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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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"We've had more time to really get into their heads, to write them up and really
be in this realm of madness," claims the Bethesda man. "Some of them are simply quirky - you'd meet them on the street and you wouldn't realise they were insane. Others are just psychotic." And thankfully, as these screenshots more than attest, NPC faces are a bit less puffy this time.

And there you have it: the realm of Sheogorath. One card short of a full deck, not quite in the pink, missing a few screws and most certainly more than slightly mad. Around 30 hours of play on a mad island around a quarter the size of the original game's Cyrodiil.

The very best parts of Oblivion were the ones where its designers were clearly given carte blanche to create something crazy - the stolen ship, the painting quest, entering someone's dreams or watching burning Alsatians rain down on a village of cats. This time, under the expansive banner of madness itself, they're cooking up ingenious and barmy quests as a matter of course. The lunatics have taken over the asylum, and long may they reign.


YOU RANG M'LORD?

Haskill - the chamberlain who does more than iron the master's socks

Every demonic overlord needs an accomplice, whether it's a helpful Igor, a cunning Grand Vizier or a blue blob whose job it is to fetch food and warily tread around a giant trapdoor. Sheogorath has Haskill, his loyal chamberlain, who, despite his own misgivings, is at your beck and call too. "He's my favourite character!" smiles Mark Nelson.

"He's almost Alfred from Batman. He doesn't think much of you to start with. He just thinks 'Another mortal, god... I've got to deal with this guy?' He's very put upon, and he's probably nuts too - but you're not exactly sure how or why." His domain isn't simply fluffing the pillows either, as to his barely concealed annoyance you'll be able to summon him whenever you get stuck while questing. If you're at a genuinely tricky bit he'll give suggestions, or if you're just wasting his time he'll make a few choice comments and leave. You just can't get the staff these days...

UNLIKELY BRAINFELLOWS

Bethesda and Double Fine sitting in a tree?

You couldn't get two games more different in style, format or tone, but thematically, Shivering Isles isn't a million miles away from Double Fine's brilliant Psychonauts (play it now). Compare and contrast: Psychonauts sees you entering a fevered mind and balancing out the fighting emotions and irrational beliefs contained therein, all the while fending off the censors that are trying to extinguish creative thought. Shivering Isles, meanwhile, has you adventuring in a land that's a representation of madness itself, playing in and around (if not balancing) opposing psychological forces, while fending off the tide of dreary similitude represented by the emotionless Knights of Order. Almost makes you want to write an essay on it, doesn't it? Almost.

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