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The most controversial game endings of all time

Congratulations. You beat the game. Now sit back, relax, and enjoy the final cutscene, which wraps up all of the loose plot threads in a meaningful, surprising way. Let your heart rate settle after that pulse-pounding boss fight. Watch the credits, honoring the people who worked hard to give you a memorable experience–or mash the start button until you can get back to the menu screen. Take it easy. You've earned it.

Unless you're playing these games, of course. In that case, be ready to be mad, disappointed, and confused. The following endings have pitted fans against developers, spawned petitions and legal cases, and even sparked debates about morality and the role of video games in society. They may not be satisfying, but that certainly doesn't mean they're not worthy of discussion. And by the way: beware of spoilers!

Nothing that you do has any Mass Effect

More than the spaceships, wacky aliens, and extraterrestrial sex scenes, the original Mass Effect trilogy is all about choice. Like BioWare's previous role-playing games, the decisions that players make in Mass Effect directly influence the game's plot, including its ending. Unlike other BioWare games, those choices extend beyond a single game. If you've played the original Mass Effect, your decisions carry into Mass Effect 2. By the time you fire up Mass Effect 3, you've got two whole games-worth of history informing the story. The series' climax is directly informed by everything that came before it, leading to a multitude of unique, personalized endings.

At least, that's what BioWare promised, but it's not what they delivered. During Mass Effect 3's final section, players choose from one of three options, which provided three different endings–regardless of anything else you'd done in the previous games. While BioWare representatives promised that Mass Effect 3 would contain a "real proper conclusion," none of the outcomes sat well with fans. 

Naturally, fans rebelled. A poll on BioWare's website, asking them to create a new, more complete ending, amassed over 16,000 votes. Meanwhile, a separate Change.org petition garnered over 13,000 votes. A related charity drive raised over $80,000. One player took his complaints to the Federal Trade Commission, while the Better Business Bureau accused BioWare of false advertising. BioWare listened. Four months after Mass Effect 3's launch, BioWare released Mass Effect 3's free Extended Edition update, which added cutscenes explaining what happened to various characters, and showing how the players' choices throughout the franchise ended up affecting the galaxy.

Halo 2 didn't finish the fight

Halo 2's legacy is always going to be its multiplayer combat, not its story, and with good reason: while Halo 2's online infrastructure provided the blueprint for online multiplayer that console games still follow today, its plot was a major disappointment. After Halo turned Master Chief into one of gaming's biggest icons, Xbox owners couldn't wait to hop back into his armor and blow aliens away. Instead, they spent much of the campaign playing as a gnarly-looking Covenant warrior called the Arbiter, a brand new character who barely appeared in the game's marketing materials.

Maybe fans would've overlooked the bait-and-switch if Halo 2's ending had delivered, but it didn't. After fighting through Halo 2 as the Arbiter, a cutscene shows Master Chief arriving on Earth, vowing to "finish the fight." Players prepared themselves for one final, climactic battle, and then—well, nothing. The screen went black, and the credits rolled.

Even though Halo 3 was inevitable, fans didn't appreciate the sudden and unexpected cliffhanger, and they let Halo developer Bungie know. Eventually, lead writer Frank O'Connor admitted that strict deadlines forced Bungie to scrap Halo 2's original 10th and final level. Series composer Marty O'Donnell says the abandoned stage would've led Master Chief to "a grand and glorious conclusion on Earth, finishing the fight right there." Instead, Bungie left Halo 2's plot threads dangling, leaving it to Halo 3 to pick up the slack. But, hey, that multiplayer sure was great, wasn't it?

Curiosity can't square things with its winner

Peter Molyneux, the man behind Populous, Dungeon Keeper, Black & White, and Fable, is famous for two things: making outrageous claims, and failing to live up to them. That's why anyone who played his 2012 mobile game, Curiosity—What's Inside the Cube? should've been wary. In his typical hyperbolic style, Molyneux said that the first person who reached the center of Curiosity's cube–which was collaboratively dismantled by players all around the world over the course of six months–would discover something "life-changingly amazing by any definition."

Still, despite Molyneux's reputation for over-hyping his projects, tons of users tapped away at Curiosity's cube-shaped puzzle. In May, 2013 one of them finally broke through. With a single tap on his phone, 18-year-old Edinburgh resident Bryan Henderson earned the dubious honor of being Curiosity's one and only winner, and the recipient of Molyneux's grand prize: a role as a digital god in Molyneux and 22Cans' then-in production strategy game, Godus, and a share of the game's profits for as long as he filled the position.

