Sunday, February 10, 2008

The Elder Scrolls IV : Shivering Isles (Xbox 360) Review

First and foremost, I'd just like to say that I love The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion. It is quite simply one of the most engrossing, detailed, and expansive Single Player games I have ever had the privilege to play. Thus, I was rather disappointed when its Expansion Set, The Elder Scrolls IV: Shivering Isles, was released via Xbox LIVE Marketplace. No, I wasn't disappointed with the content offered via the Expansion itself, or the fact that it would be approximately a 1 GB download, or even the 2400 Microsoft Point ($37.20) cost (though I've often mentioned that I have an issue paying for premium content, and thus never do so, this objection does not extend to actual Expansion Sets as I've always felt that they are justifiably worth the extra cost). No, I was disappointed with Microsoft and the Terms of Use applied to The Elder Scrolls IV: Shivering Isles and _all_ downloadable content purchased from Xbox LIVE.

Unfortunately I couldn't find the Terms of Use on the web to link to, but if you log in to Xbox LIVE itself and check, you'll see that any content you download is licensed to your account _only_ on the original Xbox 360 console you purchased and downloaded it with. While you can use said content on any other console, you must be logged into Xbox LIVE to do so. In English, this means that if you ever get a new Xbox 360 or a replacement console from somewhere other than Xbox Support _and_ Xbox LIVE is down or you're unable to connect to Xbox LIVE (your ISP is down), you can not play with the content you paid for, even if it's Single Player only content. This applies to all premium content, Xbox LIVE Arcade games, etc., and is one of the biggest drawbacks to purchasing content via Xbox LIVE Marketplace.

In short, this flawed policy was suitable enough to discourage me from purchasing The Elder Scrolls IV: Shivering Isles shortly after its release, and that was a grave disappointment to me as I knew I was missing out on a solid Expansion Set, and one of the first real Expansion Sets released on the Xbox 360. Thankfully, Bethesda Softworks decided to release a retail version this past Fall which, to my knowledge, is not restricted via Xbox LIVE's Terms of Use at all, and I happily took advantage of that opportunity.

Originally, I found the retail version of The Elder Scrolls IV: Shivering Isles very difficult to find, taking me about a month post-release to locate it. It does not appear that Best Buy or Future Shop is carrying it, and EB Games gave me a whole load of BS around its release date and tried to con me into buying The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion - Game of the Year edition instead.

Ironically, I found it at an out of the way EB Games at the edge of suburbia, and I was able to purchase it there brand new for $34.99. Not only does the disc contain the excellent Expansion itself, but the retail version also comes bundled with one of the most popular Downloadable Content for The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion, Knights of the Nine. I have not yet played through Knights of the Nine, and I will do so in the coming months, so for the purpose of this review, I will only focus on The Elder Scrolls IV: Shivering Isles itself.

Like traditional PC Expansions, you basically install the new content onto your Xbox 360's HDD or Memory Unit. Considering that the Shivering Isles content is just under 1 GB in size, an HDD is required, however Knights of the Nine is around 100 MB as I recall, so I believe you could use a 512 MB Memory Unit, though I have not tested this. Suffice it to say, if you don't have an HDD, you won't be able to properly enjoy the Expansion and will be wasting your money.

In traditional PC fashion, the Expansion disc brings up a splash screen as it patches your retail copy of the original game, and also allows you to choose between installing both Shivering Isles and/or Knights of the Nine; with a full installation taking around 10 minutes or so. Once that's done, you'll never need your The Elder Scrolls IV: Shivering Isles disc again unless you have to re-install; you play using your tried and true The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion disc.

Now, after you get to the game's main menu, you'll need to wait a minute as the additional content is loaded every time you run The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion. This is a minor inconvenience, and a bit of a time delay, but nothing too serious. I also found that sometimes when bringing up the Save Menu in-game, it could literally take up to a minute or more to actually display the Save Menu or one of my Saves. This was extremely annoying, and while clearing the game's cache would solve this, it would only do so temporarily and every few days I was required to clear The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion's cache (hold down "A" on boot up until you get to the game's main menu).

Now that the purchasing drama and technical blather is out of the way, let's get to the meat of this review: The new content. The Elder Scrolls IV: Shivering Isles is awesome. Simply put, it is an amazing, though relatively short, Expansion that greatly reminds me of many design aspects from The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind. Make no mistake, The Elder Scrolls IV: Shivering Isles is very different than The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind, but I can certainly see some design influences there, more so artistically than anything else, but more on that later.

The main attraction to the Expansion is the Main Quest itself, which I ultimately found better to think about along the lines of an extra "Guild" Quest Line than an actual Main Quest. Not that there's anything wrong with the Main Quest itself, mind you. It's original, as original as the Madgod himself, and certainly more engaging and entertaining than the traditional and cliche men vs. demonic invasion Main Quest of the original game, but it felt much more linear a bit simpler than the original.

To experience this content fresh, I created a brand new character, an Elderly Altmer Male, and I created my first custom class, a Necromancer. Going against my tradition of playing an RPG for the first time as a hero, I decided to play a "bad guy" character, and I certainly did my share of murders and other joyfully evil things in the Realm of Madness.

You begin the game as normal, and after a day has passed, you receive a message in your Journal regarding the discovery of a mysterious island gateway that has appeared outside of Bravil. This gateway leads to the Shivering Isles, the setting for the Expansion, and the realm of the Daedric Prince of Madness, Sheogorath. Upon entering, you find yourself in a room with Sheogorath's assistant, Haskill, who explains that Sheogorath is looking for a mortal Champion, and that you're essentially receiving a general invitation from a Daedric Prince himself to aid with a coming crisis. Should you except, you'll gain entry to the Fringe, the confined "waiting" area of the Shivering Isles.

