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Given the impending release of the latest entry in Bethesda’s venerated Elder Scrolls series, the gaming community has been inundated with previews, interviews, and other media touting the new features Skyrim will introduce to the land of Tamriel. Devoted fans of the series, seething with anticipation, have dissected and reassembled everything we know thus far about this frigid northern region and its prophesied hero, the Dragonborn.
This abundance of coverage, a mixture of shrewd marketing and genuine enthusiasm, has produced quite a few tidbits of information worthy of discussion. The revamped interface, the new game engine, the dynamic nature of sidequests, the unscripted encounters with gargantuan beasts of terrifying power – these topics and more have served readily as fodder for gamers chomping at the bit to experience them firsthand. There remains one subject, however, that never fails to produce page upon page of speculation even in the absence of substantial information from Bethesda and its almighty hype machine: lycanthropy.
Elder Scrolls lore tells us that Skyrim’s Nords are no stranger to the werebeast, specifically werewolves and werebears, and of course many fans of the series have fond memories of becoming a werewolf in Morrowind’s Bloodmoon expansion. It is also perhaps worth noting that geographically, the island of Solstheim that served as Bloodmoon’s setting is but a short distance from the region of Skyrim. Both areas also happen to be inhabited chiefly by Nords. In terms of story and verisimilitude, the table has already been set. Encountering one of these savage half-beasts in Skyrim’s fabled wilderness would be consistent with past entries, whereas the absence of them would be unusual.
Nonetheless, there are other factors to consider when pondering whether they should be included in the game’s initial release. Bethesda has spent much of Skyrim’s post-announcement phase emphasizing the role of dragons in the game, deriving a great deal of thematic content from their connection to the prophecy that drives the main character’s quest. It would be a shame if werebeasts were implemented as an afterthought, taking a backseat to Skyrim’s winged terrors. Vampirism, for instance, proved to be little more than a diversion in Oblivion. Should lycanthropy be given similar treatment, it would be a wasted opportunity. The rugged landscape of Skyrim and the stalwart nature of its native people could make a fitting canvas for a lycanthrope questline, if handled with care and attention to detail.
Bethesda’s intentions in this matter are hard to gauge, as they’ve been relatively tight-lipped on the subject. Skyrim’s Art Director, Matt Carofano, stated in an interview with Dutch publication 9 Lives that werewolves might be included in DLC, but aren’t present in the core game. Game Director and Executive Producer Todd Howard said much earlier in the year, during a podcast interview with Game Informer, that it wasn’t clear whether or not werewolves would fit into the release version, but that they were likely candidates for DLC. It seems evident that Bethesda is listening and is aware that many fans would like to see this element included in the game, but as of yet no commitment has been made. Perhaps their silence is part of a grander design to later unveil an expansion featuring werebeasts.
Odd though it may seem to outright exclude
lycanthropy from this fifth iteration of the series, as was done with Oblivion,
it certainly isn’t a dealbreaker. The game
will surely fly off of shelves and devour the lives of Elder Scrolls fans the
world over regardless of Bethesda’s plans on this one little point. After all, the absence of werelions from the
region of Cyrodiil had little bearing, if any, on the success of Oblivion. The focus on Skyrim’s other creatures,
particularly dragons, may prove to be the wiser choice. It’s always possible that the team at
Bethesda reached the conclusion that lycanthropy simply doesn’t work with the
design they’ve implemented. Whatever the
case and whatever the outcome, here’s to hoping that Hircine’s Hounds will
make a triumphant and grisly return on or soon after November 11th.