Those who follow me on Twitter probably already know that I’ve finally finished Dragon: Age Inquisition. I’ve played the game quite extensively in February, and when it became clear I’m getting close to the end, I took a break, not ready to finish it yet. At the same time I was surprised with the main plot line’s length and complexity, or what I’d rather consider the lack of them. I usually don’t rush through the games, and even though I enjoy the story, the open worlds/areas push me to explore every nook and cranny, and interesting characters make me interact multiple times with every single one of them just to check if they have something new to tell me. Needless to say, my progression is quite slow and I enjoy it this way, so getting close to the main storyline’s end after roughly of 60 or 70 hours of mostly bickering about, came as quite a shock to me.
The exploring, crafting, chatting and side-questing me decided I needed to slow down, and I focused on all the little quests I haven’t completed yet, and taking breaks from the game. But I love stories, and the curiosity about the ending kept chewing on my thoughts, while the reason told me that I still have that one stretch of story to go and enjoy… and then I could just start the game over to play even slower during the second play through.
So I launched my PlayStation 3, cringing at the amount of updates I’ve missed along the way, and finally got to look at the game’s main screen where I confidently pressed “Continue”. Having emerged right outside the War Room, I could embark on the final mission any time, and I didn’t hesitate long. I acknowledged the warning of starting the events leading to the end of the game and here I was, ready for the grand finale to unfold before my eyes. Hours of preparations, gathering resources, doing quests to gain allies, leveling up and fighting challenging foes. All that brought me to…
A 10 minute battle with the main foe.
Now that was slightly disappointing, wasn’t it? During that fight I got two see two boring cut scenes, and I didn’t even break a sweat or struggle to survive because of lack of healing potions. And after I defeated the bad guy, I had several insignificant chats with the NPC who so far in the game always had interesting and original comments, I watched the credits roll by and stared at the “after credits” cut scene that brought the major “what the heck?” to my face (and apparently spawned as many theories on the Internet as the “Inception’s” ending).
And this got me thinking.
Even with its multiple choices available and different paths to the ending, an RPG video game is, at its core, a story. And like every story it has a beginning and an ending. I remembered Dragon Age: Origins where I got hooked by the introduction, which was my character’s personal story, starting some of the plots to come, and then the actual beginning threw me into a dramatic battle at Ostagar, putting the stakes high, very high. Then the story weaved slowly around the main plot line, incorporating side quests, personal stories of the companions and some lore, to lead to the final battle that not only involved mowing through countless hordes of mobs, but also a very challenging final boss battle, where all the allies we’ve gathered show up. It was interwoven with several breathtaking cut-scenes. I still remember that “What?! NOOOOO!” reaction during my first play through the game… (As you can guess, the second time I did everything to ensure “this” didn’t happen.)
This well-balanced story structure of the first game (beginning, middle, end, main plot and subplots) stands out even more now, when I’ve played the third game, where the ending didn’t endure the epic burden the story put on it. I will not complain about some cliche solutions within Dragon Age: Inquisition (dramatic deaths, sacrifices, and so on). I can live with them as long they’re well executed, and up to the supposed “grand” finale they were, which causes even more disappointment when one thinks of the ending.
And when I think about how last ten minutes spoiled otherwise awesome game, it seems clear to me the same applies to the books. A great and perfectly crafted book will still disappoint if the ending can’t live up to the expectations built on all the previous pages. Stories are different: they can be epic or cozy, they can focus on the characters’ lives or on the history-changing events, but they still require an ending worthy of the beginning. Or even a better one, because after so many pages we’ve read, immersed in the story, we’re more likely to forgive some glitches along the way as long as the story carried us through. But for the same reason we might not judge the story lightly if the ending disappoints or leaves the feeling that something was missing. The final scenes don’t have to be predictable (and in some cases they probably shouldn’t), but I think they need to leave the reader with a feeling that everything led to that very moment.
This is why I rarely start writing a story without having at least an idea of where the story is going—and where it will stop, because the ending is not just something to quickly wrap up the story told, but—next to the beginning—it is a most important part of the story. And as much as I’m disappointed with the ending Dragon Age: Inquisition served me, I’m somewhat glad it reminded me of that simple writing truth. Because even though I will still play the game over and over again, exploring possibilities and searching for the things I missed, I will not read a book for the second time if it had a disappointing ending. I hope I also won’t write one.
How about you? Would you forgive a bad ending if the rest of the story was great?
Joanna Maciejewska is a fantasy and science fiction author who enjoys all things SFF: books, movies, and video games.
Her short stories appeared in magazines and anthologies in Polish and in English.
Her epic fantasy adventure series, starting with By the Pact, is available in ebook and paperback at all major retailers.