By the pricking of my thumbs,
Something wicked this way comes
— Macbeth Act IV, Scene i
I’ve toyed with picking up Oblivion ever since I became an Xbox 360 owner. When I heard that Shivering Isles was up for review, I jumped at the chance. The opportunity to test our the first full fledged expansion pack through the Marketplace was actually exciting. I had briefly played Oblivion on the PC, but found myself unhappy with the control scheme (and kept misreading the quest marker and getting myself killed not far from the Sewer exit). With a couple of weekends play under my belt, and a spellcaster of some note in the Mages Guild, I eagerly installed the downloadable content for Shivering Isles.
Little did I know that I would be setting foot through a strange door…and into a realm of Madness.
Oblivion is already well known as a beautiful game on the 360, and Shivering Isles continues this trend. The various locales that can be discovered are all well done, and many of them have subtle hints of madness built in. I found parts of the new island to resemble Morrowind in some cases, with what felt like an alien geography. Even the Golden Saints and Dark Seducers that walk the streets help add to the already confusing atmosphere.
The dungeons and other buildings, such as Sheogorath’s citadel, are very beautiful to look at, and I found myself just wandering about, examining Crucible, Bliss, and some of the dungeons after I had cleared them out. The overall game was very visible and fun to play on my LCD monitor through the VGA connector (and it still looked good on my really old TV as well).
Once again, I found myself downright stunned by the dialog in game. Jeff Baker provides the first look you have into the realm of Madness, as the ‘Jeeves’-ian Haskill, quite put upon throughout his role as assistant to the Prince of Madness. Wes Johnson provided some of the most laugh out loud lines of the expansion, giving us a true taste of madness by voicing the very Prince himself. I don’t think I’ve *ever* hear of intestines used in the ways he suggested, and I don’t think half the lines in the game would have had the same impact if they had just been text on the screen. Drug-addled Dukes, paranoid Duchesses, the voice acting was top notch throughout the game and it kept me focused on the whole experience.
Very little was changed in the control department for this title as it was a content expansion. As the controls are neither modified or broken, this section scores the same as our previous review on the title. I am including it below for your convenience:
Morrowind was Bethesda’s push on to the original Xbox and attempted to bring a PC interface to the console world. While the game was ultimately very successful, the control interface was cumbersome at best. As Bethesda built Oblivion, it was always made as a dual launch for PC and Xbox 360. This ensured that the interfaces between the two games would be almost exactly the same. The end result is a control scheme for the Xbox 360 that allows for mouselike-control using the analog sticks, and a surprisingly easy to mod PC system that was simply too console-like.
The Xbox 360 control system utilizes every button and trigger on the controller. Movement and camera swing are handled by the analog sticks, and blocking and attacking are mapped to the triggers. The right bumper allows you to cast a spell, regardless of what is in your handStrangely enough, cold does not describe the Shivering Isles. The first people you meet at the ‘Strange Door’ are simply mad or suspicious of the new realm that you have access to. Once you have a small conversation with Haskill, and accept his invitation to the Isles (and a nifty transition..whee..butterflies!) then the taint of madness starts to become more subtle. You start out at the Fringe, and the people you encounter seem normal…until you really start conversing with them. Then you discover that each person has their own madness, or disturbing quality. The trait continues all the way up to Sheogorath himself, who fears Jyggalag and the forthcoming Greymarch event. As a content expansion for Oblivion, this game delivers, with many new abilities and more. As I am a new player in Oblivion and not very far in the core storyline, I don’t know how these new abilities (including crafting armor, new spells, and more) will change the game.
What I do know is that the writers and designers at Bethesda know how to create a story. The main questline for Shivering Isles resembles the types of tasks you did for some of the various guilds. One of the early quests has you restoring a dungeon to working capacity, then using the dungeons various abilities on a group of adventurers. The choices are simple, either madness or dementia, but it was very interesting watching this group of adventurers go mad from various tortures. (KEYS!!!! He needs more KEYS!!!!) In Crucible/Bliss and the other smaller towns of the Shivering Isles you will also find many more quests, much like other towns of Tamriel. Even more so, the main questline works no matter if you’ve beaten Oblivion, or are a level 1 character.
The real value of this title lies in the fact that it meshes completely with Oblivion. I was disappointed originally when I discovered that the expansion was linked through a door, rather than adding more real estate to the main map. After playing for a little bit, I didn’t even notice or care anymore. With many more items, potion reagents, and gear, the true value of the expansion comes in the fact that that you will have more places to adventure in and explore. Even more so, it is not required or needed during normal play, so much like the rest of the game, it continues to encourage you to do what you want to do.