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

Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End™_20160520194034

There’s something to be said about a good ending

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?

oblivion-gate

The alpha and omega

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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Posted by Shelby "Falcon509" Steiner

I'm just a gamer that enjoys talking about my hobbies. I do a little more than that too. I love cooking, grilling, being outdoors, going target shooting, etc.

19 Comments

  1. Games like Diablo, Grim Dawn, and other ARPGs live off end game content. It’s the entire reason why I play them.

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    1. ARPGs like these are sort of made to play them repeatedly, as the gear grind is the wheel to the car that is the genre. I loved Diablo and love ARPGs in general. Wish we had more of them!!

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      1. Same here. There are some great ones like Path of Exile and Grim Dawn, but they’re few and far between. Keep an eye for Lost Ark. It looks like a great ARPG.

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        1. Nice! I’m hoping they flood on to the Switch shortly. Happy to hear that Titan Quest is eventually getting the Switch treatment. To be honest, as a longtime PC gamer turned handheld gamer for the past few years, I fail to see how well it will work without a mouse and keyboard, but I guess I will learn…

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          1. It’ll be an adjustment for sure. I can’t imagine playing Titan Quest on a handheld, but I’m willing to give it a chance though :). Lost Ark will probably never release on a handheld along with Path of Exile because they’re MMOs, but I don’t see why Diablo III and Grim Dawn can’t. Right now Grim Dawn is a PC exclusive and Diablo III is on everything except the Switch.

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    2. That I can understand. End game content in games like Diablo kinda fall outside the scope of what I was getting at though. I was referring more to the way that story-focused games have been putting more emphasis on after-the-story gameplay.

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  2. Never was a big fan of end game content – I prefer to finish a game rather than have this feeling of obligation to go back and finish things. I wish that Odyssey had been more “final” rather than locking 90% of the content behind the credit roll. Once you’ve already seen those credits, it’s hard to want to go back and anti-climatically find all the magic jars of peanut butter or whatever collectible they add into games these days.

    Oblivion was one of my favorites because of how epic the end game was. I went and did all the DLC first, closed the gates, played Shivering Isles the best DLC ever, then finished the main game. It was awesome.

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  3. Interesting post! It is weird to be pushed back in time in a game like Mass Effect 3 or Horizon just to play more content, because they are so story-focused. That said, the Citadel DLC in ME3 was so satisfying to me that it felt like reminiscing, sort of like a flashback — so it worked. But most of the time it is a little jarring. I’ve actually enjoyed DLC the most with games that I wait to play, so I download the game and all extra content all at once and play it together. DLC can also work well with a really open-world game where you never feel like you “finish” the game, but the only example that has worked that way for me is Skyrim!

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    1. I agree 100% about the Citadel DLC. I loved just about every second of it. That’s how you do DLC in my opinion; good enough that it made my 2nd playthrough worth the trouble. You are right that the games with open gameplay, like Skyrim, seem to have less compelling DLC than other games.

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  4. I actually never played on after the credits. Except for pokemon. After the credits it is or uninstalling the game or starting the whole gane over again when I want to play it again.

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    1. Some games are way easier than others to go back to. I just don’t have the heart to keep playing after the game ends. I’d rather just start over.

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  5. Hm, this is interesting, because it’s something I’ve noticed, but never really thought about. Games DID used to have an ending. The credits rolled, and if you started it up again, you started from your last save point before the boss. I like that you get more bang for your buck per se, but I also like when a story has an ending instead of ending fatigue. I’ll usually continue playing until there’s nothing left to do like with World of Final Fantasy after I completed the four additional dungeons. I’d consider picking it up again if they released some DLCs. Mario Odyssey is of course a popular game that has a highly expansive after game experience, so technically the game wouldn’t “end” until you either found every single Power Moon or said the hell with it.

    I guess I didn’t really answer or give a solid opinion. I can see the advantage of both. I like when games end like a book, but I also appreciate things to do after you defeat the final boss.

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    1. Super Mario Odyssey is specifically interesting to me because, while I absolutely love the game, I haven’t had much of a desire to go back to play it anymore. Jennifer feels differently about it though, but only because there’s a certain character in the game after you beat it.

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      1. I know what character that’s going to be now! I haven’t gotten to us them yet, but I know that’s how you open those weird metal boxes.

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          1. I usually hate surprises, but I’m liking the ones I find in SMO 🙂

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  6. […] via Continuing The Game? — Falcon Game Reviews […]

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