So here I am, standing outside the curious-looking, double-faced entrance to the Shivering Isles. Having started at the nearest town, I jumped on the first horse I could find (which got me kicked out of the Mages Guild - whoops) and settled into a Daniel Radcliffe pose, hugging its neck as it paddled its way across Niben Bay to the small island in the middle. Before I enter through, I have a confession to make.
When Oblivion was released, my social life went to pot. I wandered the world of Cyrodiil, picking off goblins and trolls with my sword and immolating mountain lions with my trusty fireball spell. I developed an unhealthy interest in botany as I journeyed to far-flung locations, scouring the land in order to complete my bizarre alchemical collection. I progressed quickly through the ranks of the Mages Guild, eventually becoming Archmage and moving into the complimentary pad at Arcane University.
I travelled to every Daedra shrine on the map, garnering blessings and mysterious artefacts. I had a unicorn for a steed - at least until I drew out my weapon and it turned on me. Not happy with just the Archmage title, I also worked my way to the top of the Fighters Guild. As you can tell, I was completely hooked.
One thing I did neglect, however, was levelling-up. When the telltale arrow at
the bottom of the screen indicated that I'd gone up a level and needed to sleep, I ploughed on regardless. When I eventually succumbed, I went up not one level but nine. Overnight, the world of Cyrodiil went from being my fantasy playground to a horrible nightmare. Bandits that were now dressed in glass armour seemed to revel in giving my character a beating with their glass weapons. I was forced to perfect a new style of combat, namely back-pedalling furiously while casting spells until my magicka ran dry.
Duly chastened, I began spending hours at the beach, scouring the sand for mud crabs to punch. I bounced around towns like some demented space hopper and cast hundreds of life detect spells while huddled in a town square, all in order to maximise my stats when I levelled-up. Shortly afterwards, the strain on my time and senses became too much and I gave up playing altogether.
As such, it's with some trepidation that I stand here at the portal to the Shivering Isles. Once I cross the threshold, there's no turning back. Will I find myself being sucked in and losing contact with the real world again? Or, perhaps more worrying, will I be unable to attain that same level of immersion for a second time?
Well, it's with some relief that I can confirm that Bethesda's addition to the Daedric realms has grabbed me by the scruff of the neck and shows no sign of letting go. Sorry friends/family/pets, but there's a realm to be saved.
After stepping through the portal, I'm met not by a lush landscape as expected but a small sparse room containing nothing but a table and two chairs. A well-spoken, smartly dressed chap by the name of Haskill occupies the other seat. After he's greeted me and politely explained that I will soon be entering the realm of the mad god, my curious face turns to an amazed "ooh" as the far wall dissipates into a mass of butterflies.
As the fragile creatures fly away, that in turn makes way for an "aaah". I'm still sitting at the bare table, but huge spiky mushrooms now tower above, framed by a stunning and colourful night sky. I spend the next few minutes just admiring the view. Oh yes Oblivion, I'm back.
Crossing into this realm has dropped me into an area known as The Fringe. This is where adventurers who've braved the portal collect (a bit like a dentist's waiting room), with those few blessed by the mad god Sheogorath allowed to pass through the Gates of Madness to the Shivering Isles proper. Those without permission are prevented from doing so by a particularly charming creation called the Gatekeeper, a behemoth made up of assorted body parts with the sole purpose of guarding the entrance to Sheogorath's realm. This is where my quest really begins in earnest.