It’d probably be better if games just ended.
I never really put much thought into it all until I saw Casey Hudson’s tweet about the next Dragon Age title.
There used to be a day where almost all games ended, but it has become rather prevalent – especially in RPGs – to continue after the main story has been completed. There isn’t anything wrong with this approach, but it can weaken the experience if proper care isn’t exercised.
How To End A Game
Let’s take a trip down memory lane to Fallout 3. When you advance on the Jefferson Memorial to regain control over Project Purity, you’re faced with a choice. Do you sacrifice yourself to stop the reaction, and save your cohort Sarah Lyons? Or do you send her in to end the threat so you can save yourself? Then the credits roll, and you learn of the fate the the Capital Wasteland. You’re told of your character’s exploits, whether good or bad, and the far-reaching consequences of your decisions.
Then Bethesda took complaints to heart and released the Broken Steel DLC addon, which extended the game past the events that unfolded at the Jefferson Memorial, and you learned that nothing you did really mattered at all in the grand scheme of things. For instance, even if you choose the most drastic ending for Fallout 3 – infecting the water supply with modified FEV – the only effect is that you see some extra patients in clinics around the Wasteland.
Mass Effect suffered similarly, with your decisions made during the trilogy amounting to very little, aside from some flavor text that gave you a minor bonus towards your Galactic Readiness in Mass Effect 3. Bioware, like Bethesda, backed themselves into a corner narratively. They set the stage for huge implications, but couldn’t deliver because it would be infeasible to account for every decision in the end. Granted, Mass Effect 3 ended without the ability to continue, but the results of a choice-heavy game series led to the same problems that many choice-heavy games face: narrative dissonance.
Those Words Actually Mean Something
Not properly adapting a game’s story to account for the actions of the player creates a conflict in the story itself. This is commonly used as a term to describe a different “issue”; most famously, it refers to the way that Nathan Drake is portrayed as a good guy while racking up a ludicrous body count. The context of how I’m using the term refers more to the lack of consistency that choice-heavy games demonstrate player impact once the screen fades to black.
Fallout: New Vegas avoided this problem with one, simple fix: the game ends after the final quest. Obsidian didn’t even attempt to reconcile player decisions to side with any of the many disparate factions, because you can’t see first-hand the results of your actions. It’s the easy way out, but it works fine. Far better than the attempt by Bethesda to make player decisions matter in Fallout 3‘s Broken Steel DLC.
Another way that developers try to avoid creating problems for themselves is by locking continued play to events that precede the end of the game. Horizon: Zero Dawn and Dragon Age: Origins do this by allowing the player to continue their game from a point prior to the last series of quests. While this approach eliminates the issue of narrative dissonance, it’s still disappointing to finish an epic battle and end the threat you’ve been fighting from the beginning, only to find yourself pushed back to a point where you had been before; the enemy at their worst, and the fate of the world resting squarely on the main character’s shoulders.
What Game Does It Better Then?
It’s funny to me that the best example I can find of a developer allowing the player to continue long after the end of the main story is the same one that created Fallout 3 and Fallout 4, Bethesda. No, I’m not referring to Skyrim, which had similar issues to Bethesda’s Fallout titles. Instead, I’d like to honor Oblivion.
In Oblivion, Cyrodiil changes as you progress through the main story. Gates to Mehrunes Dagon’s plane of Oblivion continue to pop up around the region, with the war against him and his daedric minions coming straight to Imperial City itself (yeah, spoilers, but you’ve had over ten years to play this game). But despite the events which unfold being far-reaching, the game shows the impact quite well. Though there is one caveat: there isn’t a branching narrative. Oblivion is bereft of choice, and that makes it rather easy to show what sort of changes players have an influence over. There are only two conditions for how your impact is determined, and that is whether or not you completed the actions that create the result.
Okay, I guess Oblivion took the easy way out. So what other games out there attempted to create a branching narrative after the end of the game, while accounting for the player’s choices?
I seriously don’t know. Help me out here, because I’m drawing a blank.
Games seem to only offer three options for playing past the end:
- Roll the game back to right before the last quest
- Allow the player to keep going, but nullify player impact
- NieR: Automata
So What’s The Solution?
As it stands right now, neither option gives much of a sense of satisfaction. That’s why I suppose many titles offer a New Game + option, which allows you to start over with all the toys you had before. Many game developers still attempt to find some middle ground between allowing freedom of choice and a continuation of the game after the main story, but I’m at a loss trying to think of a current game that makes it work.
So why bother? I mean, I understand why gamers want to keep playing. They want to run around and finish off anything they missed, play with their powerful toys, and
see what they accomplished bask in the feeling that nothing they did actually mattered.
Okay, I was a little sarcastic with that last bit.
Smartassery aside, I have one request to any developers (like Mr. Hudson) looking to make a game continue after the credits roll.
If you’re going to create a branching narrative, make my choices matter after the final mission. Otherwise, why don’t you just focus on making a great story that makes me want to experience it all over again?
What are your thoughts on continuing after the credits? Does it matter to you if your choices have actual impact, or are you just happy that you can keep playing?
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