If you’ve only just broken an addiction to the astonishing Oblivion, you might not be terribly pleased to hear that an expansion pack is just around the corner just waiting to suck you back into its richly detailed world. Some expansions are better than others, but Shivering Isles is going to be worth every penny. It adds the realm of Sheogorath to the already vast world of Oblivion, and this is one freaky place.
Clearly designed by people with some fairly major issues, Sheogorath is split in two: the lands of Mania and Dementia, both of which are home to some deeply unhinged creatures. You arrive in the realm of Sheogorath after a short interview with Haskill, after which you have to sort out the Gatekeeper before you meet Shegorath, the Daedric Prince of Madness, himself and set off on your adventures. Madness is about right. The two realms are home to some new and pretty bonkers characters, including the Flesh Atronachs, Shambles and Grummites. On theMania side, the locals are artists, obsessives, and all a bit, well manic. Brilliantly manic, of course; while on the Dementia side you’re likely to run into the paranoid, those afraid of everything around them.
I’ve only played the first few moments of this amazing new realm but already it looks breathtaking, both on a PC and on Xbox 360. Even on a rather underpowered demo rig with most of the effects turned off, it looked pretty spectacular and once I’ve got SLI driver support for my own rig (running two Nvidia 7900GTXs) and I’m able to turn pretty much everything up to the max visually it should look astounding. Screenshots show rippling water, detailed textures and incandescent glows and on the 360 these are all present and correct. It’s a matter of personal preference whether you’d rather play with the WASD keyboard configuration or using a 360 controller but for my money it looks better on the PC, even under old technology of DirectX9 in XP, though a standard-def monitor attached to the 360 looked pretty nice, too. Doubtless come DX10 under Vista with an 8800 card purring in your machine or with a high-def telly attached to the 360 it will look even more stunning, and let’s not forget that Oblivion redefined the meaning of the word “beauty” in games anyway when it was released last year.
It’s demanding on a PC – Oblivion on my rig pushed my watercooled SLI set-up pretty hard under XP (I haven’t played it yet in Vista as driver support for my graphics cards isn’t really there yet) so be aware that if you’re running a mid-range PC, although it will still look lovely, you won’t get the jawdropping effects. So when’s it out? 360 gamers will get it through Xbox Live, while PC gamers will be able to buy a boxed set in March. There are no prices as yet but US prices are said to be around the $30 mark, while unofficially those close to the project reckon the UK pack should weigh in at around a tenner. Wouldn’t it be nice if for once software prices were lower than in the US?