Friday Flame Wars: Best and Worst Video Game Endings

C.J. Miozzi

Best Ending: Portal 2

The most important aspect of a story’s ending, to me, is that it delivers satisfaction. That doesn’t mean a happy ending — just one that brings appropriate closure to all relevant arcs. When Chell finally made it to the surface at the end of Portal 2, that was immensely satisfying. GLaDOS’ arc concludes nicely with a hint that the AI actually did grow sympathetic to Chell, and seeing Wheatley floating around in space brought closure to the pitiful character.

Worst ending: Diablo 3

Two words can sum up the entirety of this game: lost potential. The ending to Diablo 3′s ham-fisted story is the final, ultimate insult, with Tyrael delivering as trite a monologue as he could muster. The once-coolest character in the franchise is reduced to pontificating a message of hope while a symbolic sunrise checks the final box on the list of vomit-inducing, cheesy story clich├ęs. Worse, no mention is made of Leah, the poor girl who suffered the most throughout the plot, leaving me ultimately dissatisfied and physically ill.

Phil Hornshaw

Best Ending: Chrono Trigger

In terms of satisfying conclusions, there’s just no comparison. Everything has been building to the final confrontation with Lavos, and when you finally choose to take him on, you have no help and nothing to rely on but yourself — you literally BUST YOUR WAY INTO HIM at the expense of your time machine. You’re not behind enemy lines, you’re INSIDE enemy lines. The battle is incredibly tough and expansive, with three stages, but the victory is incredible. It might be a simplistic ending for a game, but it manages to tie up all the threads and leaving you feel like everything you’d done mattered. It’s extremely satisfying.

Honorable mention: Mass Effect (not 3). Yeah, we knew Shepard wasn’t smashed under rubble but still, that moment when he comes running out from under the mess, after defeating Saren, with Sovereign collapsing and the Citadel in ruins — another extremely satisfying conclusion to a game. Your impact on the world mattered.

Honorabler mention: Metal Gear Solid 3. Yes, the story is not only incredibly melodramatic, but also ham-fisted, but one emotional beat lands perfectly: The Boss’s sacrifice. A woman so patriotic, she would allow herself to be turned into a villain to history for the sake of her country. The conclusion of the game is an incredibly sour note, overwrought though it is — you’re forced to kill the bad guy for the good of the many (kinda). It’s an amazingly formative moment for the character of Naked Snake, who would go on to be the (comically over the top villain) Big Boss, but you can totally see where he’s coming from when he has to kill his friend and mentor more or less at the whim of American political brass.

Worst Ending: Don’t get me started…

It’s hard for me to pin down a “worst ending” because the more I think about it, the more games deserve the accolade. In fact, the vast majority of games this generation fall into the “Worst Ending” category — I’d count Mass Effect 3, Gears of War 3, RAGE, Deus Ex: Human Revolution, Assassin’s Creed 3, BioShock, Spec Ops: The Line, Far Cry 3, Fallout 3 and many more in the category of delivering conclusions that are at the least weak, and at the most, nonsensical. It’s tough to even pin down a “worst,” as the only way many of these could be worse is if they were the “it was all a dream” conclusion of Super Mario Bros. 2.

In fact, all these endings relate to a single issue of rushed, weak conclusions that spend two minutes with a generic wrap-up of a multi-hour story. All of them feel phoned in, which results in endings that are rarely satisfying. Often developers seem to run out of steam with endings and wrap up games as quickly as possible, often with a weak full-motion video and some voice-over narration. Endings are incredibly important to storytelling, and the fact that so many developers seem to not really give a crap about how they cap their stories suggests that gaming continues to have a huge distance to travel before it advances as a storytelling medium.

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18 Comments on Friday Flame Wars: Best and Worst Video Game Endings

Rustedness

On April 5, 2013 at 3:24 pm

Best ending? Best ending… boss battle aside, I loved the ending to the first Bioshock. I found the simplicity of the cinematic, focusing on hands, to be rather touching (good ending obviously, evil ending not so much).