But when Henderson visited 22Cans, Molyneux—and the rest of 22Cans' staff—largely blew him off. Eighteen months later (and roughly a year after the release of Godus' single-player component), Henderson had absolutely no contact with the company. Meanwhile, Godus' development quickly fell apart, and 22Cans moved on to other things before honoring its promises to Henderson and to Godus' Kickstarter backers. Poor Bryan still hasn't been paid. According to Molyneux, he probably never will be.

After nine tries, Final Fantasy still can't get it right

Final Fantasy IX isn't the first role-playing game to pull another, bigger bad guy out of its back pocket after players beat the game's main villain–it's not even the first Final Fantasy game to do it. Final Fantasy III ends with a fight against the Cloud of Darkness, which has very little to do with Xande, the game's main villain. The last boss in Final Fantasy IV isn't Golbez, who you chase for most of the game, or Zemus, the evil force who's controlling him. It's Zeromus, who appears out of nowhere, does very little, and dies very quickly.

But even among Final Fantasy fans, Final Fantasy IX's Necron stands out. Maybe that's because Final Fantasy IX is still one of the best-plotted Final Fantasy games, making Necron's inexplicable appearance seem even more random. Maybe it's because the main villain, the narcissistic and ambitious sorcerer Kuja, is one of the series' best and most memorable bad guys.

As a result, fans do all kinds of mental gymnastics in order to explain Necron's existence. Maybe Necron is a direct byproduct of Kuja's "hate and fear." Maybe he's secretly Soulcage, a character that appears earlier in the game. Maybe he's the physical manifestation of death itself. All we know for certain is that Necron's going to be the subject of online debates for years to come. After all, fan theories are a lot more satisfying than admitting that, as good as Final Fantasy IX is, its ending just kind of sucks.

Fable II's legendary disappointment

When you spend hours chasing down a bad guy in a game, you want to beat him. At the very least, you want the chance to take him down by yourself. After all, as the game has previously explained, that's the entire point of everything that you've been doing.

Fable II, however, cheats you out of your well-earned revenge in a number of ways. For one, when you finally confront Lord Lucien, the villain who killed your sister, your dog, your spouse, and your kids, there's no climactic battle or skill-testing boss fight. Lucien simply yammers away until you attack him, ending his life with a simple button press. But it gets worse: if you wait too long—and, given that players are conditioned to let characters speak until they're done talking, you probably will—another character shoots him for you. Then, you're presented with three choices: save Lucien's victims but not your loved ones, save your loved ones but not the victim, or save no one and get a ton of money. None of them are particularly satisfying. And that's it. You can keep playing Fable II after that point, but the main story is over.

It's a major anti-climax, and one of the biggest criticisms of an otherwise solid game. 

Grinding for orcs

It's not Middle-earth: Shadow of War's ending that's so controversial–it's how you earn it. After the main campaign ends, players are asked to wage war against Sauron's forces by conquering Mordor's numerous fortresses. Once you take over a stronghold, you also have to keep it—which is hard to do, given that Sauron's army strikes back regularly during the 10-stage, multi-hour "Shadow Wars" that precedes the game's true ending.

If you've been playing the game regularly, you'll enter the Shadow Wars woefully unprepared. The orcs that you've recruited to your side using Shadow of War's Nemesis System won't be powerful enough to withstand Sauron's onslaught, and there won't be enough of them. If you want to beat the game, you'll need to grind away, earning in-game currency and more orc commanders until you finally have the army you need to conquer the Dark Lord's forces.

According to some players, this is almost impossible to do without pouring some of your real money into the game. Like many modern games, Shadow of War lets players buy loot boxes, which contain powerful Legendary orcs that you can use to boost your army's ranks. To many members of the Shadow of War community, the Shadow Wars are simply a way to separate players from their hard-earned cash. Not everyone agrees. Many players claim to make it through the Shadow Wars without spending a cent. But the allegations remain, and Middle-earth: Shadow of War's "bonus" ending won't ever be free of microtransactions' stench.

Knights of the Old Republic 2's forced conclusion

In 2003, Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic delivered one of the best Star Wars experiences of all time, with a mid-game plot twist that's every bit the equal of Darth Vader's big reveal in The Empire Strikes Back. Naturally, fans were stoked for the follow-up, which arrived just over a year later. Unfortunately, Star Wars Knights of the Old Republic 2: The Sith Lords didn't quite live up to expectations. Thanks to an incredibly short deadline, developers at the Obsidian Entertainment were forced to cut much of the game's content—including its planned ending.

