Let Off Some Steam: This Is The End

Let Off Some Steam is a new section where we let you guys get something off your chest – it can be a vitriol laced rant, a sappy love letter to whatever, or anything inbetween. Send your ranty words in this direction, and try and keep it under 600 words. Today Shane Walsh-Smith gets wound up about the way video games end. Beware folks - there will be spoilers!

This is the End Dear game developers,

Your game stories are so often great. But your endings are playing second fiddle to endgame mechanics, and quite frankly they completely suck.

I have just finished Final Fantasy XIII. I know this is interesting information for you (don’t worry, this gets better in a minute). What is even more interesting is that there are some people out there who have finished it, but haven’t finished with it. They have completed the story, maxed out their characters, and now spend their days running around Gran Pulse ‘farming’ adamantoises, trying to get ultimate weapons for their characters, to collect every available item, to max out their gil collection. What I would like to know is: why?

If Final Fantasy XIII was real, the characters would go on with their lives after beating the final boss. In fact, we got a cutscene showing this exact thing. Why are gamers incapable of following their example? Why must they reload the game (which deposits you in a spot just prior to the final battle for some reason) and go on a big, story-free collection spree, maxing out their characters (using a new level of customisation ONLY AVAILABLE AFTER COMPLETING THE STORY)? Assuming there’s some endgame at play in the gamer’s mind, the only benefit would be an easier ‘final’ battle... which you managed to beat with lesser characters and equipment anyway... WHERE’S THE LOGIC?!

It’s a temporal nightmare. It’s like the characters are stuck in freaking Groundhog Day, destined to live in a time period before they saved the world (come on, it’s a FF game, that’s not a spoiler).

FFXIII isn’t the only culprit of course. Any game that lets you play in the world after completing the story is guilty of this. And you KNOW which games they are, even before you pick them up. This in effect generates a certain expectation for the conclusion of the story, an inbuilt spoiler – the characters survive, the world survives, and things will pretty much be as they were, so you can keep playing.

(As a side note, endings that contradict this expectation are particularly egregious, such as in FFXIII, which completely undermines the - SPOILER - wonderfully moving sacrifice at the end of the story by letting you continue to control your old team)

You know when you play the Saboteur that the Nazis will still be in Paris when the story ends, just so that you can keep killing them and whore your time for gamerscore. You know when you play just about any RPG that when you’ve worked through the story and saved the world, that your characters are still going to be stuck in monster-ridden environments, just so you can chase that extra-special sword that you really should no longer need. And why does Shepard need to complete side-quests after defeating the Collectors?

It makes even less sense in games like RDR where (spoiler) the after-game takes place something like 10 years later, BUT YOU RETAIN ALL THE COLLECTABLES THAT YOU HAD PRIOR TO COMPLETING THE STORYLINE. What gives? Did Marston Jr really do nothing for ten years but carry around Marston’s old crap in his swag?

So, developers, I know you have a fine line to tread between creating a game with little or no replay value, and a game so freaking addictive that when the sequel comes along, we’re still glued to the first one, drool drying on our emaciating chins. But give us endgames that make sense. I can live with bonuses attached to replays (MGS, Dead Space, etc) because the endings of those games weren’t sacrificed for this... but PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE don’t ruin your wonderful game’s ending just to give us a story-free environment with endless, monotonous (and now completely pointless) grinding.

If I wanted that, I would have played World of Warcraft.

And, gamers, stop encouraging them. It makes no sense to keep playing after the story ends, and you know it.

Sincerely, A story-loving gamer


Comments

    Dude, you need to play Dragon Quest IX on NDS, it actually makes sense that you would continue doing the things you were doing because it is written that way!

    So there you go, a game exists that fits your criteria. AND IT LOST TO ANGRY BIRDS FOR PORTABLE OF THE YEAR RIGHT HERE ON KOTAKU!

      It made sense to some degree in San Andreas and Vice City too, because those characters would want to continue to build their criminal empires.

      It doesn't really make sense in FFXIII where the characters' stories all have an 'ending,' or in GTAIV, because there's no way to interact with the world other than destroying it (i.e. no assets, etc), or in RDR, because it's just aimless wandering when your character actually owns a farm that presumably he should be working on.

      Re: DQIX, alas, I has no got portable hardware. :(

    You know, that was the only thing I really hated about FFXIII...having to wait until after you complete the game to gain access to all of your characters' abilities. What's the point when you've already finished the game?
    I love running around FF worlds defeating all the extra mega-bosses and leveling everyone to the utmost, but only if the payoff is getting to laugh at the final boss as I crush him like an ant and experience the end movie.

