The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion is widely regarded as one of the best action RPG's to come out in a long time. The game has received great praise from gamers for its successful combination of RPG and action combat elements. Given the success of such a game, expansion packs are certainly a possibility and Bethesda has delivered with the Shivering Isles. The expansion takes players to a completely new world. New creatures and environments all serve their purpose in solving the mystery of the Mad God.
The story itself revolves around a sort of King of the Shivering Isles called Sheogorath. Everything in the isles is created by his mind and he needs the help of a warrior for a new challenge. Most of the inhabitants on the island have lost their minds but you have kept your sanity due to your important task. Your job is to halt the impending doom and learn more about the Shivering Isles in the process. And since Sheogorath is a "Mad" God, the isles themselves are a bit crazy. This means plenty of inhabitants that act and speak in eccentric ways. These inhabitants are also divided into two sections on the Shivering Isles. The dark part, Dementia, has a very creepy feel to it and is the darker portion of the isles. Mania on the other hand, has very vibrant plants, colourful life, and sunny skies. The two parts coexist but do not necessarily like each other. The conflict is well illustrated by the Gold Angels and the Dark Seducers. These two factions fight for the love of Sheogorath and uphold the law in Mania and Dementia. While they serve the same God, they are also maniacal for being the sole receivers of Sheogorath's affection.
Other than the side-quests for different inhabitants of the isles, the main quest mostly involves Sheogorath and his problems. Simply entering into his realm is already an accomplishment. There is a huge Guardian at the Gates to Mania and Dementia and before players can venture further into the Shivering Isles, they must defeat the creature. Adventurers can defeat the guardian in a number of ways, some easier than others. The guardian is a great way of completing an already great introduction to the expansion, and really gives the story some of its epic scope.
As far as gameplay is concerned, there are a number of new features available in the Shivering Isles. As players complete tasks for Sheogorath, the rewards may include new spells or even powerful weapons. One example is the Dawnshard, which is a powerful blade that changes according to the time of day. It also feeds on the life of defeated enemies, which makes it stronger once it changes to its counterpart. There are also spells that let you summon Haskell, Sheogorath's servant, for quest information. The rewards for actually completing the Shivering Isles are also quite good. The isles themselves cover a pretty sizeable territory, and there are no horses to be found. That means you'll have to walk plenty to explore the whole place. There are also lots of moral choices to make within the isles, in the main quest as well as the side-quests. Which choice the player makes has little effect on the story, but they are there as a reminder of the madness present.
Quests always need strong enemies to stand in your way and these are present and accounted for in this expansion. The isles offer a variety of all new creatures, new ingredients for Alchemy, and various environments to do battle in. However, some of the enemies are present in both sides of the Shivering Isles with different textures to reflect Mania or Dementia. It would have been nice to have completely different creatures for both sides but that's mostly nitpicking on my part. The fact is, there's a good assortment of enemies, and the Knights of Order alone should give you a hell of a fight. A number of bosses are also present like Doppelgangers, Gods, and faction leaders. The Shivering Isles are not necessarily all that friendly to mages and stealth players, but the battles are a blast to undertake.
Most of the dialogue within the game tries to highlight the mental health of the Isles. The inhabitants will speak in incoherent riddles and will make comments that seem out of place. While it is novel at first, the dialogue can get a bit annoying after a while. There is also some freedom in dialogue choices that can have a considerable impact on gameplay. Some of Sheogorath's quests will make players choose between a stealthy approach versus a more direct one. The choices are interesting and really help in making the main quest the "star of the show". Though side-quests, such as the different Guilds in Oblivion, are pretty much non-existent, that's not to say that the side-quests are completely non-interesting. Bit it would've been nice to see something along those lines here as well. Once the main quest is complete, there is some further work you can perform by talking to Haskell, but those are rather menial tasks with little payoff.
The Shivering Isles is a truly awesome expansion to an already addictive game. It's certainly a great reason to re-visit the world of the Elder Scrolls and won't disappoint fans of Oblivion. With new weapons, enemies, spells, environments, quests, and a story that makes the Knights of the Nine seem like child's play, the Shivering Isles really delivers on the promise of a great expansion pack. It would have been nice if Bethesda had added a bit more value for the money, but trust me when I say this is no horse armour download. While it's certainly not a perfect expansion, it is most certainly worth your time and money.