Sunday, December 18, 2011

DLC review: The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion - Shivering Isles

After a mysterious portal opens up on an island in the middle of Niben Bay, players are granted the ability to travel to the Shivering Isles. This new region, ruled by Sheogorath, is split into two halves. The Mania portion is governed by Duke Thadon, who takes pleasure in his experiences with mind-altering drugs. The inhabitants of this portion of the island are often paranoid, though cheerful enough when compared to the depressing lot that inhabits the Dementia side. Some of the Dementia citizens even express a desire to kill Duchess Syl, plotting with one of her own guards.

The Shivering Isles are nowhere near as large as the main game's realm of Cyrodill. Still, both the Mania and Dementia halves host a significant number of sidequests, and the realm itself is teeming with life - citizens and monsters alike. The enemy designs are some of the most creative in the entire Oblivion package, and many present a much more tactical dynamic to combat. The characters are quite diverse, even though there are only a handful that are key to the main storyline, and this shows just how much extra effort Bethesda put into this DLC.

The story follows the same main character from Cyrodill, as Sheogorath has him travelling around the Shivering Isles in an attempt to stop Jyggalag and the Greymarch from taking over his lands and bringing an end to his time as ruler. As Sheogorath informs players, this is a cycle that happens at the end of every era, and he is determined to bring it to a halt. None of the missions last particularly long, though the dungeon areas exhibit a strong balance of tactical combat and clever puzzles.

About halfway through the main quest, players must make a decision to align themselves with one side of the island or the other. During this portion of the quest, as well as a couple of segments that follow thereafter, players will be accompanied by either the Golden Saints or the Dark Seducers (depending on their alignment). These AI companions prove both stronger and more competent than the forces that gathered at Bruma toward the end of the main storyline of The Elder Scrolls IV. The commanding role also presents a nice change of pace from the early missions of dungeon-crawling solo.

The Shivering Isles have some of the most beautifully rendered environments in the Oblivion universe, with half-sunken villages and giant mushrooms twisting their way toward a skybox decorated with a nebula of red and violet hues. Sheogorath also proves the most oddball, yet lovable character in the game. He constantly greets the character in a cheerful manner, yet follows up with a bizarre "Come back again soon, or I'll pluck out your eyes!"

In short, Shivering Isles is a great DLC package. It has a fantastic balance in its gameplay, quirky characters, and a storyline that is honestly better than the main questline of The Elder Scrolls IV. It's a curious look into what chaos and order mean for an inverted world. Players will have a number of reasons to care about the main quest and be thoroughly engaged. Plus, they might find a few really cool additions to their arsenal along the way.

My rating: 9.25 (out of 10)*

*(rating applies solely to downloadable content, not its inclusion with the content on the original game disc or other downloadable content)

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