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Video games offer epic experiences with the power to excite, enthrall, and entertain. At least they do on occasion, when all of the various elements needed to turn a game from a mildly amusing distraction into a piece of art are present. Unfortunately, even the best games can often turn ugly in the end.
Video games often require hours of effort to complete. And while the experience of actually playing through them is reward enough, there’s nothing quite like sitting back and enjoying a satisfying ending. However, there are many disappointing video game endings out there, leaving the player open-mouthed and ready to pitch their controller at the TV in frustration and anger.
It should go without saying that the list which follows contains spoilers, and plenty of them. If you haven’t played the games mentioned then definitely don’t watch the embedded YouTube videos, and you should probably avoid reading the text underneath each one as well. You have been warned.
Games are meant to be played, not watched. Unless you subscribe to the Hideo Kojima school of thought (more on that later). Which makes games that end, not with an epic battle or conclusive action but a cutscene, ultimately unsatisfying.
Fallout 3 delivers just such a disappointing video game ending, with a cutscene playing out depending on your actions through the game. The cutscenes aren’t even cinematic, instead being simple affairs brought to life by a dramatic voiceover. Which doesn’t deliver a satisfying conclusion.
Some of us here at MakeUseOf, myself included, love the Shenmue games. So much so we wanted the series to continue beyond the second game. It never did, and it looks unlikely that it ever will. Which is why the end of Shenmue 2 is so disappointing.
This is clearly a game conceived as being the middle part of a more epic story, and so Shenmue 2 ends with the story still yet to conclude. This stands as perhaps the biggest anti-climax I have ever personally experienced in my 30 years as a gamer.
Alan Wake is a game you’ll either love or hate. There is no middle ground. And the same is true of the ending, though I suspect more people hate it than love it. This game was never going to have a happy, satisfying conclusion, but what was delivered doesn’t even deliver storytelling 101.
There are questions left unanswered, confusion added to that which already existed in the main part of the game, and various possible explanations for what occurs at the end. Playing Alan Wake is like watching 2001: A Space Odyssey… you’re partly mesmerized and partly clueless as to what’s happening.
Metal Gear Solid 2
As promised, here’s Hideo Kojima. Every game in the Metal Gear Solid series has a convoluted storyline, lengthy (some would say over-long) cutscenes, and plodding endings that will leave all but pseudo-intellectuals bored and confused. Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons Of Liberty is the worst of them all.
I completed Metal Gear Solid 2 and thoroughly enjoyed the experience. So much so it made my list of PS2 games still worth playing. But this is despite the disappointing video game ending, which left me so befuddled I immediately put the game back in the box and gave it away. It left me cold and confused. I love the game, I just hate the ending.
Mass Effect 3
Mass Effect 3 has arguably the most famous ending of any video game in history. Not because it was good, but because gamers were so disappointed with the original they complained vociferously online until BioWare was forced to release an extended cut aiming to counter some of the criticism.
The problems with the ending, or endings to be more precise, are manifold. The main one being that the consequences of the player’s actions throughout the game are rendered inconsequential. Add in plot-holes, inconsistencies, and a general lack of closure for the trilogy, and you get a wholly disappointing ending.
Borderlands is rightly regarded as one of the best games of recent years. It’s highly playable, highly entertaining, and pitched just right to appeal to a wide demographic. There’s just one problem: the ending is disappointing, as it slowly dawns on you you’ve been lied to all along.
Your role in Borderlands is to locate the Vault, a fabled location supposedly full of untold treasures. After many hours of sometimes-difficult gameplay, you arrive at the Vault to discover it contains a whopping great monster that you need to defeat. Your reward for your efforts? Nothing whatsoever.
Rage is a mixed bag of a game, featuring fantastic visuals and thoroughly satisfying combat elements. Unfortunately the story is lacking, and the whole thing is brought to a crashing end with a finale that does nothing more than set the stage for a sequel which has so far failed to materialize.
Your role in Rage is to raise the Arks containing humans who survived the apocalypse. Those you bring out of stasis will help augment the Resistance and fight against the Authority. You fulfill your role perfectly, and then the game ends. There is no fight, there is no conclusion.
Final Fantasy X
Like the Metal Gear Solid series, the Final Fantasy games all share common themes. But their endings differ greatly. Some are fantastic, tying up all the loose ends and leaving you with a happy feeling after many hours of effort. Others, like Final Fantasy X, leave you shaking your head.
This is one of those games that could have had a fantastic ending, but the writers decided to go a different way than most gamers would have done. The whole game builds to a natural conclusion, but that ending is ripped from under you in place of a tepid, unsatisfying compromise.
As you may have noticed there are some broad similarities between the games on the list, which somewhat explains why the endings are all so disappointing…
There are the attempts at leaving more for the planned sequel, which are especially annoying when no sequel ever gets made. Developers have to build franchises in order to make money these days, hence the popularity of this approach, but it always ends up sells gamers short.
There are the multiple endings necessitated by giving the player choices as to how they approach the game. While this gameplay mechanic is a welcome one for the most part, forcing developers to create multiple endings only leads to one thing: a lack of resources being spent on each one.
There is also the recent desire to leave the ending up to the gamer’s imagination. The idea is that gamers are more mature now and can interpret the story however they see fit, but that doesn’t excuse leaving questions unanswered and plot-holes unfilled.
I decided to limit this list to fairly recent titles, purely because it maximizes the number of people likely to have played the games in question. However, there are some older titles whose endings absolutely sucked.
Those of you whose teenage years are but a dim and distant memory may remember Doom, Ghosts ‘n Goblins, or Monkey Island 2. Each and every one had sucky endings. Which goes to show we can’t (wholly) blame modern developers and publishers.
This list is far from complete because, to be blunt, there have been countless examples of disappointing video game endings over the years. The floor is now yours: tell us which of these endings you hated the most; which you actually liked; which other games you think should have made the list. The comments section below is ready and waiting for your input.