    I think end game material is a strange beast. If you're playing the game for the story, it can be pretty odd seeing the characters stuck in a Groundhog day loop, like you mentioned.

    If you're playing the game for the experience, where you aren't so much motivated by moving the plot forward than by interacting with the world, then end game material makes some sort of sense. Why should the fun end just because the story is over?

    I think it all comes down to the fact that many games just don't care about the story. GTA4 is a good example. Sure, there's a plot, it drives you through most of the game, but most people aren't playing GTA to delve into the life of Nico Belic. They're playing because they want to do crazy crap with cars, to go on shooting sprees, to hunt pigeons in Manhattan and whatever else the game has available to you.

    Red Dead Redemption is an odd mix. You're playing both for the plot and the experience. Once the plot is over, they realised that having a more traditional approach to end game content just wouldn't wash, so they tried something different.

    The problem there was that the character of John was one of the key parts that made the experience so enjoyable. Taking him out of the equation ruined the end game content for me, even though I knew that it would be a horrible decision to allow for the end game content to have him in it. Mainly because they only way to do it would be to go back to that point before the final mission and then have him suffer Groundhog Day syndrome.

      I think this is a good response. GTA 4 is the perfect example of a game that most if not all people would agree that a lot of the fun there was doing your own thing. So when the story finishes it makes sense to leave you back in the city so you can keep having fun, as the gameplay is still there, it is just the story that is over.

      I have had games where I knew the game did end when you finished the 'last level' or 'last mission' but I wanted to keep playing around, like you would in GTA. So I put off doing the last mission, I still wanted to have fun. Sometimes this meant I never got to finish the game as I was busy doing my own thing until I moved on to the next game.

        I agree with your points re: sandbox games. But after completing the story, I personally feel like someone has taken the bucket and spade away, leaving me with just sand.

        In cases like this, I think a 'New Game +' mode would be a reasonable compromise, where you have an option to start the game again, with access to all areas and previous $ and weaponry retained, and the option to progress through a difficulty-tweaked story.

        But then, I am definitely a progress-freak. If I'm not moving forward, I'm wasting time. If there's no more story to change the game world, it's pointless to try to 'live' there any longer. (This context would have made it into my Let Off Steam rant if not for the word limit)

    Killzone 2 solved that problem for me by having its ending make me never, ever want to play a Killzone game again.

    [SPOILER]
    Having a stupidly grindy boss battle result in your 'buddy' killing the head honcho (and you can't stop it) resulting in the game effectively being reset as if nothing you did since the start of the game had happened.
    It was about as satisfying as getting to the end and being told "You woke up, and it was all a dream".

    The ending made every single thing you did in Killzone 2 completely and utterly pointless.

    Three things endings should never do.

    1) Take control away from you at the end of the game. You worked hard to get to the end, to have a NPC come in in the final cutscene and do something you can't stop is just frustrating and insulting. Any part of the game where you can't participate in crucial happenings is stupidly annoying, but right at the end is unforgiveable.

    2) Make it feel like there was absolutely no point to all of the work you just put in. You often have sat up till four in the morning, slaving away at the game, you see the end in sight, and then they make you wish you hadn't bothered. Yeah, that feels awesome. Thanks so much.
    A bleak ending is fine, showing the futility of war is fine, but you need at least some feeling of achievement, and no 'achievement unlocked' is not what I mean.

    3) Make you feel as if another killer level, or amazing story twist is about to begin... your heart quickens in anticipation....and then the credits roll, making you wait for the sequel. (I'm looking at you Halo2 and Back To The Future 2)

    Give us a satisfying ending, don't wrench a key event out of our control, surprise us, we paid a lot of money and sank a lot of our time into the experience, we should be walking away saying, that was effing GREAT, not WTF!?

      The losing control thing is something that frustrates me too. I find it often happens in the COD franchise, you will get up to the big bad guy, only for it to turn into a cut scene where he knocks away your weapon and starts beating you up. You know that at some point you'll either scramble for your gun and shoot him or an NPC will come and help you.

      I'm just sick of it abruptly changing from gameplay to first person cinematic where you have no control. I find it ruins how tense a scene or fight can be when you have no control, you know you can't do anything, so you stop caring what happens. If my character dies it doesn't matter because that is what was going to happen and there was nothing I could do.

      Peter, I wholeheartedly agree with you. Yet even though it goes against all three of your points, I absolutely LOVED the way they handled the ending in Prince of Persia '08.

      ***SPOILER***
      Maybe it was due to the fact that I had gone through all the dialogue options with Elika and found the banter between her and the Prince to be engaging and well-written. Maybe it was the connection formed by her constantly saving your ass in that game. But at the end, I WANTED to smash those seals and bust her out of there.

