The Elder Scrolls IV: The Shivering Isles expands upon the established gameplay of Oblivion, changing none of the fundamentals, while adding a decent amount of new content. There's an entirely new world to explore, a quarter of the size of Oblivion's Cyrodiil, a new main quest that will take you 15-20 hours to complete, and additional side quests. Monotonous repetition is still at the center of the leveling system, unfortunately. And most of the intriguing landmarks deal with the main quest, so when it comes to exploring the Isles, beauty is only skin deep. Considering the steep price, the amount of content is thin.
You can still expect to roam landscapes finding lost items and friends, defeating dastardly creatures, and making choices of grave consequence. The combat system is straightforward, not concealing any sort of depth. It is the substantial variety of weapons, enemies, and locations that provide the needed support to make up for its simplicity. The number of magical abilities and customizable character attributes only add to an already astounding amount of ways to dispose of enemies.
There are some forgivable quirks, like the stiffness of the non-playable characters, the minimal number of voice actors, and the lack of gender playing any role in how characters differ from each other. Unforgivably, all the music is stripped straight from Oblivion, and the aforementioned leveling system is unchanged. Thankfully the art style takes a unique angle. The wildly rampant mushrooms spread across the Isles makes you wonder if the Bethesda art team wasn't on some special fungus of their own, and certainly grabs your attention. The world is infinitely more aesthetically extraordinary than Oblivion's Cyrodiil.
In the realm of the Shivering Isles, the world has been split into two very distinct territories. To the north lies the land of Mania, a land of pronounced vibrancy, a color splurge of bizarre oversize mushrooms and insane inhabitants. The hills are literally alive with deadly and outlandish creatures. To the south lies the confliction of the vitality of Mania, the land known as Dementia with its warped and twisted landscape, and its paranoid and murderous civilians. A land of eternal swamp, and perpetual misery. The two forces clash uneasily in the capital of New Sheoth, partitioned into Mania's Bliss, and Dementia's Crucible.
The only true disappointment is The Shivering Isles unexpected emptiness. The world is sprawling, the quest is epic, but you reach the end of the path far sooner than seems satisfactory. The main quest will last you a while, but beyond that, the side-quests are minimal. It's feasible to tack on five more hours, but by the time you reach this point you'll have already witnessed the Isles greatest treasures. It is surprising, as you actually explore the Isles, to discover that the locations are sparse, and not as inherently fulfilling to delve in to. The unfortunate nakedness of the Shivering Isles is its key problem considering its steep price.
Don't let that you deter you if Oblivion kept you hooked and begging for more. The Shivering Isles main quest is enjoyable, and fulfilling. Its distinctive look is wonderfully mind melting. Its simplictic yet addictive combat keeps you hooked. But above all else, the core mechanics remain intact, which means more of what made Oblivion the popular and critically acclaimed game it came to be. The negligible flaws and high price barely tarnish this exceptional expansion.