Unfortunately not all of the quests are as inventive as what you see early in the game, as you near the final stretch of the game you will be sent on these boring fetch quests that just feel tacked on. It's still fun battling the weird monsters and finding out what Sheogorath will say next, but it felt like kind of a waste given how strong some of the early missions are. Having said that, Shivering Isles will take you a good 20 - 30 hours to complete, maybe even more if you work on the numerous side-missions. And even if thought the game ends up sending you on some boring quests, the story in Shivering Isles is far more enjoyable than that of Oblivion. And best of all, there are no Oblivion gates to shut down … something I absolutely hated about last year's game.
When you're not doing the bidding of Sheogorath or working on all of the side quests it's fun to just explore this brand new world. Everything about this world is different, from the large mushrooms growing out of the ground to the outlandish architecture that litters the roads and walkways. The area in Shivering Isles is considerably smaller than that of Cyrodiil, which is perfect for people that got sick of walking for ten minutes just to get to a new castle or cave. Even more impressive is how different the two areas are in the game, the contrast between Dementia and Mania is truly impressive, if you didn't have a map handy you probably wouldn't know that these two locations share the same island.
What's really nice about The Elder Scrolls games is that thanks to the level scaling system it doesn't matter when you tackle Shivering Isles. You can take your level 30 character in or start a brand new character and do the adventure at level 1. No matter what your experience is you will have a balanced game where the enemies are neither too strong nor weak. Because of the way The Elder Scrolls games are constructed this kind of expansion pack makes sense, I really like the way it all ties together and allows literally anybody to do the adventure at any time.
After the super-serious happenings in Oblivion we needed some sort of moment of levity, and Shivering Isles certainly delivers in the humor department. This entire expansion pack plays out like some sort of weird parody, all of the characters are humorous and nothing is what it appears. Granted there are a few dark missions that touch on hot button issues (assisted suicides, drugs, etc.), but for the most part Shivering Isles is much lighter than the events in Oblivion. I especially liked the crazy voice acting; you can tell that the writers and actors had a lot of fun with the material.
When it comes to the graphics and game play very little has changed, we probably won't see a major enhancement to these aspects until The Elder Scrolls V is released. Instead we get a much more interesting quest and some of the funniest voice acting I've heard in a role-playing game in years. The game still has a few of the technical problems that plagued the original game (occasionally sluggish frame rates, background pop-ins, etc.), but they aren't too bad here and you probably won't even notice them after awhile.
Shivering Isles is not just a great adventure game; it also marks the first time an Xbox 360 expansion pack has offered extra achievement points. Shivering Isles allows achievement junkies the opportunity to collect another ten icons and 250 bonus points. Unlike the Oblivion achievements (which rewarded you for doing the extra missions), Shivering Isles gives you points for ranking up your character in the standard story mode. I suppose this isn't a bad thing, but it would have been nice to have some different variety in the available points.
If you were one of the many avid fans of The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion then you owe it to yourself to jump into Shivering Isles and see what Bethesda has been up to. It may not be a full on sequel, but it's definitely an interesting adventure that will keep you on the edge of your seat for a good 20 hours. It's clear that a lot of effort has been put into making this a great stand-alone chapter in The Elder Scrolls universe; I had a lot of fun seeing everything there was to see and doing everything there was to do. $30 may be a bit much for a downloadable expansion, but after you've journeyed through the Shivering Isles I think you will agree that this it's worth every cent.
$30 may seem a bit steep for an expansion pack, but Shivering Isles more than makes up for the cost with amazing content, a weird new world to explore and some of the craziest characters ever seen in a role-playing game. If you loved Oblivion then there's no excuse not to pick up this massive expansion pack.
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