Your entry to the Fringe is quite spectacular, and begins to properly set the stage for the colourful world you'll soon become addicted to. For the residents of the Shivering Isles _are_ colourful, both in how they dress, act, and speak. The majority of them are insane, paranoid, obsessive, and all manner of interesting.

The Shivering Isles itself, beyond the Fringe, is essentially split into two haves representing both aspects of Sheogorath's mindset: Mania, and Dementia. Mania is extremely colourful and _almost_ normal looking, and the peace is kept in that region by the lesser Daedra, the Golden Saints. Dementia, on the other hand, is dark and twisted, filled with paranoia and violence (my kind of place), and order there is maintained by the lesser Daedra, the Dark Seducers.

Throughout your Quests, you'll venture through both regions and interact with the residents of both extremes, and it's in this exploration that I found myself reminded of The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind's art design. You also spend a lot of time in New Sheoth, the capital city of the Shivering Isles, which houses Sheogorath's palace and also has a Mania and Dementia district.

I don't want to go into the details of all the Quests, Main or Side, as part of the fun of the game is discovering them yourself and the insane situations around them. Sheogorath himself is truly nuts, and his character features some of the most original and entertaining dialogue I've experienced in a game. One thing to note, however, is that The Elder Scrolls IV: Shivering Isles is not _too_ long of an Expansion. From start to finish I took about 20 hours and I made it to Level 21, completing almost every single Quest the Expansion had to offer. There really are not a lot of Quests outside of the Main Quest, and the landscape itself has significantly fewer ruins, dungeons, and landmarks to explore than the province of Cyrodiil. That being said though, there's nothing wrong with a little focus in a game that's still more wide open than the majority of the competition on the market.

I was disappointed at the lack of horses and purchasable real estate, but otherwise The Elder Scrolls IV: Shivering Isles provides the same play-style and type of content found in The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion. There are some great new weapons to find and there are two smiths in New Sheoth who can fashion armour and weapons for you out of two new kinds of resources, Amber and Madness Ore (Light and Heavy, respectively). Each smith hates the other, one being from Mania and one from Dementia, and their slurs about one another is certainly entertaining.

You'll also find some new Spells to cast and Daedra/Undead to summon if you have Conjuration (Hungers are back!), but I overall found the amount of new items and spells lacking. The attraction for The Elder Scrolls IV: Shivering Isles is certainly the landscape itself, the Quests, and its unique character.

The Elder Scrolls IV: Shivering Isles is a great Expansion Set to what's arguably the most immersive and open-ended RPG on the Xbox 360, and if you enjoy The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion, than you will enjoy its Expansion. Just remember that your stay in the Shivering Isles will be briefer but no less entertaining than your exploits in Cyrodiil, and I recommend the retail version over downloading via Xbox LIVE Marketplace to circumvent Microsoft's shoddy policies.


Anonymous said...

Great review, very detailed and well writen. I can't wait to get this expantion. I just fully completed obivion and I know am kinda late to the elder scroll party, but I would just like to say that it officaly became one of my favorite video game fanchise.

Juxtapose said...

There's no such thing as coming too late to a wonderful RPG like this.

Glad you're enjoying the series, and if you can, pick up the retail copy of The Elder Scrolls IV: Shivering Isles, as you'll get more bang for your buck!

Anonymous said...

I've completed both the Main Questline, Knights of the Nine, and the Shivering Isles questline, and my personal favorite was the Shivering Isles. It had great artistic detail and the landscape itself reflected Sheogorath's personality. I also noticed that the Golden Saints were quite egotistic, and actually found it quite entertaining. I also found the "trophies" you get quite interesting. (The trophies you obtain after completeing each quest from the Main Questline during the Shivering Isles that appear on the trophy pedestals around Sheogorath's palace.) I thought it was well worth the money, and would reccommend it to anybody that had an afinity for MMORPG's.

Juxtapose said...

Agreed with the above, and the great thing about it is it's not actually an MMORPG since it's single player.

The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion - Game of the Year Edition can be picked up for about $29.99 now on PC, Xbox 360, or PlayStation 3 which is a complete steal for this amount of content.

An excellent experience all around.

Anonymous said...

I've now gotten nearly all of the Xbox LIVE Marketplace downloadable content for TES IV: Oblivion, and I must inquire that the Shivering Isles was by far my favorite. I also found that the ending had quite a twist, but I was very satisfied with it. I also seemed to like Bliss a little better than Crucible, yet I found myself in Crucible most of my visit in the Deadric Prince of Madness, Sheogorath's realm. Towards the beginning I actually got a little bit confused and entered the gate to Dementia when I actually intended to enter the gate to Mania, and I later laughed at myself. It is an amazing game with great detail and find myself engrossed in it when I have the time for most of the day, and am going to end up playing the game until about 100% compeletion, for I cannot seem to be able to find myself setting down the controller until that actually happens.

Juxtapose said...

Yup, it's digital crack alright. Glad you enjoyed it!

And the reason you'd enjoy The Elder Scrolls IV: Shivering Isles more than the other DLC is because it's an honest to God expansion set, and not a simple game add-on.

Real expansion sets like this are very rare these days and harder to come by. Far easier for developers to crank out some cheap DLC and charge more than it's worth.