The intriguing road to insanity

This is the first role-playing game I've come across that's more difficult to start than to play. A

elder disk 88 (photo credit: )
elder disk 88
(photo credit: )
Shivering Isles, an expansion DVD-ROM in English for The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion, requires Windows XP and up and a Pentium 4 PC or better, by Bethesda Softworks, distributed without a user's manual by Hed Artzi Multimedia, for ages 16 through adult, NIS 99. Rating: **** This is the first role-playing game I've come across that's more difficult to start than to play. After installing the original Oblivion DVD-ROM, which costs NIS 219 and takes about 60 hours to complete, I was at a loss how to get into the Shivering Isles expansion disk, as there was no sign of it on the opening screen or my game list. A call to Hed Artzi's technical support service was also useless, as the man who answered said he'd never played it before and left me waiting on the line. But then I did a Google search for "how to start Shivering Isles," which brought up one blessed entry referring me to a YouTube videoclip. The mystery was solved when I learned that I had to go to the game map and enter a mysterious door in the fire-breathing stone head appearing on an island in a place called Niben Bay. The effort was frustrating, but worth it, as the expansion disk provides nearly 40 hours of gripping entertainment to those who like this sort of thing. The Shivering Isles are ruled by the Daedric Prince of Madness, whose name is the rather unpronounceable Sheogorath. Your role, as Sheogorath's servant, is to carry out quests he orders and rise in the hierarchy of the Court of Madness, and you get guidance from a loyal sourpuss with a British accent called Chancellor Haskill. Sheogorath, referred to as the Lord, is a nasty and annoying nudnik who speaks in a Scottish accent. Once you kill his gatekeeper, who looks a bit like Goliath but with pulsing red veins covering most of his body, you obtain the key to two doors. One leads to the colorful realm of Mania and the other to the gloomy realm of Dementia. Although the former, with green highlands, is much more pleasant looking than the latter's marshes and swamps, both of these worlds are filled with nutty and often dangerous people and creatures - most of whom have lost their minds to Sheogorath. A character named Felas Sarandas who has pink eyes but looks otherwise human is in fact an elf; don't get too close, he keeps warning you: "Don't breathe on me!" If you manage to find the portal to the Gates of Madness the way I did, you are lucky. If you accept the quest by teleportation to the site, the gatekeeper will be absent due to a bug in the program and you won't be able to get the crucial keys to the doors. However, this rather embarrassing bug can now be fixed by downloading a "patch" from Bethesda Softworks' Web site. Fortunately, if you buy the main Oblivion game together with the add on, you can go straight to Shivering Isles without having to play the first for hours to earn the right to proceed. The missions are varied, although too many require you to fetch things for your master or to prevent a mysterious plague from spreading. But there are other unusual or amusing ones, such as helping a paranoid man who's afraid of sleeping in his house because he imagines the walls will collapse on him, and knocking off a character who is sick and tired of his life but afraid to commit suicide. You may also try to drive an adventurer insane by throwing thousands of fake keys in front of him and forcing him to find the one that opens a door. You collect a virtual armory of ancient metallic weapons as you succeed in your quests and are encouraged to kill as many monsters and other characters as possible, with some blood but no real gore. Aside from the storyline, which is quite impressive, the game's graphics are spellbinding. As there are no horses or donkeys on the islands, and you have to cover large distances, you will have to walk (or run) covered with heavy armor most of the time. The characters heave their chests when they breathe, and their shifty eyes look extremely lifelike. The environments, which include plants that have a life of their own, are very detailed and authentic looking, even though most of the time they do not resemble the world we are familiar with. The expansion disk offers 10 additional monsters to the original program, hundreds of new weapons and dozens of new pieces of clothing and armor, plus nearly 10,000 new lines of dialogue. As many of the words are old-fashioned or medieval, and understanding the written text on the screen is vital for playing, gamers will have to have an excellent command of English to understand what to do. If the expansion set did not have the bugs described here, it would have deserved the five stars won by the original game a year ago.