The second best part of any video game is the very beginning. The world is unexplored, all of the adventures are ahead of you, and the unknown is exciting. You have everything you already need at the start and the game will teach you everything else you need to know.
The best part of a video game is when you beat the final boss and discover that everything you just did was one long tutorial for the real game, and the real game starts right now.
These moments offer all of the excitement and mystique of starting a brand new game, but this time, it’s a game even bigger and better than the one you just played. Games built around their end game don’t end with a final boss, they start with one. “We hope you enjoyed the tutorial,” they say. “Now, here’s the real game.”
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I’m not just talking about live service games like Destiny 2 and World of Warcraft. Everyone knows that MMOs and looter shooters are about the grind. Diablo 3 has a pretty cool campaign, but the faster you get through it the sooner you can start playing the long game. I love live service games, but I’m also talking about seemingly normal games that surprise you with the opening credits when you think you’ve just finished the game.
I’m talking about games like Pokemon Conquest. The main campaign of Conquest is pretty beefy. It takes about 13 hours to build your team of Pokemon and Warlords, unite the 17 kingdoms, defeat Nobunaga, and link with Arceus, the god of all Pokemon. If that campaign was simply the end, it would have felt like a complete experience. Just as you think you’ve beaten the game though, the actual game starts. There are 37 more interconnected campaigns to play, each with its own stories and unique challenges. By the time you finish the first campaign in Pokemon Conquest, you’re really only getting started. Some of those campaigns are nearly as long as the first one. Finishing the entire game could easily take another 90 hours.
Another great example of this is Monster Hunter World: Iceborne. The Iceborne expansion added a new region called the Hoarfrost Reach where a dozen new wyverns could be hunted. The Iceborne campaign is 40 hours long, almost as long as the Monster Hunter World campaign. When it ends and the credits roll, another new zone suddenly appears. This zone is massive and includes all of the original MHW zones in one place. There are ten more monsters to discover and a whole new progression system to learn as soon as the game ends. The Iceborne campaign introduced some of the new creatures, but the game doesn’t really start until it’s over.
Of course, the “end game is the real game” design doesn’t always pan out. Marvel’s Avengers is a recent example of a game that treats the campaign as the tutorial, but then under-delivers on the end game. If the campaign is the best part of the game, then it doesn’t really work as a tutorial for the actual game. Avengers’ end game simply doesn’t live up to the campaign. The best of these games don’t fundamentally change when the campaign ends the way Avengers does. When the story ends, there are no more cutscenes and story missions to do. The Avengers Initiative experience is just grinding a small handful of missions for gear and crafting materials. The post-campaign game needs to be bigger and better than the campaign itself.
When it works though, the fakeout ending can really blow your mind. Nier: Automata does this better than any other game. The first time you finish Nier: Automata, the game starts over from the beginning. Each time you replay the game, the story evolves and changes dramatically. Nier: Automata isn’t quite like the other games I mentioned (it’s not quite like anything, actually), but in the spirit of fakeout endings, Nier: Automata wears the crown.
The Late Title Card trope is a distant cousin of the Begins At The End game. A lot of games have famously presented their title cards long after the game has started, sometimes multiple hours in. Games like Mass Effect 3 and Red Dead Redemption are famous for their late title cards. This gives you the same kind of “we’re just getting started” feeling when they appear, but they can also work as an exclamation point on a particularly poignant scene or a bombastic action set piece.
Games that start at the end puts everything you’ve played in a new context. It’s like zooming out to see the bigger picture. Pokemon Conquest’s end game doesn’t make the main campaign any worse or less meaningful, it’s just more of what you love — a lot more. There’s no better feeling in gaming than realizing the fantastic game you just finished is actually just a fraction of the entire story.
Next: It’s Time To Bring Back Pokemon Conquest
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Eric Switzer is the Livestream News Editor for TheGamer as well as the lead for VR and Tech. He has written about comics and film for Bloody Disgusting and VFXwire. He is a graduate of University of Missouri – Columbia and Vancouver Film School. Eric loves board games, fan conventions, new technology, and his sweet sweet kitties Bruce and Babs. Favorite games include Destiny 2, Kingdom Hearts, Super Metroid, and Prey…but mostly Prey. His favorite Pokémon is Umbreon.
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