As we said at the beginning, this is more than just an expansion pack. So long is it, and so radically different from the world contained within the original disk, that Shivering Isles may as well be called a sequel. At the very least, it’s a refinement of Oblivion - with a smaller area to play with, Bethesda has been able to really work on the world they’ve created, and the end result is something which just feels tighter, more focused and just plain better than before.
Take the NPCs, for example. While you couldn’t say they were more “well-rounded” exactly - in fact, far from it, they’re insane - Bethesda admits that their Radiant AI system wasn’t used to its full potential in the main Oblivion quests; this time they’ve been given a blank check for mayhem, with the smaller world and way-out setting enabling them to create some truly unforgettable characters.
And then there’s just the feeling that this is the world Oblivion should have been; a gloriously discordant, unsettling destination that really jolts the old imagination glands. When that first dingy room fades away in a shower of butterflies and you cast your eyes on this bizarro world, you’ll feel like you’ve been invited to the Mad Hatter’s tea party - and you’re the main course, naturally.
Ultimately, however different it is, it is still just Oblivion, of course, and those that don’t get into hot flushes at the thought of a 15-hour quest to retrieve the Sacred Spanish Potato won’t find anything here that’ll change their minds. But it’s far-out enough and inventive enough to be more than worth a look, even if you think you’re sick to the back teeth of goblets and axes and murderous skele-men and the like. Forget the whole horse armor debacle - Bethesda has managed to create another gorgeously explorable land that’s well worth your money. We should have a full review in the coming months.