You Know What I Love? Endings That Actually End

Halo 4

By on November 27, 2012 at 1:06 pm

You know what I love? Endings. I mean real endings. Not just that point where the game peters out before the credits roll, but proper conclusions that actually wrap everything up, grabbing the narrative loose ends and tying them together in a pretty bow. A proper ending to a game can increase just how significant all my actions up to that point felt. It can give them meaning: “This is what I was fighting for all this time.”

But so many modern videogames don’t end. So many videogames have to leave the ending open for the inevitable sequel that will be made when it sells well enough. Consequentially, so many videogame stories render my actions throughout them meaningless. Not because they are bad stories, but because they lack endings. They lack finality. In the end, I wasn’t fighting for anything.

It’s for this reason that I am kind of angry at myself for playing Halo 4. I loved the ending of Halo 3. Absolutely loved it. It had this amazing finality to it that so few big, franchise games have these days. Master Chief had saved the universe and, in the process, created a world where he was no longer needed. It was powerful and bitter sweet. He just went to sleep in a dead space ship drifting through space. That was that.

It had such a powerful finality to it. I had been working towards this point for three whole games, and now all those actions had paid off, saving the world and rendering my character unneeded. Further, it felt like a promise from the developers: we have wrapped this up; it over; what you did mattered.

Halo 4 exists solely because they wanted to make another Halo game. And, in the process, it posthumously destroys one of the strongest endings of a franchise in recent years

But then, of course, Microsoft wanted to make more money, so five years later they forced the Chief to wake up again. It’s not that Halo 4 is a bad game. On a purely mechanical level, it is an entirely commendable Halo game. The gunfights are as enjoyable as they are in any of the previous games, with the same focus on choosing the right combination of weapons for the right enemies.

The problem is that the game never actually feels like you’re doing anything other than going through the motions, as an excuse to give Microsoft more money. Halo 4 exists solely because they wanted to make another Halo game. And, in the process, it posthumously destroys one of the strongest endings of a franchise in recent years.

Halo 3’s great ending will never again feel the way it did. Next time I watch Master Chief go to sleep at the end of his struggle, I’ll know that this isn’t ultimate, that he will just be woken up again in a few years. With the existence of Halo 4, the previous game’s ending—and the three games of actions that lead up to it—was rendered meaningless.

Some people might just shrug at this. It’s inevitable, surely. Our industry is one where known franchises are the ones that sell copies. Big publishers need to turn new IPs into massive franchises, selling more and more titles on the same universes, mechanics, and characters. Generally speaking, we often can’t have strong, conclusive endings because for most games that isn’t financially viable. There will always be another game in that franchise. It always has to be left open.

But just because a franchise might be extended forever doesn’t mean that franchise has to keep tacking onto the end of the same narrative thread. Before Halo 4, Bungie and 343 alike had extended the franchise in all kinds of meaningful ways with prequels and other characters and stories in other parts of the world. In such a broad universe with so much potential, so many worlds and characters, why destroy the one strong ending you have?

Plenty of franchises have already figured this out, of course. Final Fantasy has been starting entirely new stories in entirely new worlds for decades now. Though, with their ‘-2’ games, even they have been tempted to destroy solid endings to make more money. The Elder Scroll games, meanwhile, manage to extend a world’s narrative but jump forward enough in both time and place to not step on the toes of the previous games.

So I don’t buy that the capitalist-driven, franchise nature of triple-a videogames as a good excuse for the general lack of strong, conclusive endings. Clearly, a good ending is not easy to create, and I’m not one to lecture developers about how to do their job, but when a good, conclusive ending comes by, it always makes everything feel worth it.

It’s part of the reason that I think Spec Ops: The Line has been as critically acclaimed as it has been. Whether or not the story was any good (which is certainly arguable), each of the possible endings felt final. We might get more Spec Ops games, to be sure, but this game sealed off the end of its own narrative. It’s done. Final. Any new games in the series will have to introduce new characters or locations.

Currently, whenever I play a triple-a game, I play the final stages in fear. I am terrified that the game’s hunger to have a sequel is going to ruin everything

Another game I recently finished was Gravity Rush on the Vita. Without spoiling anything, it had a particularly odd ending. Enough was left open for a sequel to cash in, but it was also conclusive enough in its own right that it felt like the conflict the characters faced in this game was dealt with.

Ultimately, Gravity Rush was able to tie up the right threads for me to get that sense of narrative finality, but also left some other threads dangling me to entice me on to a new game.

Currently, whenever I play a triple-a game, I play the final stages in fear. I am terrified that the game’s hunger to have a sequel is going to ruin everything. I’m afraid that the game is going to leave me drifting through space like Grayson Hunt in Bulletstorm, twiddling my thumbs and waiting to be rescued forever, not conclusively going to sleep like Master Chief in Halo 3. And even if a games does have a good ending, I have to live in constant fear, still, of the publisher coming back and ripping it up again, untying the bow and frazzling the narrative rope just to make more money.

