Now I’m not one of those people who believes that the ending of a game is the be all and end all. The journey and the story are leaps and bounds more important, that’s where you’re going to spend the majority of your time anyway. I wasn’t one of those people who thought the ending of Mass Effect 3 was the worst thing in the world and completely overwrote the other 100 plus hours I’d spent with the series. That’s just dumb.
That being said, a game’s ending is often the point when a game goes from good to great. A bad ending can leave an unpleasant taste in the player’s mouth. It’s the last thing they’ll experience, the last thing the game had to show them. If a game had an amazing story with many memorable moments and a great build up to an ultimately disappointing ending you know that will stick with the player. They’ll remember all the great times they had with that game and then remember being disappointed by the ending. This was my experience with Firewatch. Again, this in no way means it’s not a good game or worthy of being played or even replayed. All it means is that a game’s ending- especially a narrative driven, story focused game- is important.
So here’s a look at the endings that have stuck with me the longest. The endings that left me emotionally devastated. The endings with moments that had me jumping out of my chair in excitement. And some endings that just left me thoughtfully reflective for days after. Enjoy! (Obvious spoilers for the following games. You’ve been warned!)
Portal 2 (Valve)
My time in Portal 2 was very special. Exploring the derelict Aperture Labs with potato GLaDOS, using physics and stuff to solve puzzles. That was all cool. What stuck with me about Portal 2 wasn’t the puzzles however, it was the story. GLaDOS and Wheatley battling for control, me caught in the middle. And of course the countless memorable lines throughout my adventure. What made the game for me though was shooting one last portal onto the moon to suck everything in the room into outer-space. That’s the most “WHAT?!?!” moment I’ve ever experienced in a game. I was in the room with my dad and we both started laughing in disbelief. What an ending.
The Last of Us (Naughty Dog Inc.)
Joel is the bad guy. Joel makes a choice he had no place making. He chooses to take Ellie without her consent away from the people who could find a cure with her body. Ellie wanted to find a cure, she wanted to do whatever she could to help humanity get back on their feet even if that meant dying. And Joel came in and took all of that away when he learned that saving humanity would mean losing Ellie. Now, the cure wasn’t guaranteed. From recordings he finds around the hospital it’s clear the doctors don’t know if they’ll be able to find a cure. She might die for nothing. Or she might die for a cure to save everyone. This conflict is a quite obvious callback to Joel’s loss of his own daughter. This is the moment we realize what Ellie truly means to Joel and it’s what make The Last of Us‘ ending so meaningful. And when confronted about the truth by Ellie he lies straight to her face. Stone cold, Joel. Stone cold.
BioShock Infinite (Irrational Games)
Where to even start… Infinite‘s ending is massive. You learn in the span of about 20 minutes that Booker is Comstock, Elizabeth is Booker’s daughter and oh yeah, there’s infinite universes all represented by the same lighthouse from the first BioShock and by travelling between them Elizabeth can manipulate timelines. This was one of the ones where I just sat there in front of the screen long after the credits processing everything that just happened.
Undertale (Toby Fox)
Undertale features several different endings depending on how you play all equally awesome. I chose to beat the whole game without killing a single monster and was rewarded with a somewhat happy ending. But this is where Undertale gets interesting. Sure I beat the boss but I didn’t really unlock the true ending, as Jen (who’s the biggest Undertale fan I know) was fast to point out. So I went back into the game and talked to characters, helped them work through some issues and resolve some loose ends. Then I went back to the final boss and got a completely new ending. I saved everyone, we all conquered evil and went to the surface together. Yay 🙂
The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess (Nintendo)
Twilight Princess was the first Zelda game I beat. As a little kid Twilight Princess was my first epic video game journey. It took me 70 hours going around and doing everything, finding every heart piece and searching ever nook and cranny for secrets. All that time led to one final showdown with Ganondorf. I still remember the excitement in my little eight year old mind as I got on my horse and rode towards Ganondorf sword outstretched and sticking it straight though his chest in a flash of light! And then it was all over. All of that time, all of the preparations and challenges I’d overcome came down to a singular, epic moment and I loved it.
Spec Ops: The Line (Yager Development, Darkside Game Studios)
The first game I played that even touched on the topic of post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) was Spec Ops. It’s something you never think about which is interesting in light of the sheer number of first-person shooters that come out every year and have players enter high stress combat scenarios. Killing hundreds of people, seeing civilians have their lives destroyed and constantly being moments away from death has a severe impact on a person’s mind. But no game has dealt with or even brought up that concept. Spec Ops not only brings up the concept but the whole ending of the game is based around the main character’s struggle with PTSD. It’s revealed that at seminal points throughout the campaign when the player thought they were doing one thing they were actually doing something else entirely but were tricked by their own brain into believing what they saw was true.
Mass Effect (BioWare)
I absolutely love space and sci-fi settings (hence Portal 2‘s ending) so it’s no wonder Mass Effect has a place on my list. But Mass Effect‘s ending is more unique and memorable. Through a wormhole our hero Commander Shepherd travels from a far away point in the galaxy back to the Citadel just as the first Reaper is landing. They then are forced to scale the outside of the Citadel in zero gravity to reach the top and save the day. Climbing up the side of this massive monument to the galaxy’s accomplishments as a firefight is happening with defeated foes drifting off and destruction happening all around… it was one of those endings where I found myself standing up in the middle of my living room as I was playing.
Red Dead Redemption (Rockstar Games)
Read Dead‘s ending was one that genuinely shocked me. Stepping out of the barn as John Marston and being shot to death by a firing squad came out of nowhere. The fact that I had the option to shoot back made it almost feel like I’d failed when I died and if I was a little faster I might have been able to get out alive. I was half expecting to respawn in the barn and try again. But that didn’t happen. I was now John Marston’s son, years after his death. And I was thirsty for vengeance. Tracking down the man who organized the murder of my father while solemn western music played out was awesome. I eventually found the man sitting on the dock, fishing. He didn’t know me but I knew him. I explained I was here to avenge my father and he stood up and we put our hands on our holsters and had one last duel. I shot him dead, holstered my gun and walked away. The simplicity and focus of Read Dead‘s ending makes it all the more purposeful. It takes all the grandeur of the world built by the rest of the story and wraps it up in one moment.
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