It’s interesting to be reviewing the expansion pack to Oblivion, The Shivering Isles right on the heels of the Titan Quest expansion pack, Immortal Throne. TQ:IT, based as it is upon a very click-heavy action RPG, presented a new mini-adventure and new monsters, some minor changes to game mechanics, and it was good. O:SI, built upon a more classical D&D RPG, offers much the same – how does it fare?
I should probably begin by saying that, despite the fact that I really loved Oblivion, once I had finished the primary plotline I completely wandered away from it. Oh, there were dozens if not hundreds of dungeons (temples, caves, ruins, etc) left to crawl and probably any number of smaller quests that I could have undertaken, but somewhere around level 20 my character had about the best of everything that I could seem to find, nothing roaming the earth posed the slightest challenge, and maybe it just all become too mechanical. So, despite having purchased the Knights of the Nine pack, the promise of a mini-adventure and horse armor (among a few other little things) was never enough to get me to actually install it. And now I’ve gone and bought Shivering Isles which, despite having a more in-depth and involved adventure, a new realm ruled by another Daedric Prince, new creatures and new spell components, just doesn’t suck me in the same night-and-day way Oblivion did. In truth, this probably isn’t the fault of Shivering Isles. You could perhaps blame Oblivion for giving me too much – what’s my impetus for crawling the new hundreds of dungeons in the expansion when I left hundreds of dungeons unexplored in the base game?
The Shivering Isles starts right off with a new doorway appearing in the world – this one leading to the plane of Madness (or maybe it should be little ‘m’ madness) which is divided into two regions, Dementia and Mania, both ruled by the same mad Daedric Prince. The Prince is looking for a mortal to perform some tasks and so anyone who crosses the gateway is put on the job. Is anyone surprised to find out that’s you? The realm of madness is certainly inhabited by some wonky characters, but otherwise, beyond some unusual plant and animal life, it’s much like Cyrodiil, even more so than the plane of Oblivion was. The sky may have beautiful purple stars and the trees may look all oddly and twisted, but the water is still water, the rocks are still rocks.
The quest line is a long one – truth be told I’m not done yet, probably not even remotely so given the dozenish hours I’ve put in. I’m personally a little tired of the typical court-intrigue quests, even if they are motivated by insanity. Though there are some other quest variations, if you've done one quest to retrieve some artifact or off some person you’ve done them all. Now that I’m level twenty-something, the vast majority of the new realm, though more difficult, still poses little challenge on normal difficulty level. Also, despite all the new items and artifacts around I have yet to find anything better than what I came into the realm with. I have picked up another 30 or 40 thousand gold pieces, but what am I to spend them on?
Graphically Oblivion has aged well. There’s a lot of wow remaining in the engine, especially the sky, which looks just awesome. Particle effects like smoke and fog are well presented. Voice work, despite no one as great as Patrick Stewart doing it, is very well done. Though I don’t usually give much credit to the writers (because typically there’s very little credit to give) in O:SI they’ve had a lot of fun populating their realm of madness with some very clever characters. I found the prince and his right-hand man to be the best of the lot, but there are many to interact with.
As I reread this it strikes me as very negative. That’s not exactly my intention. Shivering Isles offers a whole new world to explore with new stories to experience. From a shear hours-per-dollar perspective the expansion pack is more than worth it. For those who explored every nook and cranny of Oblivion and were somehow craving more, have at it – you doubtless will not be disappointed. For those, like me, who maybe had enough, more time on the all-you-can buffet line isn’t really a good thing.