As a result, Kights of the Old Republic 2 winds up with a number of dangling plot threads, as well as a climax that's anything but climactic. Sure, you'll get some answers, but they're largely presented via cutscenes and spoken dialogue, and not the action-packed, story-heavy set-pieces that the first game did so well. The fate of many main characters is left unresolved, and you never meet Revan, the former Sith Lord that you've been tracking for the entire game.

In the aftermath, fans have been quick to pin the blame on LucasArts, which tasked Obsidian with making a game on a very aggressive schedule. But designer and Obsidian co-founder Chris Avellone thinks that his studio deserves some criticism, too. Avellone claims that Obsidian's vision for the game was too ambitious, and that he and his fellow designers should've cut content earlier to keep the game's scope manageable. Still, Knights of the Old Republic 2 does have one happy ending: the fan-made Restored Content mod revives some of the material that was lost pre-release, including some of the game's lost conclusions.

What happens in the vault, stays in the vault

Borderlands is all about loot, offering players over three million potential weapons to collect. When your bounty hunter arrives on Pandora, he or she is in search of the mythical vault that's full of nasty alien weapons. Your character wants 'em. And so, you fight your way across the planet, acquiring everything you need to open the Vault, defeat the ancient universe-destroying monster that's inside, and for your troubles, you get… a cutscene?

Yup. That's it. A game that's built around getting big bad weapons ends with you discovering a collection of the biggest and baddest weapons ever made, and doesn't let you play with a single one of them. In hindsight, senior designer Paul Helquist admits, maybe that wasn't the best decision. "We didn't know how people were going to react [to the ending]," he says. "Obviously the reaction hasn't been as strong as we had hoped." At least the developer, Gearbox, learned its lesson. Borderlands 2's final boss spews all kinds of goodies when it dies, sending players home very, very happy before the credits roll.

The Witcher 3 ties everything up...or, Geralt, at least

Imagine you spent north of 50 hours exploring one of the deepest, most realized fantasy worlds that video games have ever seen. Imagine that, in addition to enjoying a gripping and surprisingly personal main plot, you also delved into some of the game's sidequests, enjoying the morally ambiguous storylines and heart-wrenching storylines, and tried to find your grizzled monster-hunter the perfect mate. Imagine that you actually care about these characters and their relationships, just like the developers want you to.

Now, imagine finally battling your way all the way to the game's conclusion, and watching the love story end not with a dramatic flourish–but a dumb joke. If you've played The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt, you don't need to imagine anything. Throughout the game, our hero Geralt runs into two ex-girlfriends: Triss, his love interest in the first two games, and Yennefer, his on-again off-again flame from the Witcher books. You don't meet these characters at the same time. Triss, and the option to romance her, appears first. You don't know you can woo Yennefer later.

And yet, The Witcher 3 wants you to make a choice. If you try to seduce both women, you get the bad conclusion. Triss and Yennefer tie Geralt to a bed, teasing him with a threesome, and then leave him naked and alone as punishment for his two-timing ways. The Witcher 3 thrives on forcing players to make difficult decisions, but the game's love triangle isn't initially presented as such. That makes it easy to make a choice without realizing that you're actually choosing. The cheap gag is a shoddy way of wrapping up dozens of hours of story, and fans and critics alike continue to complain about it to this day.

The Last of Us' impossible choice

At the end of The Last of Us, the game's hero Joel must make a choice. For the bulk of the game, he's been protecting a young girl named Ellie, who might be the key to stopping the plague that's ravaged humanity. As The Last of Us rushes towards its conclusion, an upstart militia captures Ellie and they realize that the only way to make a cure will kill her. Joel can either save Ellie–or save mankind. He chooses Ellie, kills the rebels, and later lies to her, telling her that scientists tried to make a cure but failed. Humanity's fate remains unknown…though, judging by The Last of Us 2's trailers, things don't go well.

And so, The Last of Us manages an ending that's controversial in not one but two ways. First, people disagree on whether or not Joel made the right choice. On one hand, the fate of the entire world was at stake. On the other, Ellie is Joel's surrogate daughter, stepping in for the one he lost at the very beginning of the game. It's a thorny and morally ambiguous issue and while the debates rage on, there's no actual right or wrong answer.

If you side against Joel, however, then you've got another problem. For most of The Last of Us, Joel is presented as a good guy. For some, watching him make a "bad" decision feels out of character. For almost everyone, it's a depressing and unsettling conclusion. In extreme cases, The Last of Us makes some players feel like bad people themselves. After all, they've been controlling Joel for the past dozen hours. His decisions might as well be theirs. Most fans agree that the The Last of Us reaches a profound and deeply emotional conclusion—but that doesn't mean they're sure how to actually feel about it.