4 games that changed their endings after release

I wrote an alternative ending to this article that can be yours for only £9.99! Warning: Contains spoilers for "The Final Problem" by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, as well as some games and shit.

There’s an old saying that goes “you can please some people all the time, and everybody some of the time, but you can’t please everyone all the time.” The recent outcry over Mass Effect 3’s limited, unfulfilling endings also demonstrates how you can please hardly anyone at all sometimes. Overwhelming popular consensus says the endings suck more than the cold dead vacuum of space though opinion is sharply divided on what, if anything BioWare might do about it. Mass Effect fans are clamouring for a new ending, triumphant or tragic, that gives some proper closure to their financial and emotional investment in the adventures of Commander Shepard. Proponents of the right for an artist to do as he or she pleases insist BioWare has no obligation to change anything and the protestors are all whiny entitled crybabies. We can debate whether ultimate creative authority lies with the audience or the author until the proverbial cows come home, dragging yet another disappointing ending behind them.

However, there are precedents in other mediums where the creator has, for better or for worse, changed the ending or retconned  it later after feedback from fans. When Sir Arthur Conan Doyle released his short story “The Final Problem” in 1893 he intended it to be the last ever Sherlock Holmes story. Spoiler alert: at the end of “The Final Problem” Holmes falls to his death at Reichenbach Falls fighting his arch-nemesis Moriarty. Angry, horrified fans wrote letters to Sir Arthur Conan Doyle by the cartload pleading with and even threatening him to bring Sherlock Holmes back from the grave. People even wore black armbands in public as a gesture of mourning for the great fictional detective. And you thought today’s fandoms were crazy.

It’s unknown whether any of these Victorian Sherlock fans made cardboard sex dolls of Irene Adler or gave money to Barnados to buy cribbage sets for sick children, but the backlash did make Conan Doyle retcon Holmes’ death eventually. Holmes reveals himself to a stunned Watson (and a jubilant audience) in the sequel story “The Adventure of the Empty House”, to explain how he  faked his death at Reichenbach to smoke out the last of Moriarty’s network. Holmes eventually retires to a farm in the Sussex downs where he dabbles in beekeeping before presumably dying at a ripe old age, which isn’t quite as spectacular as falling to your death locked in mortal struggle with your greatest enemy.

Blade Runner is one notable example of a film’s ending being changed before and after its release. After feedback from test screenings the studio imposed a happy ending of Deckard and Rachel driving off into the sunset together, padded with spare aerial footage cribbed from Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining. Ridley Scott always resented this and in 1992 released his director’s cut which removed the original saccharine finale in favour of something darker and more ambiguous. At the opposite end of the quality spectrum, George Lucas still obsessively fiddles with the Star Wars movies in pure ignorant spite of the fans screaming for him to just leave them the fuck alone. This is why the remastered version of Return of the Jedi ends with a bunch of ridiculous, nonsensical celebration scenes that make no fucking sense.

So if endings can change after the fact in literature and cinema why can’t the same happen in videogames? Funnily enough it already has, like in the following examples.


Portal

Once upon a time Portal’s ending was very simple. You beat GLaDOS, got sucked up into a vortex of light and woke up in a car park lying beside the wreckage of your robotic nemesis. Fade to credits, “Still Alive,” job done. After Portal 2 was announced and more details were released about it, fans wondered how Valve would bridge the gap between the ending of Portal and the beginning of Portal 2. Chell couldn’t possibly still be trapped in the Aperture Science Computer Aided Enrichment Centre when she was clearly outside and free at the end of the first game.

A while before Portal 2’s release Valve released a little patch for the original game to answer this question, by reintroducing an idea by writer Erik Wolpaw that had been left on the cutting room floor.  “I always had this idea for a little Easter egg,” he said, “where in the entire second half of the game there would be this thing scuttling around shadowing you the whole time – this party escort bot that’s been waiting for you to assume the party escort submission position.” In the new ending the party escort bot approaches the injured Chell from behind and cheerfully thanks her “for assuming the party escort submission position,” before dragging her back into the bowels of Aperture Science. “It’s this super happy ending for the escort robot,” said Wolpaw, “but a less happy ending for the player.”

It was completely free too.

Prince of Persia

Ubisoft’s 2008 re-imagining of Jordan Mechner’s sand-and-swashbuckling series ends on something of an open-ended downer. After his female companion Elika sacrifices herself to defeat the evil Ahriman, dying for the second time in her life, the titular Prince (voiced by Nolan “ubiquitous” North) performs the same ritual her corrupted father had used previously to bring her back to life. The Prince then walks into the desert carrying Elika in his arms as Ahriman’s shadow stretches across the land, providing a convenient fade to black so the rest of the credits can roll. Game over.