Next up would be Fallout New Vegas, and some of its add-ons (Dead Money and Old World Blues to be precise). I’ve never really forgiven the game for the buggy state it was released in, but the endings felt very satisfying. You got to see the various consequences of your actions (good and bad), and any characters you may have cared about got their own monologue concerning their feelings and post-ending actions. It’s funny how much I liked the monologues of Old World Blues. I really grew attached to those appliances…

Walking Dead gets an honourable mention, but loses on account of the cliffhanger ending. The expression on Clem’s face, that really wasn’t what I’d wanted to see. Then again I didn’t want to see most of the characters die either but the game still rocked, so what the hell do I know?

Spec Ops: The Line gets an honourable mention too. I know some people thought it sucked, but I felt the ending(s) really suited. By no means happy, and it left me feeling drained, but it kept a consistent tone and left me feeling satisfied in an odd downbeat fashion. Which brings me to…

Mass Effect 3 is probably the worst all time ending for me personally. See Gamefront articles and Koobismo as to the why. Going through the reasons at this stage would be like beating an old brown smear on the floor that used to be a dead horse.

Honourable mention goes to Deus Ex: Human Revolution. I was irritated at that ending, but not as pissy as I was at ME3. At least Jensen sounded brassed off when speaking to that AI.

Loveless

On April 5, 2013 at 4:12 pm

Best Ending: Final Fantasy VI on the snes. Great game fantastic story and an ending that felt like it gave you closure with the characters that you invested your time in. You also get a little of abonis scene if you remember to save Shadow.

Worst Ending: Half life Episode 2, strictly because I’m still waiting for #3 all these years later ………

gasmaskangel

On April 5, 2013 at 5:31 pm

I’m going to have to disagree with Phil on the inclusion of Spec Ops the Line in his worst endings list, because while it’s not my favorite ending ever, it was the right way to end the game. All of the endings are bleak, and lets face it, best case scenario Walker is going to be in a mental hospital the rest of his life, but they are right for the story and in the end that’s what matters most to me.

Baldur’s Gate II: Throne of Bhaal is another favorite of mine, wrapping up the main story line and all it’s dangling plot threads and giving a half way decent epilogue for all of your companions, for the same reason I love the endings of the first and second Fallout (haven’t been able to get all the way through New Vegas yet, I keep getting lost in the sand box) where Ron Pearlman narrates how your actions changed every major locale in the game.

The best ending of any game this generation though, has to be Singularity in my opinion. This game is entirely too under rated in my book, while yes the gameplay itself is derivative of other first person shooters the story takes what could have been a generic time travel plot and does amazing things with it, and the endings are quite simply spectacular.

My honorable mentions are Alpha Protocol, Vampire the Masquerade: Bloodlines, and Neverwinter Nights: Hordes of the Underdark.

As for my worst endings, well Home is up there. As endings go “it was you who done it” has to be one of my least favorite. There’s also Sanitarium, which ends with the whole game being a coma dream, and Mass Effect 3 which would have arguably been better if it was all a coma dream. Both of Saint’s Row the Third’s endings also leave a bit of a bad taste in my mouth.

Rage though, Rage’s ending create’s a good deal of rage in me. I don’t know if it is legitimately the worst, but I do hate it the most. I hate the way you don’t even fight the supposed oppressive regime until the last couple minutes, I sort of wonder if Rage was originally meant to be a much longer game, but the developers realized that they couldn’t do that so they hastily slapped the last two thirds of the original story into the last hour or so.

lee

On April 5, 2013 at 6:58 pm

For me the one of the best endings in resent memory was Gears of War 3. It was a good bitter sweet ending. Besides the Mass Effect 3 ending the worst ending for me was Dragon’s Dogma. Aside the fact the story made no sense what so ever. The ending felt that no matter which path you chose you’re screwed.

Michael

On April 5, 2013 at 7:04 pm

PS3/Xbox360 life cycle only

Best Endings

Metal Gear Solid 4
Heavy Rain – 17 endings
Dantes Inferno
Castlevania Lords of Shadow
Ni NO kuni
Batman Arkham City

Worst endings

Bioshock series
Assassins Creed 3
Mass Effect 3
God of War 3
Gears of War series

Roy Batty

On April 5, 2013 at 7:38 pm

Best Ending:

Deus Ex – It made me want to keep playing it. You played the game however you wanted and all three endings had something for just about everyone.

