By now you have probably discovered that in The Elder Scrolls 5: Skyrim, you can become a werewolf. I won’t say how, but if you have done it yourself you have probably also discovered that it isn’t very much like being a werewolf at all.
You see, lycanthropy in Skyrim feels like a big missed opportunity. Besides looking like a werewolf, there is little else that suggests or ties into any accepted lore or mythos regarding werewolves. Silver hurts you, but that’s it. Your transformation is not determined by the lunar cycle. There is no sort of bloodlust or frenzy to the state, and you can change anytime you want. You end up naked when you turn back into a human, but all your stuff is in your inventory and must simply be re-equipped, so there’s no point to it (being naked suggests your clothing and armor was ripped off, but if it was unharmed, wouldn’t it be easier to accept you magically changed forms, and just as magically changed back?).
Being a werewolf just feels like a beast mode – and in fact, that is what it’s called in-game. Beast form. Like any other powerup, you activate it for some cool abilities and that’s it. You could just as well have transformed into any monster, like a dragonling (you are the dragonborn after all, why not?).
More than just that, the mechanics to being a werewolf are poorly executed as well. There is only one downside, literally just one: you lose the rested bonus from sleeping in a bed. Compared against the advantage of being immune to all diseases, many players opt to contract lycanthropy simply for the immunity and never even transform. And that is clearly a design flaw, at least with no downsides. It’s not as though one can contract vampirism and not suffer a few consequences, even if all one is interested in is the stat bonuses. And when transformed, you recover lost health by feeding on corpses, but again there is never a negative consequence of this, either.
I think a few tweaks ought to have been made to lycanthropy in Skyrim to make it more balanced in the game, and to make it follow more closely the lore of the werewolf. Now, of course you might say that balance in a single-player game doesn’t matter, and I would agree to some extent. But just wait until you hear the ideas, and then see if you don’t think they lend the whole affair some real weight.
The first change would be to introduce the bloodlust, the true bestial nature, to the transformation. I propose that when transformed, werewolves would be governed by two systems: health, and time. The duration of the transformation would remain constant, determined by an invisible timer, just like it is now, but unable to be extended. Because, secondly, the health bar would deplete at a constant rate, only refueled by feeding on one’s victims.
This means that every transformation is now a race against that failing health bar to find, kill, and consume more victims. That means that despite the player’s (human) desire not to, he is going to have to mercilessly slaughter enemies if he wants to survive. The werewolf will also be given a detect life state, so that he can more easily hunt prey, as well as the ability to feed on non-humanoid creatures. But care must be taken when choosing to transform, because it may be that the player will find himself with nobody to devour but the companion he brought with him, or perhaps even the poor inhabitants of that nearby farm…
But this is all a very stiff penalty suddenly imposed, so there must be increased benefits to lycanthropy as well. I suggest a ten percent boost to health, stamina (and the regeneration of both), strength (for attacking and blocking), and movement speed while in human form. This way, even if the dreaded transformation is avoided, some of the werewolf still feels present. Furthermore, this bonus will increase by half a percent every day, with an additional five percent boost at night, never exceeding twenty percent.
Now you might be wondering why players who chose to contract lycanthropy just for the immunity, and whom I seemed to want to punish, appear to be getting an even better deal. After all, now they are even discouraged from transforming, and ten days after their last feeding they could end up with a twenty percent bonus to major, baseline abilities!
This is where I suggest utilizing the classic werewolf trope. Typically, those cursed with lycanthropy transform on the night of the full moon. But Tamriel has two moons, and even if we stuck to the thirty-day cycle, that’s a long time in-game. Furthermore, it is predictable and allows players time to prepare, nestling in somewhere out of harm’s way, and it would also give them a solid twenty days with the maximum human stat boost.
Instead, what if players were forced to transform, and to feed, not on a marked day but when their inner beast grows too far out of control? Instead of relegating a stat-resetting, mandatory transformation to a timeclock, players themselves would, in a way, be responsible for when they change. The longer a player goes without transforming and feeding at will, the increased likelihood his inner beast will break free. Hence the human-form stat boost. So somewhere after ten days or so, at a random time, the transformation occurs as a punishment for trying to reap the rewards.
But this time, it’s different. Instead of the normal transformation, time will simply skip forward, and the player will find himself awakening the next morning in a random, far-off village. The randomly chosen NPC will tell the player he was found naked on the side of the road. He will be given some coin, rags to wear, and some meager supplies before being allowed on his way, warned by his host to be careful of the horrible beast on the loose.
With his entire inventory missing, the player will have to track down what happened to him and where his beast form took him during the night, with no memory of it himself. He will discover the various settlements and towns between where he awoke and where he first changed have been devastated by a horrible beast; NPC’s will be dead seemingly at random, and each location will hold clues to the next, allowing him to track down his lost items, which could have been stolen by brigands (forcing the player to fight some thief wielding his own top-tier equipment, perhaps by using the very same beast form that got him in this predicament to begin with) or hauled off by a traveling citizen to be stashed in the cellar, or pawned off for coin.
Once players retrieve their items they will find that every town which suffered their wrath will impinge upon them a fifteen percent decrease in speech bonuses – though they may not be sure the player was the beast, they know he’s something to do with it. Adding on the possible lost equipment and the dead NPC’s, I feel like the anal retention of most gamers, generally completionist control-freaks, will make this lycanthropic transformation feel like the real curse it’s meant to be. A curse which when indulged can be controlled, if you give in to and accept the bloodlust, but is certainly not one which can be abused.
Bethesda, if you are listening, think about it. DLC, perhaps?