Until the Epilogue DLC that is. Continuing where the main game ended the DLC catches up with the Prince and Elika shortly after her resurrection hiding from Ahriman in an ancient underground temple. Elika, somewhat miffed with how the Prince undid her noble heroic sacrifice to seal Ahriman away forever, sticks around just long enough to help the Prince defeat her father again before abandoning him to go and find her people. Epilogue ends with the Prince completely alone in a dead ruin with only shadows and Ahriman’s sibilant whispers for company. At least the vanilla game had a faint glimmer of hope. For 800 Microsoft moon coins the Epilogue DLC gives you even gloomier ending made all the more depressing because there’s little-to-no chance of a sequel.

Fallout 3

Like Mass Effect 3, Fallout 3’s original ending also robbed the player of some agency, freedom of choice and all that other jazz you expect from an RPG where your choices supposedly matter. In a nutshell the player is tasked with activating a magic cleaning machine that’ll purify all the horribly irradiated water in the wastelands and make post-apocalyptic life a tad more pleasant for everyone. The catch? The activation code has to be entered manually and the control room is flooded with skin-melting, organ-liquefying levels of radiation. In vanilla Fallout 3 you can only choose to martyr yourself or sacrifice Brotherhood of Steel member Sarah Lyons instead, even though three of your possible party members are either highly resistant or completely immune to radiation. Oh but don’t think you can cheat the system and get the robot, the ghoul or the supermutant to do it for you. They’ll each flat-out refuse for various bullshit reasons.

Broken Steel, the third DLC for Fallout 3, retcons things to make at least 200% more sense. If you tried to get supermutant party member Fawkes to enter the irradiated control chamber without Broken Steel he replies with “I’m sorry, my companion, but no. We all have our own destinies, and yours culminates here. I would not rob you of that.” With Broken Steel he quite bloody rightly replies “Ah, of course! My immunity to radiation makes me a far better candidate for surviving in there.” You won’t get the credit for being the hero of everyone in the wastelands but who cares when you can live on to explore the world and see the consequences of your actions. Fallout 3 originally ended when you activated the water purifier: you got a slideshow about your achievements and that was it. Game over, a winner is you. Broken Steel allowed you to continue exploring the arid, post-apocalyptic open world of the wastes at your leisure for long after the original game’s climax.

E.Y.E – Divine Cybermancy

E.Y.E is a mad but fun little shooter in the vein of Deus Ex with a bonkers storyline culminating in one of three very ambiguous endings. Each ending has a different path where the story plays out in strange, conflicting ways, yet ultimately your protagonist meets his nemesis, his mentor and a mysterious bloke you only see when you continue a saved game, in front of a giant familiar portal. Nemesis, mentor and spirit guide each say something cryptic if you talk to them and when you walk through the portal you emerge back in your Temple HQ, where everyone addresses you as their commander. By chatting to your underlings you learn your mentor has been dead for years, your nemesis may not actually exist, everyone’s been experiencing the same weird recurring dream you have, and you’re generally considered to be a bit eccentric.

Now this one is something of a cheat because the ending in question was already in the game. Actually unlocking it on the other hand was all but impossible since nobody could figure out the ridiculous criteria for it, plus E.Y.E is a mad game to begin with. Fans suspected the existence of a secret ending that might clear things up and explain what the hell was going on, though none was able to find it until developers Streum On Studios released a patch changing the requirements. Now all you had to do to see the secret ending was get all three regular endings first and start a fourth New Game+. A secret door in the starting area opens up leading to a Silent Hill-esque labyrinth of rusted metal at the centre of which is an expository female NPC called Circe. To cut a long story short the ending raises more questions than it answers and provides almost no closure whatsoever, yet somehow works because the whole bloody game is completely bonkers anyway.


So there you have it. Four precedents for a game changing its ending after its been released and enjoyed or loathed by the gaming public. These examples may not give much comfort to Mass Effect fans hoping beyond hope BioWare release a more satisfying conclusion but they’re better than nothing, right?

Meanwhile even games journalists are divided on whether Mass Effect 3’s ending is any cop or not. People like Ben Kuchera of Penny Arcade Report, who thought the ending was “satisfying and worthy of the series,” and Laura Parker of Gamespot AU, who insists any alteration to the ending “renders the original work meaningless” (tell that to Ridley Scott), have proven to be some of BioWare’s most ardent supporters,  On the other side of the fence are people like Richard Cobbett who brilliantly summarises everything wrong with Mass Effect 3’s ending in this article on Rock, Paper Shotgun.

For now BioWare remain stubbornly tight lipped. If they do decide to change the ending however then they wouldn’t be the first developer to do so, and neither would they likely be the last.

Matt

About Matt

Matt is the irresponsible degenerate behind bitscreed.com and the sarcastic writer, editor, director, presenter and tea boy of Pixel Burn.