      Sure, you could say that they "took control away from you" in the sense that you HAD to set her free, but at least it wasn't a cutscene, and I wanted to do it anyway, knowing full well the havoc it would wreak.

      The ending also undermines what you spent the entire game doing. You cast the wourld back into darkness, and the only achievement you get is to "get the girl" even though she probably hates you all the more now.

      Hell, it even leaves you hanging there for a sequel!! (though they undid any dramatic tension with the totally unneccessary "Epilogue" DLC.)
      ***END SPOILER***

      Despite all of the above, I found it to be one of the most enjoyable and refreshing game experiences of this generation. I'm still eagerly awaiting a true sequel to that story.

      P.S. Too Human would have to be near the top of the list for abrupt endings. That giant robo-creature thing (that looks way more interesting than anything you've seen in the game to date)rocks up at the end and then...yeah.

      The losing control thing didn't irritate me so much as the fact it was a dull anticlimactic ending that made you feel like you were only two thirds of the way through the game rather than at a real conclusion.

      it's put me off buying Killzone 3 immediately but I'll probably get it during a quiet patch.

    This was awesome. Best let off steam so far :D (though I do admit, I thought it would be a rant at how lame most endings are, which I would've agreed with even more).

      Thanks Sughly, I'm glad you liked it. :)

      Also, yay, Mark got my email and published my rant. Thanks Mark!

    Yeah the ending to RDR pissed me off for the fact that when you have that "final shoot-out," I popped about 15 bullets into that agents head and he DIDN'T DIE! So what was the point of having that gunfight be "interactive?" And also, why do games and movies insist on killing the main characters so often these days? To me its just an extremely CHEAP plot point! To me a great story is where the main characters survive, but you think they won't!

    Also, I know what you mean about finishing games without maxing your characters out. It really shows which games have content that is not needed or used at all and is just wasted space really! The best example is completing a game, finally having the greatest weapons/armour/magic and whatnot, and having no game left to use them in! And I'm also so over the "defeat the boss to finish/continue the game" - thats really such 90's thing, and only some games should still bother with that setup (ie Ninja Gaiden - but even then I'm bored of it). So yeah, A game without story is pointless, unless its multiplayer or the gameplay speaks for itself.

    I think it makes sense in RPG's... there are quests you may have missed.
    I think it's tied in with New Game Plus... which is perhaps a better solution.

    Saints Row and Just Cause are 2 examples where the plot exists to drive the 'have as much fun as you can' mechanics... perhaps the world can exist without the end level?

      A game without end level is a very interesting concept. There's a Diablo clone I used to play that was basically Diablo (hence the clone reference earlier), but with an infinite number of 'levels' and an infinite number of unique (but based on template) missions to undertake.

      I would very much be interested in an open-world version of this...

    I have to say that I thought the way that RDR handled the continuation was both clever and powerful in context of the story.

    It makes sense that they offer these options though. The option to tidy up stuff you missed to round out the experience (or, yes, complete achievements) is welcomed by me. It frees you to advance the story quickly as you get caught up in it, rather than forcing you to explore every corner of the world for fear of missing out on the myriad nifty things included in modern games. In fact, you could say that end-game exploration *enhances* the story in that regard.

      I personally don't agree.

      I was John Marston. When right at the end, he **SPOILER** he and I should both have lost access to the world 'we' lived in.

      That would have had emotional resonance with me, even if it might have frustrated me to 'lose' the 'progress' I'd made.

      Instead, I get to continue wandering around, controlling someone new (who controls exactly the same). Not only does it devalue the impact of the story's ending, but it actually deliberately rips the gamer from his/her previous identification with themselves as Marston.

      This has the flow-on effect of emphasising the existence of game mechanics, and de-realisming the entire world.

        *SPOILERS AGAIN, IN CASE YOU HADN'T GUESSED BY NOW*

        One of the main driving forces behind John's "Redemption" in the game was the desire to see his son Jack lead a better life than he did. For him to be a scholar rather than an outlaw.

        Yet it led to nothing. John's actions and subsequent demise set Jack on a path of revenge, and, well, it was all for nothing in the end. Jack dons the hat and coat, kills a man, and then sets off to continue his father's unrewarding outlaw life.

        I found that powerful and kinda sad.

          The thing that stuck out to me the most about the end of RDR was the fact all the NPCs and unfinished quests didn't change, despite the obvious chunk of time that had passed.

          You mean to tell me dude is still standing there waiting for parts to his glider that he wants to build? How many years has it been? The man is clearly procrastinating.

