The Elder Scrolls IV: Shivering Isles
Platform: Xbox 360
Publisher: 2K Games
Developer: Bethesda Softworks
Genre: Action RPG
Format: DVD-ROM
Released: US 03/26/07

Graphics: 96%
Sound: 70%
Gameplay: 80%
Control: 90%
Story: 85%
Overall: 85%
Reviews Grading Scale
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The manic side of madness.
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Haskill: always so amused.
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Stop order from infringing upon the Isles; preserve the madness!
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Was this Xeddefen or Xedilian? Even the names are similar.
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Kyle Miller
The Elder Scrolls IV: Shivering Isles
Kyle Miller

Typically, one expects a video game expansion to accomplish one thing: expansion. That normally refers to new content in the form of additional quests, locations, characters, and items. Expecting anything more out of an expansion would probably be asking too much. Bethesda agrees. With Shivering Isles, Bethesda brings an entirely new continent of content to the television screen, but they fail to fix Oblivion's numerous issues. The result is a trip worth taking, but only if the player can tolerate another thirty hours of those frequent vexations.


After installing the expansion, the player is greeted with a quest 24 hours later (in realtime). A mysterious door has appeared in the heart of one of Cyrodiil's rivers, and those that enter return in a state of mental rot. Of course, the player can't resist the beckoning maw of the strange portal to the Shivering Isles, a land of utter madness. Awaiting him or her beyond is the Prince of Madness, Sheogorath, who requests a champion come forth to save his realm from all that is orderly.

While the plot of Shivering Isles is just another rendition of saving the world, the setting is more unique and engaging than anything found in Oblivion. The Isles, which are really just one continent, combine the two major aspects of madness: mania and dementia. The continent itself is split in two, with colorful, flamboyant landscapes on the side of Mania, and dark, depressing ones in Dementia. Even the inhabitants of the Isles play off this duality, although the player may find little difference between the personalities of citizens from one aspect or the other. Many of the characters found within are more interesting than those of Cyrodiil, yet their eccentricities represent the extent of their development. Even major characters such as the Prince are entertaining, but shallow. The overall theme of insanity prevalent in the expansion, however, is more than enough to set it apart from Oblivion.


Like its parent game, Shivering Isles represents some of the most detailed and consistently beautiful (or haunting) graphics on the console. Those bored with the look of Cyrodiil will have no complaints; the look of the Isles is completely different. The expansion includes two unique outdoor environments and three or four new dungeon types. To further the excellence of this change, the atmosphere of each terrain precisely matches that of Mania or Dementia, whichever it is attempting to capture. Manic land is full of prismatic grasses and towering mushrooms reminiscent of those in Morrowind. Demented land is dead and grey, with gnarled roots and mossy swamps. Beyond the environments, the Isles are home to several new character models, as well as a handful of original dungeon denizens. If the Isles looked just like another part of Cyrodiil, the experience would be significantly diminished, but Bethesda wasn't lazy when it came to physical design. If only they hadn't been elsewhere.


As expected, Shivering Isles plays no differently than Oblivion, and there are no new additions to the gameplay formula. The Isles sprawl a surprisingly large area, although much of it is empty, save for the occasional wandering monster. There are only two major cities (one each for Mania and Dementia), where the player receives most of his or her side quests. Just as in Oblivion, optional missions require the player to travel to repetitive dungeons to retrieve one object or another for some weakling civilian unable to travel outside of the city. They often involve interesting NPCs, but largely familiar plot devices. The main story quests are similar. They become redundant as the player travels from one generic cave or ruin to the next in search of ingredients to some ritual or artifact that brings him or her one step closer to the completion of the game's major goal.

Unfortunately, all of Oblivion's flaws carry over into the Isles. Despite the vastness of the expansion, most of its dungeons are one of only a few varieties, and even major plot locations are designed almost as if at random. The same, boring combat returns, as well as the poorly balanced and contrived automatic monster leveling system. Although extreme gameplay improvements aren't expected in an expansion, the presence of Oblivion's lingering problems disrupt the experience nonetheless and may leave players with an impression of a slothful Bethesda.


With the exception of a couple of voice actors, there are few sounds worth hearing in Shivering Isles. In a place of madness, one might expect to hear a raving tune embodying the delirium of Mania, or a depressing dirge as one enters the twisted lands of Dementia. Instead, the generic musical score from Oblivion returns to remind the player of the medieval fantasy overtone in case he or she had forgotten.

Once again, where the expansion could have improved upon the parent game, it instead followed it blindly into oblivion. By replacing voice actors and hiring new ones, Shivering Isles could have done a grand favor for the player. The expansion retains the limited number of voice actors, however, and adds few to the repertoire. To their merit, those present are of the respectable quality heard in Oblivion.


Due to the similarities between Shivering Isles and Oblivion, the control remains intact for better or for worse. Typically, traversing the realm and aiming are easy and simple. One potentially frustrating aspect of control concerns being knocked backward in combat, which seizes the player's control for a moment. Unfortunately, just as in Oblivion, this mechanic occurs too often to be effective, and remains effectively maddening instead.


The unique setting and duality of madness that Shivering Isles possesses provides an excellent backdrop for more Elder Scrolls adventuring. With more of just about everything, Oblivion's first expansion provides the player with over thirty hours of new content. For fans of the series, that's a wonderful proposition, and one they should experience. For everyone else, that's thirty more hours of Oblivion's nagging issues, and they might just come out of the portal to the Isles slightly less sane than before.

© 2007 Bethesda Softworks. All rights reserved.

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