Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion - Shivering Isles

As job interviews go, it’ll be short and relatively painless. It’s just you, a disinterested man named Haskill, a bare room, a desk and a chair. After such an imposing entranceway, surrounded by otherworldly vegetation that’s leeched through its tableau of linked screaming faces into the lands of Cyrodiil, you were perhaps expecting something a little more grandiose within. Then, as the interview concludes, the dull, featureless walls melt away into a cloud of butterflies. And then it happens: you’re somewhere slightly mad.

The setting is the torn realm of the daedric Prince of Madness, one Sheogorath, if you haven’t been keeping tabs on your Elder Scrolls lore. Bethesda’s stated aim is to create a new self-contained land where the characters are more tightly defined, where dialogue is richer and where their quest designers can stretch their imaginative powers to the full, under the broad canopy of the insane, the unstable and the downright psychotic.

The Shivering Isles represent madness itself - eternally split both physically and politically between the bickering forces of Mania (wild-eyed, unhinged) and Dementia (paranoid, gloomy, depressed). Sheogorath rules over them all, but his realm is in danger - under threat from the blank conformity of the Knights of Order who have begun to appear on its fringes. And guess what? That’s where you come in.

“Well it’s a geographical split to start with - there’s a giant ridge that runs the breadth of the island,” explains Shivering Isles lead designer Mark Nelson when I quiz him about Bethesda’s new psychological leanings. “The highlands are the lands of Mania and the lowlands are the lands of Dementia. Art-wise, Mania is a lot more vibrant, colorful - almost over-saturated in parts. In the lowlands, in Dementia, it’s really more of a creepy atmosphere. A lot of mosses hanging out of dark trees and stuff - it’s a very claustrophobic feeling that’s meant to evoke more of a hard feel to it. Obviously we don’t do survival horror, but it’s a creepier place in general.”

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