Reaching the end of a game can be hard to face. Just last month, I found myself once again coming to the close of the Trespasser DLC in Dragon Age: Inquisition. I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve played through the main game and its excellent expansion, but it never gets any easier to see the credits roll. This time around, I decided to simply stop just before the official end to avoid dealing with the bittersweet feeling that often accompanies finishing something I love.
If you’ve ever found yourself feeling a little lost after you’ve completed an expansive RPG, or felt sad that you’d seen out an adventure that resonated strongly with you for one reason or another, then you’ll likely know what I’m talking about. Any time I reach the end of a game I’ve enjoyed or spent a lot of time with, I don’t know what to do with myself. I feel like a deflated balloon left behind in an empty venue that was once witnessing a great party.
Most recently, after who knows how many hours, I finally came to the conclusion of Horizon Forbidden West – despite putting it off for as long as I possibly could. I’d gotten used to the world and was entirely wrapped up in scanning machines, hunting down side quests, and ticking off collectibles until the final main story quest was just about the only thing left to complete. Once again that familiar sting came back as I watched Aloy fly through the credits; as if I was now saying goodbye to a friend who’d kept me company for weeks.
Getting to know you
In recent times, I think this feeling has only intensified since I’ve been living on my own – especially in light of the pandemic. Perhaps it partially speaks to my own over-reliance on games to distract me from the quiet, but I also think it’s because of how effectively adventures can and do draw me in. It’s all too easy to get swept up in sprawling virtual worlds these days or to get invested in a story of a game that speaks to you. When I came to revisit Commander Shepard’s journey in Mass Effect Legendary Edition, for example, I already knew I’d have to prepare myself.
After all, this is a trilogy that I’m already attached to with characters that I have a deep fondness for. When you spend time with the same protagonist across three games, you can’t help but feel invested in their journey – BioWare has also always excelled at making you care about its characters. In some ways, it feels like I’m having to say goodbye to more than just a story and those who inhabit its fictional setting. Instead, I’m bidding farewell to an RPG that never fails to make me feel like I’m a part of something, and gives me a sense of companionship that helps me through tough days. Of course, reaching a game’s end doesn’t mean you can’t jump right back in and start all over again. But there’s a finality to knowing how a story ends, and sometimes I wish I could somehow experience an adventure I love for the very first time all over again.
With games getting bigger and more complex, we naturally spend more time with them. When you spend hours upon hours of your time invested in anything you’ve enjoyed, there’s usually some sadness attached to having to part ways with it. Horizon Forbidden West, for example, has been a great adventure to dip into whenever I had free time, and I unexpectedly formed a sense of routine from giving myself set things to work towards or clear in Guerrilla Game’s expansive setting.
With big RPGs like it, you can always revisit the world and continue checking off locations you didn’t get to, or certain collectibles you’ve yet to find, but you can never go back and experience the story for the first time. There are no more surprises in store. I think this feeling I so often get when a game draws to a close is why I’ve always found games like Harvest Moon: A Wonderful Life, Stardew Valley, and Animal Crossing: New Horizons so comforting. These are experiences that don’t technically end – you can decide when you’re ready to move on. They each have an endless cycle, and while you may run out of new things to do or see, it’s always there for you to return to.
Even though I often try to avoid the end for as long as I possibly can, that bittersweet feeling I so often get is usually the first telltale sign that a game has really clicked with me in some way. While it is always a little sad when you come to the end of a game you’ve loved or spent so much time getting invested in, there is some comfort in knowing you can always return in the future.