Evening Reading: Games Need Better Endings

Watching the credits to Mass Effect 2 all I could think about was the continuing struggle it seems to be for video games to nail an ending. It's one of the clearer examples of the hurdles designers face in uniting the narrative of a game with the playing of it. While an uneasy balance can often be struck during most of the game, climactic moments expose that fractured relationship between the two.

After the ongoing internal push-pull between the action and the narrative for dominance throughout the game, this particularly held true in Mass Effect 2. I appreciate the dilemma facing the team at the end. With so much invested in improving the combat for the sequel there had to be this tremendous sense of need for a big payoff. From there it must have been a very short road to the cliched ending sequence that resulted.

Giving in to that -- taking the easy way in a sense by falling back on formulaic design -- took the wind out of my sails at the worst possible point in the game. As the culmination of my investment in the game and its world this bizarre and hokey encounter felt out of place and left me unsatisfied. It didn't help matters that the execution of it came off as completely cheesy as well, but I chalk that up to being symptomatic of that sort of design.

In the end (hah!), Mass Effect 2 succeeds in spite of its ending. That speaks to the quality of its journey. With the tech now completely conquered maybe the final installment can bring things to a more satisfying conclusion.

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