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The paradox of player-choice driven game endings

This post has been edited by the GamesBeat staff. Opinions by GamesBeat community writers do not necessarily reflect those of the staff.

This article contains minor spoilers for Deus Ex: Human Revolution and Mass Effect 3.


I'm guilty of blaming game developers for creating unsatisfactory conclusions to otherwise outstanding stories that, quite frankly, deserve much, much better. You see, I recently revisited Eidos Montreal's cyberpunk masterpiece Deus Ex: Human Revolution to remind me of how expertly crafted its story is and how effectively its sinister atmosphere managed to make me feel paranoid of the world around me. 

Everything is just as I remember: the characteristic sepia tone of the world, charismatic voice acting, and the … not so great ending. Human Revolution’s critics might have criticized the misplaced-and-immersion-shattering boss battles at the time of its release, but I found the polarizing ending to be far more disappointing. 

 

Don't get me wrong. I enjoyed the cryptic revelations from whichever ending I chose, but the delivery method felt like a huge injustice. After skulking around a morally corrupt world steeped in conspiracy, how does the experience end? By pushing one of four buttons. The mechanic of deciding Adam Jensen’s fate feels so misplaced that any of the possible endings lost all impact. 

I am definitely at risk of beating a dead horse here, but the end of Mass Effect 3 suffers from the exact same problem. ME3 arguably has some of the deepest character development of any video game series, and the emotional attachments I formed with masterfully written characters like Garrus and Tali only served to agitate me that much more when considering the conclusion. The eternal threat of the reapers destroying all organic life in the galaxy and Commander Shepard’s efforts to stop them culminate in a vague, color-coded ending that makes it easy to understand why so many fans have criticized developer BioWare.

Mass Effect 3

Do Eidos Montreal and BioWare really deserve such criticism? I don't believe so. After replaying both Human Revolution and ME3, I have come to believe that technology and money are the problem. Imagine the sheer amount of technical power that would be needed to write and code multiple endings that take into account every single choice and every line of dialogue that could change a potential outcome.

The cost of creating such endings, which would all feature unique gameplay, can't be justified. After all, why waste development time creating an ending that most players might not even choose?

Regardless of how flawed video games might be in terms of storytelling, the ability to craft a personally tailored journey for the player is a unique feature not seen in books or film. Gaming narratives are just starting to gain legitimacy, and it would be a shame to see this momentum go to waste due to a lack of funding or the limitations placed on developers because of technological barriers.


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