Honorable Mentions:

StarCraft I – I love how Tassadar kicks the Overminds ass even if he does buy it in the end.
WingCommander IV
Max Payne
ME1

Worst Ending:

Humm…

ME3 edges out DA2 but I will say this, if one is to fail it might as well be an EPIC fail.

Honorable Mention: Diablo I (Yes you win by jamming an evil stone into your head then becoming Diablo in D2…joy!)

Swcloud99

On April 5, 2013 at 7:53 pm

Agree with Phil Hornshaw, too many bad endings to really call out the worse.
Mass Effect’s entire story was a mess from the start of ME2 all the way to the ending of 3. The only thing good about that series is the universe and without a good story, what’s the point.
The best ending, I feel, is MGS2.
The only game ever to have the balls to go full throttle into the post-modern all the way from start to finish. The ending itself abandons all logic, powered by it’s gameplay and story up to that point, to deliver a message which is that fiction plot don’t matter and you should take away ideas and feelings from them instead of obsessing over the in-universe details.
No one got it, they obsessed over the lack of logic without realising that was the point and the ending got slapped with the label of bad which makes it all the more tragic.

Aedelric

On April 5, 2013 at 7:56 pm

Even though Mass Effect 3 is the one I talk about the most, the worst for me to this day is Legacy of Kain: Soul Reaver.

Reason being that the voice acting, story and gameplay was so outstanding when I first played it I was eagerly anticipating a resolution, a resolution that never came… To Be Continued….

I was devastated, I hated the cliff hanger and that I was forced to wait and pay for the next game just to find out what happened.

Honorable mention to Deus Ex Human Resolution, the Mass Effect route with three choices, the game was so strong and ended with such a whimper.

Aedelric

On April 5, 2013 at 8:37 pm

Took me a while to think over the best endings.

My favorite is Mass Effect I, so satisfying, we defeated Saren saved the Citadel and combined with the heroic music and choice for Anderson as counselor it game the player hope for the future as well as a dark mystery on the horizon in the form of the Reapers.

A very, very close second place is Alpha Protocol, sailing off into the distance with the insane Heck. Unless you played the game from start to end, you can not understand how amazing it all was. Ending may differ to others due to choices.

Honorable mentions would be Dragon Age Origins, New Vegas and Vampire the Masquerade: Redemption (Such a bitter sweet ending, it is a great story deserving a remake.)

Michael

On April 6, 2013 at 1:19 am

I don’t understand when people claim similarities between the DXHR and ME3 endings. They have pretty much the exact opposite message.

DXHR is full of fallen heroes that thought that just because they have good intentions they can impose their will on humanity. ME3 on the other hand worships “The Shepard” a super-human that just picks the right color and thereby fixes the world imposing his will on everyone in the process.

DXHR’s Eliza presents the views of the protagonists and in the process exposes the irreconcilable conflicts of the DX world. ME3′s Catalyst on the other hand is just a incoherent mess that appears out of nowhere. Well they are both AIs so I guess there is a similarity there.

The DXHR epilogues show that some hero pushing some buttons doesn’t bring about World Peace. ME3′s epilogues have the opposite message.

EndlessSorcerer

On April 6, 2013 at 1:40 am

Best ending, hm, have to say Persona 3 or 4. P3′s ending was great in it’s bitter sweetness and for keeping up with the game’s theme (Death, Sorrow and Memento Mori) but had a rather weak endboss compared to other bosses in the game. P4′s ending was also great but not as good as P3 (although over all I prefer P4 to P3) but the final bosses was just awesome. I really want to buy a Vita just to play P4 Golden.

Worst? There are quite a few in the last few years but I’d say ME3 just for the wasted potential. Honorable mention goes to:
-AC3 which was just lackluster but I stopped caring about the game halfway through so…
- Bioshock Infinite. It was a pretty good game but there are a few faults and the ending is one of them. I understand it and what it tries to say but my problem with the ending lies with that the game just stops at that point and instead just explain what happened in the game. It just feels out of place and should have been explained through the story and not crammed in (it feels like that was a problem through the whole game, they had many great ideas but the long development cycle caused them to loose control over them)

Go, Nads!

