Alice in wonderland? More like Alice in chains...

User Rating: 9 | The Elder Scrolls IV: Shivering Isles PC
There are more than 160 missions in the original Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion, but the one everyone remembers is the errand you ran for the Daedric prince Sheogorath, also known as the “Mad God”. Why? Because it starts with a bunch of people in the woods wearing only their underwear, moves on to the planet's stinkiest cheese, and ends with – SPOILER ALERT – a hailstorm of flaming German Shepherds. There were other great missions, but this was the one that everyone talked about and made sure their friends all played.

Thus, when you learn that Shivering Isles, the game’s first full-on expansion pack, takes place in the home realm of that same divine nut-job Sheogorath, it should come as no surprise that this expansion is A) pound-for-pound, the most creative and interesting Oblivion content in existence, and B) a must-buy.

The quest begins when you hear a rumor - incidentally, you don't hear it from a particular person. Just install the expansion and wait a day or two, maybe take a nap - about an odd portal on an island near Bravil. Everyone who goes through it comes back unhinged, if at all. Naturally, you dive right in.

Two things define the Shivering Isles: creativity and duality. Everything here mirrors the double-sided persona of its creator: that of a whimsical, brilliant artist, and that of a psychotic killer. Thus, the northern half is colorful, with trees that always look like it’s fall. The southern half is gray and black, with barren trees sticking out of gloomy marshes.

There are new alchemy ingredients everywhere, including two elements: madness ore and amber, which can both be made into sexy, powerful new armor and weapons. Those will come in handy when vivisecting enemies like psychedelically-hued mantis-ants, frog men and exploding monster skeletons.

The towns and people here are just as friendly and demented as their ruler. The main city of Neo Sheoth is divided in two: the happy, druggy, artsy half known as Bliss, and the dreary, skinning-animals-for-fun half called Crucible. Each is protected by its own army of babes in metal bikinis - the Golden Saints and the Dark Seductresses - who naturally hate each other.

Into this abnormal stewpot goes the real meat of this expansion: new missions, most of which are just a little more creative and morbid than all but the best of the main game stuff.

A suicidal man pays you to rub him out. You solve an intricate conspiracy plot by walking around town with an inquisitor who lightning-tortures anyone you question until the clues spill out, volt by volt. In another mission, the Saints and Seductresses are battling and you have to befriend both sides then betray one or the other, leading them into the enemy's trap.

You kill a huge monster using the tears of its creator and arrows made of the bones of its predecessor. You find yourself trapped in a fort where two armies of ghosts continually replay their last battle until you help one army win. A fellow you've helped promises to give you "one of his old dogs" - but it's not what you think.

Our point is made, right? Whether randomly exploring, grabbing side missions or working out the main quest, which involves saving the islands from being destroyed by a being called Jyggalag and his army of machine-like Knights of Order, this is just the shot of creative energy this game needs. We do wish it was cheaper, and heaven help us, why on Earth did the developers recruit the same handful of voice actors? This is a different country - people could and should sound different. But ultimately, this 15-30 hours of gameplay is a must-play for anyone, even if you didn't finish the main game.