doomed forever. And some quests may be as simple as clearing out a dungeon for a reward. The most famous quest in the game is an unmarked one, which I shall explain here....
"The Hills of Suicide" Unmarked Quest
This has been classed as an easter egg, but one that requires a lot (and I mean a lot) of effort. Ever thought that there's something harder than finding Halo's skulls? Well, they're nothing compared to checking out an open world for around eight of them! You'll need to find a particular NPC who talks about seeing the ghosts at the hill, and how they can be freed of their torment. But first, some history.
The Hills of Suicide 101: How it works
The name may seem self-explanatory, but there's quite a bit of history to it. Thousands of people have entered Sheogorath's realm, seeking treasures or just a home away from Tamriel. Little did they know that The Shivering Isles is destined to be unmade once per generation, and many want to escape this unescapable fate. Some don't make it to the end of a generation though, and some decide that they can't stand what they see. The horrific monsters and environments, the gibberish people speak in.... it's unbearable! They kill themselves in hopes of escaping the terrors, but they find themselves in the bleak bogs of the Isles, standing on the Hills of Suicide. This is because Sheogorath chooses people, and they must appreciate all the hard work he shows them. If they can't appreciate his works, they must be cursed. The Madgod has to be ruthless as well as crazy to rule, y'know.
Finding the skulls is not impossible, but very hard, especially when the quest isn't tracked. Each of the skulls are hidden in places you won't look. For one example, you need to find a specific corpse, drag it away and activate a switch hidden under it. Then you'll find the skull in a hidey-hole not far from the body. One skull is found by following a sword's tip, but if you knock the sword, you've lost the way to the skull. The skulls look ordinary, but are named and carried in your inventory. Take the skull to the person on the Hills, and they'll be free. Free all the souls and you'll gain a new spell called "Reanimate Corpse". If you don't get it from them, see the NPC you found the story from. This spell has the same effect as the "Staff of Worms", the weapon Mannimarco uses at the end of the Mages Guild questline. Only this is weightless and I believe can be used more than once a day, as long as you have the mana. A well sought after spell, you'll have an e-peen the size of a horse's if you manage to get it.
Punishment and Crime
This doesn't work the same as in Oblivion, but it's a system that I've wanted to see for quite a while. If you commit a crime you can do the standard options of paying the fine or resisting arrest. However, you do have a chance to fight for justice in a dungeon against small enemies like Baliwogs and such. In these ruins, you can pick up some weapons from an urn, and fight your way out and end up in the wilderness. At endgame, players will be greeted kindly by the guards, and resisting arrest translates to "training". But God forbid you strike Sheogorath....
If the video isn't loading, basically "Sheogorath makes you enjoy the view of the Isles"
Reaping the Rewards: What bang do you get for your 15 bucks?
The thing about DLC and expansion packs is you don't know what you're getting until it's in front of you on a plate. Sure, there's videos and books and the blurb on the game's case, but it all comes down to personal experience. No-one will have the exact same armour as you, open the exact same chests and kill enemies in the exact same order. What you do is up to you. But here's where your money goes:
- A 30+ hour singleplayer campaign, which can be reduced down to 24 hours upon the second playthrough. Completing the storyline doesn't send you back to Cyrodiil, and you can return to the Isles any time you see fit afterward.
- Never-before-seen weapon and armour designs, each with new animations and powers.
- Something for everyone at every few levels, as enemies scale with your level like usual. Only there's way more enemies to fight now.
- More places to explore with unique designs, but still have the classic dungeon delver feel.
- Interesting NPCs with multiple personalities - what do you expect from the realm of madness?
Element of Game
That's it for me I'm afraid, as I've exhausted all the major points of The Shivering Isles expansion. Do I recommend it? I think that's obvious, don't you? With its stunning details, exciting quests and epic climax, The Shivering Isles is for any one who wants more from their TESIV experience. I can't say much more other than buy it at whatever price it is, and if it's on disc, don't worry - the disc can be downloaded from as many times as possible. Feel free to share your experiences on the expansion here, and I thank you for reading. Have a wonderful day!
Final Score: Nine out of Nine, with the "More Bang for your Buck" award.
- Over 30 hours of main quests, with around 100 other quests.
- New items, spells and easter eggs to be found.
- Hilarious dialogue from humorous NPCs.
- Stunning graphics and gorgeous soundtrack.
- Diplomacy is much more useful in this expansion.
- Brilliant rewards - the end of the expansion alone is worth £15!
- Hours of exploration and dungeon delving to be had.
- Only for those who are currently (or have) enjoy(ed) their TESIV: Oblivion experience.
- Can feel repetitive after long playtimes.
- There are some bugs and glitches (nothing too big) that could do with being ironed out.
- An extra 250 gamerscore might not satisfy all those G-vampires out there.