On April 6, 2013 at 5:28 am

Worst ending’s easy, Mass Effect 3 all day long. There may be a few others that are less satisfying from a dramatic standpoint, like Assassin’s Creed 3 perhaps, but none of them managed to flat-out ruin everything like ME3′s denouement did.

Another ending that just p’ed me off was The Saboteur. I’m just going to go ahead and spoil it here as it wasn’t that successful and those who bought it have probably either finished it or won’t get around to it, so here goes – after spending hours upon hours tirelessly liberating Paris and parts of Italy and Germany from Nazi occupation, and completing a massively long sequence where you climb the Eiffel Tower to reach your enemy, you enter the final elevator to the top. There’s then a cutscene where you walk out, and immediately the enemy fires his gun point-blank at your forehead. Of course, in one of the oldest cliches alive, it’s out of ammo and you then get to shoot him in the face instead and make him plummet off the tower, but that scene basically made it clear that in spite of everything you’d done, the most important confrontation was only won on pure blind luck and nothing else. It was a real bomb.

Best endings for me are probably Red Dead Redemption (the reveal that the redemption would turn out to be someone else’s years after the events of most of the game took place was a twist done right) and Metal Gear Solid 3 which packed a hell of a punch and actually made sense, at least as much sense as can be made in the MGS universe.

Aedelric

On April 6, 2013 at 7:58 am

You are right to a point Michael, the Deus Ex Human Revolution ending had more coherency and better writing, but even then it was not the strong point in the game, it was fairly weak.

It gets compared because of one thing, the three choices regardless of how you play the rest of the game, essentially red green or blue. People are not keen on their choices being ignored in games, myself included.

Gumbi

On April 6, 2013 at 10:13 am

Best ending was Mass Effect 3. Why? Because it finally highlighted just how out of touch, elitist, and flat-out ignorant the majority of the mainstream outlets were on what made storytelling work, what made for honest PR, and what gamers wanted. They hanged themselves with their own rope due to their inability to see past the prestige and power of EA and BioWare over the reasoned arguments of the ‘nerds’ who they clearly have nothing but contempt for since they do their jobs better than them and aren’t as likely to fall for their spin as casual gamers. They resorted to pathetic appeals to emotion, authority and majority (despite the repeatedly proven fact that those who hated the ending WAS the majority), and straw man arguments to try and win the debate on their own limited terms instead of on the terms that were actually relevant to the debate. They threw mud around because they had no valid arguments then had the nerve to claim they were impartial. It didn’t work, and as a result outlets such as GameFront – while far from perfect – have risen in exposure and reputation while those at IGN, Kotaku, and ‘Official’ publications have absolutely nosedived.

If it wasn’t for ME3′s ending, the delusion would still be in place. We needed it for the greater good. We also got some great essayists, both written and in videos, coming to the fore as a result of the debacle.

Worst ending? Obviously ME3, again. From a purely technical standpoint, it was mind cancer.

dweezil

On April 6, 2013 at 8:08 pm

best: Batman Arkham City, The Walking Dead

worst: Vanquish, Just Cause 2

SupremeAllah

On April 7, 2013 at 1:01 am

Illusion of Gaia.
Earthbound as well, since SNES rpgs are so great.

The first Max Payne. Max gets his revenge in a dramatic final scene, then while he’s taken into custody, he has reassurance that he won’t stay there.

R.J.

On April 7, 2013 at 4:02 pm

@EndlessSorcerer

While I already had a Vita for other games, I will tell you that I absolutely love Persona 4 Golden. I don’t know if it’s necessarily worth buying a system if that is the only game you want, but I will say Atlus added quite a bit to the game, so you at least shouldn’t feel like you are buying the same game twice.

@Gumbi

You make some good points. At least ME3 can serve as an example of what not to do, so here is hoping that other devs will take the right messages from what happened because EA sure seems to operate under the delusion that all is well.

Twerr

On April 7, 2013 at 4:59 pm

Mass Effect 3 is the worst ending to a multimedia product ever, not just game.