Monday, June 27, 2011

Should Endings Feel So Incomplete?

I don't think any movie, TV show, or video game can ever truly have complete closure - aspects will always be left up to interpretation. This isn't a bad thing, as it leaves the audience room to ponder; however, some endings can just feel so unfulfilling, especially in video games. One reason I love to play games is to get swept up in stories that take me to an entirely different place. For me, the gameplay is always second fiddle, something to complement the journey, the struggle. The problem with video games is that they can be a significant time investment. Many games near the 20-50 hour mark, so it's especially essential to make the player feel like they've spent their time well. It's one thing to have fun with the gameplay, it's a whole other to stay glued to the controller because you can't wait to see where the story will take you. Yet, there are so many times I get to the end of the game and I find myself unsatisfied. I don't set my expectations sky high, but I want something that makes me walk away from the experience feeling good about it.

Recently, I finished up Assassin's Creed: Brotherhood. I was surprised just how addicted I became to the game, because the story wasn't really drawing me in as much as I had hoped. Once I reached the ending, though, it started to matter to me - because what I walked away with was sheer anger and disappointment. The game ends on a cliffhanger because they're trying to lead into Revelations, but something about it felt so incomplete. First off, there is a huge dramatic moment in the end that is impossible to see coming (I will keep this spoiler-free, I promise). I liked the unpredictability, but the build up and pacing up to this particular moment wasn't dramatic enough. It didn't feel like there was enough at stake - it happened very quickly, without any foreshadowing or subtle hints. One could argue that this added to the moment, but it didn't feel planned, just abrupt. In fact, this is a key character development complaint I have: the game didn't feel the need to illustrate the importance of the characters and this moment. I was shocked, sure, but I didn't feel much of anything, except for a big, "Brotherhood, how could you?!" It seemed far too easy to end it that way than provide further setup. I know whenever there are multiple entries in a series, the endings of each game up to the finale should keep people wanting to know more for the next game, but I still believe there should at least be some resolution in it all. This is especially essential, because in this economy there are no guarantees that a series will make it to their desired destination. Disappointingly, Brotherhood's ending just felt like a cheap trick to get me to buy Revelations - giving no importance to the steps I'd taken to reach this point.

It's funny that this entry on the importance of endings is appearing after I finished L.A. Noire, a game that I found lacking in many areas. The ending, however, was extremely intense, unpredictable, and said something about the standards we hold for characters. What did Brotherhood's ending do? Nothing except shock and establish a cliff-hanger that could have been so much more than it was. It's hard for me to write more specifics without spoiling, so this entry has to remain rather cryptic. But Brotherhood got me thinking about endings - how many actually meet our expectations? Does there always need to be a grand finale? Just how incomplete should an ending be when leading up to a sequel? I'll admit, I like a little ambiguity, but I also want to feel like the entire journey was worth that monumental last moment. It should not only keep you wanting more, but also leave you with a sense of contentment with where the story has taken you. I think most endings aren't going to get the message across entirely as they should, but they must give the player something to hold on to - otherwise the experience was all for naught.


  1. First off, you have an awesome blog!

    Second, I think it's fantastic that you put story above gameplay. I think that the main reason games like Brotherhood (and I do love Assassin's Creed games) are turning out like this besides the whole "next game incoming..." stuff is because most gamers nowadays are more concerned with cheap thrills and instant gratification. One of the reasons I can't play Call of Duty for hours on end like a few friends I have.

    Again, great blog :)

  2. Thanks for the comment! I definitely feel like the story should be a reward to the player for completing portions of the game - excelling at the gameplay. I really find that it's hard to get into games that don't lure me in with story. Assassin's Creed keeps relying on the same stale gameplay to drive the series, with a story that just isn't making much of an impact. I know when they first announced the series, they said it was going to be in various geographical locations, but we've only seen Rome so far. Interestingly, they said Revelations will complete Enzio's story, but that they plan to make the series live on. They really will need an alluring story to keep it all fresh; I can see the whole assassin gameplay appeal getting played out.