I decided I might as well finish Fallout New Vegas, so I did.  It turns out I was only about two hours from the end.

Hey, House, you're ugly!

Hey, House, you’re ugly!

I have mixed feelings about the ending, though in part I think it’s because almost all video games have problems in the endgame.  More on that in a moment.

A minor annoyance is all the running around.  In this big open world, the ending is designed so that you’re constantly shuttling from one place to another, with loading screens popping up constantly.

The hardest part of the ending is not anything you have to fight, but avoiding fights.  I had to replay the Hoover Dam bit several times in order not to kill NCR, ‘cos I don’t really have anything against them.  It wasn’t really obvious how to do this, and it’s annoying that Stealth Boys, plus a Sneak of 100, did absolutely nothing to prevent conflicts.  (On the other hand, as I was talking to Lanius, I decided, fuck this speech challenge shit, mask boy’s gotta die.)

It’s a bit weird that the very last bit of gameplay involve Yes Man explaining that he’s going to get an assertiveness upgrade.  It sounds ominous, but the designer has explained that he meant only that it was intended to mean that he would henceforth answer only to the Courier.  It’s still a strange note to end on.

As with Fallout 3, it’s rather unsatisfying to just end the game.  You get a slideshow but little feeling of what it means to have an independent New Vegas.  I think FNV makes an effort to give you some meaningful choices– you can go evil with Caesar, or go conventional with the NCR, or take over for yourself.  But you don’t get to see any of it.  (Also, the slideshow suggests that Freeside was even more lawless afterward… why?  We have a frigging army of Securitrons now.)

As I said, though, I think it’s just a special case of the general problem: it’s hard to wrap up a video game in a satisfying way.  Most action games choose the option of:

  • Big boss fight.

And that’s kind of it for options.  Games differ in how hard the final fight is, from nearly impossible (HL2 Ep 2) to big ol’ climax (Dragon Age Origins) to standard (Saints Row 3) to kinda minimal (FNV).  But it’s tricky to get a final boss fight to really work well– to use all your skills plus offer rewards plus wrap up the story.

To put it another way, what makes a game fun is, unsurprisingly, the gameplay.  And that’s pretty varied.  It may involve:

  • noodling around an open world taking on whatever challenges you find (F3/FNV, Borderlands, Saints Row 3, VTM Bloodlines, Fable III)
  • solving puzzles (Portal)
  • stealth and occasional fights (Arkham City, Deus Ex)
  • parkour (Mirror’s Edge)
  • moving around a quasi-linear path fighting enemies and using neat toys (HL2, Singularity, Dead Space, Mass Effect)

But the final boss fight usually doesn’t resemble the main gameplay, so it doesn’t quite cohere.  It works better if the game has been puncutated by boss fights, as in Arkham City or Borderlands 2, though even in such cases you generally can’t use stealth or sniper skills.

There’s also the problem that the story has to be wrapped up, which generally means cutscenes or reduced player choices.  (The poster child for this problem is Dreamfall, which pretty much turns into a movie at the end.)

Ironically, it all may not matter much, because if the game was really good you probably want to play it again immediately, perhaps on a harder setting.

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