          Agreed, but that's what cutscenes are for.

          The endgame mechanic of controlling Jack was a hackneyed attempt to keep world access open to gamers who completed the story, and had the effects (at least upon me) that I've already outlined above.

            But can you really have a game where the final outcome is the player losing?

              Apparently so... it won GOTY, didn't it?

              The best endings IMO are ones with emotional division. Like making it through MGS3 by emerging 'victorious', but ultimately recognising that your character feels like he lost, and badly.

              Same with GTA IV, for that matter.

              'Losing' is a subjective thing, and if handled in cutscenes as part of the endgame, needn't be a strike against a game. The above examples illustrate that.

                I disagree.

                RDR ended with a player victory.
                Had the game ended upon Johns death, it may have been emotionally poignant... but it would have been unpopular with players.

                  Conker's Bad Fur Day ended on a big downer. And that was awesome.

      My next rant (should one ever exist) will be against game padding (mostly to do with optional collectables, fetch quests, and side quests). Here's a preview regarding your comments on RDR features:

      In terms of the narrative in RDR, very few, if any, of the side-quests made any kind of sense.

      'Oh, my family's been kidnapped, but I think I'll go wandering around the world and pick some flowers instead of helping them...'

      Made even less sense in the endgame.

      I know that the more features a game has, the higher the review scores... but I like a game where every action I take makes narrative sense, and I would personally argue that most of the features in RDR should not exist... or at least, should be presented in a different game with a less urgent storyline?

    They're games, man.

    They rarely make sense and don't really need to.

    That is one advantage in owning far too many games to play.

    I only have time to play through each game once. I never have time to replay a game. I complete a story and then move onto the next game.

    I find this system works well.

    I really hate how the "SHARE" button on the Kotaku site is directly above the "next page." It's always popping up and getting in the way. It's probably deliberately done like that to try and trick you to share or something but it has NEVER worked. It just gets annoying until I eventually leave the website.

    a bit off topic, but anyway I just wanna say how pissed I was during the end credits of Black Ops when an Eminem (feat Pink no less) song began playing...
    I was dumbfounded. Why was a rap/pop song from 2010 playing during a game set in the cold war era?!
    did this bother anyone else?
    This has bothered me for a while now & just had to let it out!

    I love to complain as much as the next person but I don't understand some of the gripes here to do with GTA and RDR. You're complaining about an 'option' at the end that enables you to do all of the things that you didn't feel like doing during the main story?

    I think we're all a bit spoilt. Harden the fuck up. Complaining that the end custscene takes control away from the player? How boring would it be if you could determine everything? Sure, there's downbeat and downright lousy endings but what are you expecting? It's the artist's choice where the story goes.

    Something that would blow me away would be a GTA style game with an endgame resulting in a postgame that had a transformed world of consequence. Fable 3 tried this admirably, but nothing has done it properly yet. I'm not sure how to define it. I think the GTA franchise could get away with this kind of postgame because the worlds are huge and the possibilities for enemies is endless.

    But content is content and the line has to be drawn somewhere. I think people are just pissed off because the story ends somewhere.

    I don't agree with those who say that people don't play GTA for the story. I love the stories. There's so much quirkiness and intelligent humour in them. Not just sexual connotations and overt innuendo but genuine satire. I remember the country radio dj making a comment in San Andreas about the string of robberies I'd just made. Countless things like that only appear during the main campaign, and not necessarily every time you play (you had to be listening to that station at the time to hear the joke).

    People love to forget how great RDR is. Try going back to it and giving it a proper look before you bag the shit out of it. What didn't it deliver (aside from the exact story you envisaged)? It had excellent gunfights in a wide range of scenarios, bounty hunting, game hunting, gambling, horseriding, and best character physics of any game anywhere.

    If you bought that game with the intention of enjoying a western and you didn't enjoy it, then you are a whinging, spoilt brat who can never enjoy anything. You'll probably hate sex when you finally get some. The same with GTA4. Both were excellent games that most people loved, but some of these same people now speak ill of them like hypocrites.

    The thing with Mass Effect 2 kind of made sense compared to the others you mention. Since it's clear everything that's done in 2 will lead directly to the sequel it kind of makes sense that Shepard would still be cleaning up the galaxy of Geth and making valuable allies.

    Though it makes considerably less sense that the Normandy was blown to hell at the end of the game and the one magic end credits later it's all fine and dandy (like sour candy).

    Article aside, I'd like to commend Mark on the wonderful 80's movie reference in the picture.

    After spending the weekend calling Japan to look for friends, this made my Sunday!

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