Video games are a big investment. First, you drop $40 or more for a new game, and then you sit down and play through it for hours. And then maybe again.
People who identify as gamers are often a passionate bunch, and they can be pretty vocal when they’re unhappy about a decision that affects their enjoyment of a game and its story. An otherwise great game that has a mediocre ending will be subject to the ire of thousands of furious players. Even worse is when a series has an ending that leaves gamers feeling unsatisfied. EA and Bioware actually released downloadable videos, for free, to pad the ending of Mass Effect 3 after fans of the series went off – for months – about the way the series had been ruined. Even now, many people are unsatisfied.
That said, when a game has a great ending or a seriously clever twist, fans remember it, and talk about it for years. Hence, budgets for games are getting bigger; fans are getting choosier, and in the end, companies want to make a name for themselves by becoming the go-to for quality storytelling.
Spoiler Alert! Here are some prime examples of some of the best endings in games that made us feel…
15. Assassin’s Creed 4: Edward Kenway Reunites With His Daughter
Assassin’s Creed 4 was a tremendous game, but most of the greatness had little to do with the story. Still, there are only a handful of moments in the series that can match the reunion of pirate protagonist Edward Kenway and his daughter. He’s come a long way from his dishonest days, and to see him off to seek a new life is surprisingly touching.
14. Halo 4: Master Chief’s Greatest Loss
The Halo games were always epic in scale, but there was also this love story between Master Chief and Cortana, the AI program that worked with him, that ran through the games. This took on a much more prominent space in the story of Halo 4, which made the ending all the more tragic. Facing death by “rampancy” (basically AI dementia), Cortana instead sacrifices herself to save the Master Chief, leaving him alone in the universe and with no idea of what comes next.
13. Fable’s Impossible Choice
Fable is a pretty silly game, but a good one. It also does interesting things with the idea of fairy tale heroism. After defeating Jack of Blades, your hero is offered a chance at becoming the ultimate hero – but at great cost. To take up the Sword of Aeons, the hero must sacrifice his sister. There is no better weapon in the original Fable, and no other chance to collect it. It’s a test for the player, and a particularly hard one for any who played a “good” character.
12. Becoming a Pokemon Master
Pokemon games have never been much in the storytelling department, but there’s a feeling of real accomplishment that goes along with training a group of Pokemon from low levels all the way to becoming contenders for fighting the Elite Four – and then beating them. Of course, there’s also the matter of that last battle against your Rival, and defeating him is extra sweet.
11. Warcraft III: The Defeat of the Burning Legion
Warcraft III offers up some pretty great storytelling. You witness heroes turn to evil, and villains return to become heroes. What Warcraft 3 does differently from other installments in the series is that it takes the various warring factions and pits them against a common foe. The Burning Legion, demons from another world, have come and brought an army of the undead to destroy the world. Only by working with the Orcs and Night Elves do the humans find victory. Sure, WoW undoes a lot of the progress, but that’s beside the point.
10. Portal: “Betraying” Glados (With Song!)
Rarely are video games as funny as the Portal series. A puzzle game based around shooting portals with a gun, the story puts you in the shoes of a human taken prisoner by a psychopathic AI. Escape is your mission, but it’s a hard thing to do when robots are always trying to murder you. Beyond the battle against the AI, there’s a hilarious – and actually quite good – song that plays once you’ve finished the game. More than anything, it’s that which makes the game memorable.
9. Conker’s Bad Fur Day Gets Weird
This is one of the grossest and most ridiculous games ever, and the ending is appropriately silly. But still pretty great. In the end, facing death at the claws of a vicious Alien, the video game “freezes,” leading Conker to break the fourth wall, arm himself with a katana, and decapitate the alien. Might seem weak, but perfect for the game it comes from.
8. Batman: Arkham City Does What The Comics Never Could
For years, Batman has fought the same madmen in Gotham, and Joker has always been the worst of the worst. Still, he can’t bring himself to kill the clown, and so the cycle of death and destruction continues on.
Not so in Arkham City. In that game, Joker is poisoned and on the verge of death, and then attacks Batman, causing the caped crusader to drop the antidote, leaving the clown beyond saving. He tells Joker he would have given it to him, and Joker laughs as he dies. Whoa.
7. Starcraft: Tassadar’s Sacrifice
What made Starcraft so great is that there was real drama under a top-notch strategy game experience. Each act brought the galaxy deeper into chaos. The human government was overthrown by rebels and a hero of the rebellion was corrupted by the Zerg.
She, in turn, led those aliens to begin consuming worlds at an even faster pace. By the time the end of the game rolled around, it was left to a different alien, Tassadar, to blow up himself and the leader of the Zerg. The enormity of his sacrifice was incredible at the time, and has resonated in the series ever since.
6. The Legend Of Zelda: Ocarina Of Time: Goodbye To Navi
The Legend Of Zelda series has some pretty great emotional moments, but it’s tough to top the end of Ocarina of Time for the all-time height. After Link defeats Ganondorf and saves Hyrule, he is transported back in time to when he was a child. Then, after all his sacrifice and hardship, his fairy friend Navi leaves him for parts unknown. Many found Navi annoying throughout the game, but there’s no denying that it hurt to see her go.
5. The Last Of Us Dooms Humanity
The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few – except for in The Last of Us. Forced to decide between allowing a little girl, Ellie, to be killed in order to find a cure or to save her and doom humanity, the protagonist, Joel, saves her and spirits her away. It’s a powerful ending, and one worth talking about.
4. Bioshock Played You The Entire Time
Some people didn’t like the ending to Bioshock, but there’s no denying that it was a huge surprise. Throughout the game, the player is contacted by a man named “Atlas,” who asks him to perform various tasks, all preceded by the phrase “Would you kindly.” In the end, you discover the words are a programmed trigger in the mind of the protagonist – he was hypnotized, and this entire time was being manipulated to further an impostor’s agenda.
3. Mass Effect 2’s Suicide Mission
The ending to Mass Effect 3 was criticized by many for ignoring the choices you’d made throughout the series. After all, what is the point of a choice if the outcome doesn’t change? Mass Effect 2, on the other hand, was all about the choices you made. On the last mission, squad mates can die if you assign them to the wrong task, or if you’ve not built up a rapport with them. It’s an ending that raised the stakes and affected the experience of the third game, too.
2. KOTOR Reveals You Were A Villain
In a huge twist, players discover that their protagonist was originally a member of the Sith. They were taken by the Jedi, subjected to memory modification, and set on the path to do good. Of course, whether or not the player turns to the dark side is up to them. It’s an interesting look at the dynamics of the Star Wars galaxy, one that upends much of what we thought we knew from the films.
1. Red Dead Redemption
This is a game that needs more attention for the brilliance of its writing. Simply put, Red Dead Redemption is a masterpiece, a glorious tale of betrayal and redemption. It’s a long journey that John Marston, the protagonist, is forced to see through, and the end of the game is one of the most surprising ever: after doing everything asked of him, he is killed by the government. Now his son sets off to seek revenge.