It sucks. Which is why I love the strong endings we do have. The ones the punctuate the games more concerned with their own quality than their sequel potential. There is a direct relationship between how much my actions feel to matter in a game and whether or not the game ends in a conclusive way. Hopefully, in the future, more franchises realise they can have it both ways: universes can be extended and more money can be made without having to wake old heroes from their slumber.

9 comments (Leave your own)

The ending of Halo 3, after the credits, has Master Chief’s ship floating towards the forerunner planet, it was always set up for a sequel.

I really enjoyed Halo 4, and felt more engaged in the story than I did in 3, particularly with the relationship between Chief and Cortana and the looming threat of the Didact, so I guess that comes down to personal opinion.

 

I can’t agree that Halo 3 had a good ending. I understand what you’re getting at and omg I agree about endings in general but Halo 3 is not an example of a good ending, Halo 4 was, not Halo 3.

The issue with game endings is that 99% of them are just showing the badguy getting killed or the characters getting to safety from an explosion or whatnot (essentially the story concluded and was wrapped up 1 or 2 cutscenes previously with the last one there just to go through the motions) of which Halo 3 squarely fits in the latter. I didn’t feel there was any real reflection on the story or events that had lead them to where they ended up and the very act of being stuck in space was a forced reference to Halo 1 (just like the Warthog run).

Halo 4 however I would cite as a good ending, like you mentioning Gravity Rush I found that Halo 4′s ending continued telling the story which involved a reflection on the events that happened and how it changed some of the characters. Sure they super hinted at what was to come which wasn’t surprising since we already knew this was the first in a trilogy but the story that had started in Halo 4 had concluded and I liked that. It’s like Star Wars, the overall story hadn’t ended but the story begun in that particular episode had which gave each movie a satisfying ending.

I also feel you’re reading into Halo 3′s ending a bit. As I said it was a forced reference to Halo 1′s ending and they were just trying to be cool with it (not surprising given Halo 3 wasn’t written by writers, the Halo1/2 writer had a minimal role from what i’ve heard and instead an artist and a 1up editor wrote Halo 3, really explains why it was so sh!t), not to mention that the Legendary ending showed that that was never meant to be the end of MC in the first place, Bungie were even going to do Halo 4 before they went with Reach instead, not because they wanted to keep Halo 3′s ending final but because the wanted to so something new with Halo.

My 2c

 

I thought the ending of Solitaire was a cracker.

 

It’s most likely a result of the typical narrow minded pressuring from the business side of the industry to continue on with something that’s been successful in the past.
“Don’t bother taking the risk creating a whole world to draw on for stories, just keep using the same character/story that the kids have already bought games about.”

From their point of view it would keep things simple, easy to follow and they know what product they’ll be getting at the end. Given a choice, they don’t want risky creativity, they want something quantifiable that they’re confident they can sell. Sequels are an easy avenue for that.

 

Fully agree with the article but one striking entry that is not mentioned is Assassins Creed 3.

It was meant to be the end of this storyline of AC but instead they wussed out and made a faux ending.
The only thing that ended was the life of _________ [Removed name to stop Spoiling]

Drove me nuts I wanted this whole 2012 doomsday story line to be over and for a proper conclusion.

I know more AC games will be made but they could of done a Bioshock Infinite.
Keep the same general gameplay idea’s but change the setting and the style of the game and overall the story.

 

The end of MGS4.
All other endings pale in comparison.

Heh, in pretty much every way.

 

Well, the whole “looming threat of the Didact” felt pretty poor honestly, at least the covenant made some different enemies and opportunities for stories, the Didact just, well, it never really made me feel that I was fighting so much again an overly powerful enemy, especially with that “boss” battle.
But Cortana and chief story was good. That really did make a good game.

yurtles,

Innovation and creativity are an expensive risk sadly, and that really does deeply sadden me to see that these games could be made, but instead a sequel is made just because the concept has been proven to make money :D

 

I never was too fussed about the Didact. He wasn’t the story I was interested in.

The real point of Halo 4 was, for me, the Cortana and Chief relationship, and the issues she faced with her rampancy. For someone whose face you cannot see at any point during the story, there are whole depths of emotional reaction depicted at certain points of the story. It was almost painful watching Chief’s initial reaction to knowledge of Cortanas’ rampancy, his outright denial in accepting it, even though his position to do anything about it was totally hopeless. His almost mechanical response did nothing to hide his utter desperation at the idea of losing the only friend he actually has left.

I think that’s what has won me over with the Halo story, in the end. Chief, for all his combat ability and prowess, is a very tragic character – taken from his life and forced into a role he never asked for, but has no choice but to see through because of the weight of his deeds and the expectations upon him. He’s flawed, and for the first time, we get to see just how deep and painful those flaws really are. For that alone, I can forgive the implausibility of the storyline – it is a merely a vehicle for the character development, which is what I was ravenous to see. Where they go from here, however, will be either be more of the same or blatant exploitation of the brand.

That being said, I can completely see where Brendan is coming from. I’ve said something similar amongst friends many times before.

 

I really thought from reading the title of this article it was going to be about how great the Halo 4 ending was for the closure and lack of any obvious attempt to set up a sequel. Though I’m pretty sure Spartan Ops will end with a cliffhanger.

 
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