NOTE: This article contains spoilers for some games that are given as examples, so read at your own risk!
There are many things that developers must take care of, in order for their games to succeed in this increasingly difficult-to-please market: they must ensure the story is engaging, the characters believable, the gameplay fun enough for a second (or third, or forth…) comeback, if it features a multi-player portion, then it mustn’t feel tacked-on, or poorly implemented, since it might be the only reason for people to get back into the respective game (if they’re bored with the ‘SP’ part, of course), and many more.
What I have noticed, is that towards the end of this incredibly long generation of gaming (which is, in my opinion, a good thing), gamers are more and more focused on the one aspect that haunts every game out there (well, at least the ones with a story): the ending. Let’s be honest here: there have always been endings that made gamers throw their controllers or keyboards out the window: from never finding out what is in that damn vault (the first ‘Borderlands’), to seeing John Marston get killed by the scumbags of the government after doing all their dirty work, and finally settling in with his family (‘Red Dead Redemption’), or to see Cole Phelps drown in a sewer after keeping the streets of Los Angeles safe from all the criminals and murderers (‘L.A. Noire’).
This problem is even further amplified by all that ruckus the fans have made over the ending of ‘Mass Effect 3’. On that note, I would have to agree. A franchise that puts such a big emphasis on choices throughout its iterations to just end with three damn, very similar, outcomes, is a middle finger to all the hours invested in the games. Don’t think you’re up to it? No problem at all! Just don’t go promising fans the moon if you’re not ready to deliver it.
It seems the endings became such an important business, that even Ken Levine (the creative director of ‘Bioshock: Infinite’) stated months before the release of the game that it would feature a ‘never-before-seen in video games‘ ending.
So how do you properly end a game?
I think there is a very thin line that needs to be walked between what a player deserves for their devotion, and what the main character deserves for their actions. In most cases it’s the same thing, but not always.
If the gamer has invested hundreds of hours in an, let’s say RPG, then they should be rewarded with an ending showing all their good/bad deeds, and how the whole world changed based on his/her actions. For example, if you have invested hundreds of hours into the whole ‘Mass Effect’ trilogy, falling in love with, let’s say Liara, you saved the Rachni, you cured the Genophage, everyone survived, excluding the ones who died because the developers wanted to (all in all, you were a major Paragon), then you should be rewarded with an ending in which Shepard survives, retires to a warm planet living with the partner he/she chose, gets visited by Garrus, Joker, dr. Chakwas, and others, and the whole Galaxy is a better place because of him/her.
Of course this can’t be the case with every genre out there, but it seems that more and more games are becoming more flexible on how the player approaches the story (and thus, its ending). The best example anyone can give right now regarding this statement is ‘Call of Duty: Black Ops II’. After so many entries in which the single-player campaigns were as straightforward as they could get, in ‘BLOPS II’ you can actually choose the fates of others, among other things, and in the end, the conclusion of the story.
What I’m trying to say, is that players should be rewarded for investing hours upon hours of their lives with, at least, a fitting end to their own tales. You just flew through the game without caring about anything or anyone? Fine, here’s the “default” ending, but for everyone else, here’s the ending you deserve.
Another thing that needs to be sorted out regarding the ending, is the event prior to it, the ‘end-fight’ if you want.
Many developers these days choose to end a game with a “bang”. That wouldn’t be a bad thing, of course, but in doing so, they limit the players’ actions so much, it gets redundant. What am I talking about? I’ll tell you: quick-time-events, or gameplay sequences which can be passed with one’s eyes closed (like the one in ‘Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2’). I understand the need to create an “ultimate” cinematic experience, but believe me when I tell you, it’s better to keep the core gameplay intact, while adding a few QTE here and there for a more visually stunning experience, not the other way around.
In the end, some might say that the journey is more important than the ending, but I think for the game to feature a complete package, it needs to “nail” both aspects.
So what’s your opinion on this? Is the journey more important than the ending, or they should both be taken care of on equal level? Let us know in the comments below!
Vlad Pintea is an editor here at Analog Addiction, and for him, the worst ending experienced is definitely the one from Red Dead Redemption *tears*. You can contact him via e-mail at email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org, on Skype, My IGN, Steam (all at the same name: vlad94pintea) or Facebook (Vlad Pintea). Have a good day and remember! Stay calm and keep on gaming!