Part 87: Act Three Chapter Twenty-Three - Can You Believe This Is The Better Ending?
Heroes fall, and everyone else dies.
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There have been worse endings. Let's not single out NWN2 for criticism as though it stands alone. Anyone up for a game of Ghostbusters for the NES? How about Quake and "ID Software salutes you!" "Congratulations, you have escaped Jurassic Park?" Syndicate and the Atlantic Accelerator? "A Winner Is You," so awful it became a catchphrase?
That said, most of those games are years old, when there simply wasn't
Oh! Oh! Original Eye of the Beholder! That too!
NWN2 is a relatively recent game and could do better. There weren't any technological limitations stopping a cool cutscene like NWN2's intro; I suspect the reason for the slideshow was largely due to cost (and also the clunkiness of the Aurora/Electron engines). But let's not get carried away... at least there was an ending. At least we weren't unceremoniously kicked out to a DOS prompt.
We're getting fussier and fussier as an audience. Ten years ago, the endings of Fallout 3 and Assassin's Creed and Gears of War and, yes, NWN2 would have been lauded as fantastic and incredibly detailed.
It's just a damn shame when your only defence is "It's better than the game freezing up and crashing Windows."
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What's wrong with the NWN2 ending?
Technically it's flawed, as mentioned earlier. The slides look fuzzy and out-of-focus, and some of the poses are strange (Casavir looks like he's doing the shot put and Ammon's about to launch into the most radical display of break-dancing ever). The narrator was also obviously drafted in at the last minute. But those objections can be put aside; "three more months," that sort of thing.
Conceptually, it's harder to defend. There's a few levels to this one:
- NWN2 is heroic fantasy, and in heroic fantasies everyone comes back home alive. Tragic 'they all died' endings don't fit so well.
- Heroic sacrifice is an acceptable ending, but you need to build up to that sort of thing properly, not just dump it on the player at the last second.
- Players get attached to their characters and to their party companions. Killing them all off, especially 'off-screen' in a narrated slideshow, can feel like a betrayal of the player-designer compact - like it's not really 'your' PC anymore. Especially bad when you consider that most people's PCs are just fantasy versions of themselves.
- Load-bearing bosses are a cliche and a collapsing fortress is lazy writing. "Rocks fall, everyone dies" is a joke for a reason.
- Where possible, show and don't tell. Tell what happened fifty years after the ending, yes... don't tell what happens before the ending is actually complete! The story hasn't finished until the Hero is out of the Underworld, however that happens!
- There are dozens of different ways the party could have escaped a rockfall. At the very least, Zhjaeve as a githzerai can Plane Shift at will, then come back with Nasher's Rod of Resurrection.
- Seriously, ROCKS FALL EVERYONE DIES
It's just not an appropriate ending. If Obsidian wanted dark and poignant they should have set things up in advance earlier. Tragedy only works when the audience sees it coming and the characters don't - otherwise, it's farce played with a straight face.
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What's right with the NWN2 ending?
Well, everything leading up to the rockfall was pretty good. The Shadow Fortress was a bit rushed but the Crossroad Keep siege was fantastic and the Garius fight had tons of juicy drama and some nice outcomes for companion story arcs. And the final fight itself (in the good arc) was well-designed, as said previously.
As for the ending sequence itself: the comparison to Fallout is a good one (and, of course, Black Isle and Obsidian share more than a few developers). Fallout, of course, also has a 'sad' ending in that the main character is exiled from his protected Vault community because his adventures have made him a danger, but the game incorporates that into the main content and never disconnects the player from the character.
But both NWN2 and Fallout are followed by the short vignettes of people and places the player affected during their adventures. You've seen what Calliope did, now let's see what she could have done.
First up is the choice we made back in Act 1: City Watch or Shadow Thieves?
There are three parts to the Shadow Thief ending. We chose to go our own way and killed both Axle and Moire, so our ending was pretty non-descript.
This is what we get for choosing Axle over Moire...
...and for Moire over Axle.
If we'd sided with the City Watch, then they'd be victorious over the Shadow Thieves and usher in a new age of order and civility.
Brelaina was the 'softly-softly' questgiver for the City Watch plotline, urging the player to tolerate bribery and corruption in the name of keeping more men on the streets.
Zero-tolerance options would please Marshal Cormick, who'd rather a small-but-honest force of Watchmen.
Allowing Torio to be executed (and joining the King of Shadows) nets you this ending.
Be mean to Bevil and he runs away, a bloo hoo hoo.
Low Influence with Shandra.
Crossroad Keep's post-game success is a function of several factors: number of Greycloaks, number of buildings restored, numbers of peasants and merchants. Manage your keep poorly and it fades into obscurity.
The rest simply expand on the evil Shadow General ending:
There's also a bug with the Elanee ending - the ending we officially got was in fact the one you get if she leaves you and you let her go. We should have got the 'brutally murdered and left in the swamp to rot' ending:
In the years after the war, the Mere became a place of horrors - but worst of all was the tales of a ghost of a mysterious elven female, who was said to have been slain by her own companions. Her dying spirit twisted by the Claimed Lands, she is said to lure travelers to their deaths, and then watch in satisfaction as they slowly drown in the depths of the swamp.
It should play for the evil ending but I don't know and it doesn't really matter any more because we're done!
That was the NWN2 Let's Play!
Of course, the story's not over yet. Calliope isn't dead and there's more to hear from her in the expansion pack Mask of the Betrayer, which picks up where the OC left off. It's miles better than NWN2 and probably better than any other RPG ever written, ever.
The best way to think of it: you know the OC, and the King of Shadows, and Ammon Jerro and the githyanki and Neverwinter and Luskan and Crossroad Keep and the thieves and Old Owl Well and the Merdelain and West Harbor?
That was all the prelude to the real story.