Personally, I didn’t have too many problems with vanilla Oblivion. I enjoyed every last drop in fact, but I know a fair number of people who had one or two reservations. Some of them I have the misfortune of working with on a daily basis. First and foremost, if you didn’t like the leveling system, with its insistence that when you got stronger then so did all the bandits hiding behind the trees, then don’t expect a magical ‘fix’ in the expansion. This add-on is all about the content, and not necessarily the belt and braces of the gameplay.
Having said that, if you were of the opinion that interaction with the residents of Cyrodiil was a touch on the shallow side, then to an extent Bethesda agree with you. Nelson himself regrets that they “couldn’t quite get to the meat” of NPCs in the original, but with a smaller cast list of around 60 or 70 (excluding monosyllabic guards and the like), the plan is that each will be a fleshed-out and well-rounded individual. Bar the insanity, obviously.
“We’ve had more time to really get into their heads, to write them up and really be in this realm of madness,” claims the Bethesda man. “Some of them are simply quirky - you’d meet them on the street and you wouldn’t realise they were insane. Others are just psychotic.” And thankfully, as these screenshots more than attest, NPC faces are a bit less puffy this time.
And there you have it: the realm of Sheogorath. One card short of a full deck, not quite in the pink, missing a few screws and most certainly more than slightly mad. Around 30 hours of play on a mad island around a quarter the size of the original game’s Cyrodiil.
The very best parts of Oblivion were the ones where its designers were clearly given carte blanche to create something crazy - the stolen ship, the painting quest, entering someone’s dreams or watching burning Alsatians rain down on a village of cats. This time, under the expansive banner of madness itself, they’re cooking up ingenious and crazy quests as a matter of course. The lunatics have taken over the asylum, and long may they reign.