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The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion - Shivering Isles

"You don't need to be mad to quest here" yells an increasingly unbalanced Will Porter. "But it helps!"

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Seeing as you're climbing up the chain of nobility, meanwhile, you're also expected to grow a healthy disdain for the tiresome adventurers who keep bundling into the realm with the intention of slaying beasts, looting treasure and generally making a nuisance of themselves. As such, one of the main quests is a direct homage to the venerable Bullfrog box of fun that was Dungeon Keeper.

Sheogorath, you see, has a spare dungeon in Xedilian that he uses partly for testing people and partly for keeping unwanted mortal visitors busy. Once you've worked your way through its intricacies yourself, it's up to you and a vast array of booby-traps, pits and heavy swinging objects to deal with one such party of have-a-go adventurers who are dead-set on stealing its fictional treasures.

What's more, what happens in the torn realm of Sheogorath stays in the torn realm of Sheogorath, so you could be chief goody-two-shoes back in Cyrodiil and a filthy murdering bastard here and none will be the wiser.

THINGS THAT ROAR
And what role-playing expansion would be complete without a fresh menagerie
of monsters - and weapons to repeatedly hit them round the head with? As with
the art style and demeanour of the locals, creatures differ according to which subsection of insanity you're adventuring in.

A typical beast found in the over-the-top lands of Mania, for example, is the Elytra - a giant ant-like insect with garish oil-spill rainbow patterning, beady red eyes and furiously jabbing pincers. A similarly feared denizen of Dementia meanwhile would be its representation of Hunger - a ghastly pale figure not unlike the tentacle-mouthed zombies in STALKER, whose emaciated yet muscly figure roams through rural areas picking off livestock and farmers. Other foes that could be mentioned include the big (the Baliwog that seems to be half crocodile, half frog and more than a little Jabba the Hutt), the small (this season's goblin replacements are known as Grummites) and the ones with sexy chests ("Helloooo, Dark Seductresses!").

As for tools of smitage with which to destroy this evil (and sexiness), Nelson doesn't want to go into too much detail for fear of having to talk to me all week. He does, however, mention a sword known as Dawnfang, that gets powered up the more souls you dispatch - essentially levelling up alongside you. Unfortunately, it resets itself at night, when it also changes its name to Duskfang, but it's a great idea nonetheless. If you're a particularly magical character, meanwhile, you'll be interested to hear of the addition of what Bethesda are calling 'point-blank area-effect spells', that explode spectacularly around you when they're cast.

CONTENT IS KING
Personally, I didn't have too many problems with vanilla Oblivion. I enjoyed every last drop in fact, but I know a fair wodge of people who had one or two reservations. Some of them I have the misfortune of working with on a daily basis. First and foremost, if you didn't like the levelling system, with its insistence that when you got stronger then so did all the bandits hiding behind the trees, then don't expect a magical 'fix' in the expansion.

This add-on is all about the content, and not necessarily the belt and braces of the gameplay. Having said that, if you were of the opinion that interaction with the residents of Cyrodiil was a touch on the shallow side, then to an extent Bethesda agree with you. Nelson himself regrets that they "couldn't quite get to the meat" of NPCs in the original, but with a smaller cast list of around 60 or 70 (excluding monosyllabic guards and the like), the plan is that each will be a fleshed-out and well-rounded individual. Bar the insanity, obviously.

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