inFamous 2

To be or not to be: 9 games that let you choose martyrdom

There’s glory in a noble death, but staying alive has its perks, too.

By Anthony John Agnello, Steve Heisler, Samantha Nelson, Derrick Sanskrit, John Teti, and Drew Toal • August 30, 2012

NOTE: Since sacrificing yourself tends to be a bit of a showstopper, many of the entries on this list talk about the endings of the games concerned. If that sort of thing fills you with dread, consider yourself warned.

1. Fallout 3 (2008)

A few months ago, we looked at games that reward self-destruction, but few of those games give the player much of a choice in the matter. The works on this list all offer you a choice of making the ultimate sacrifice—either giving your own life or saying goodbye a loved one. One thread running through many of the examples here is that while the games let you decide whether to die or not, the moral scale tends to be heavily weighted toward the “kill yourself” end of things. That’s especially true in Fallout 3, whose climactic final quest, “Take It Back!” invites you to step into the control chamber of a huge water-purification mechanism and interrupt a self-destruct sequence. Unfortunately, entering the chamber means that you’ll receive a lethal dose of radiation, so cowards can let a goodie-two-shoes member of the local militia take the hit instead. The ending sequence looks unkindly on those who opt for self-preservation. The Broken Steel expansion, released a few months after the main game, complicates this decision somewhat: With the add-on installed, the radiation in the chamber is survivable, and furthermore, you can send a radiation-resistant buddy to do the dirty work, meaning that nobody even gets hurt. Seems sensible, but still, that choice means you don’t get the warm fuzzies of being the hero—not to mention the warm fuzzies of a zillion gamma rays coursing through your marrow.

2. Dark Souls (2011)
Dark Souls

At the end of a long and merciless game, one that involves dying thousands of times amid inch-by-inch progress, your character is faced with one last death, and a choice. For years, Lord Gwyn has kept the fire burning deep inside the sinister role-playing game Dark Souls—a fire that has kept humanity at bay, but maintained a delicate balance between gods and monsters. When Gwyn is defeated, a bonfire is placed at your feet, one of many bonfires you’ve discovered on your travels, and you’re faced with a choice. Do you give yourself to the bonfire, burning up and ensuring that the flames keep burning? Or do you let the fire go out, ushering in a new era of darkness with you as its master? Like most things in Dark Souls, it’s not as cut-and-dry as it might seem. The darkness would allow mankind to live, albeit not forever, and the fire would ensure its imminent demise. Plus, the choice to burn up pleases most of the characters in the game, but turning things dark only pleases a row of giant snakes who bow to you in appreciation. And even though we’re only talking about a one-minute cutscene either way, the choice weighs heavily because up to this point, the game has given gravity to these moments. It autosaves every three seconds, meaning if you’ve accidentally killed an ally, they stay dead and you can’t go back. It’s only a choice, one of thousands, but this is the one that truly matters.

3. inFamous 2 (2011)

Seeing as the premise of the game centered around choices between good and evil, the first inFamous was a major disappointment. It didn’t matter how righteous or wicked your version of Cole McGrath was, the game ended the same way, with the same characters left living or deceased and the same lessons learned either way. This eccentric statement on futility was reversed in inFamous 2 with two divergent paths for the endgame. Noble and good-natured players would activate a bomb that wiped out a plague and killed all super-powered carriers in the process, including Cole, who would be revered as a Saint by the survivors. Less altruistic players would murder their best friend, become all powerful, and enslave the human race as mankind’s new leader. Bad guys get to have so much more fun.

4. Dragon Age: Origins (2009)
Dragon Age: Origins

On the eve of the game’s final battle, your hero learns that the only way to really defeat the archdemon who leads the rampaging horde of evil darkspawn is for its slayer to die in the fight. The game still gives you plenty of options to avoid taking this burden on yourself. You could have an ally take the blow, which is a tough decision if it’s the sweet Alistair, but feels like just desserts if you’re traveling with the traitor Loghain. Sexy witch Morrigan offers another option: You could get her pregnant with a god baby so that no one has to die. But if you don’t trust Morrigan’s dark magic and can’t stand to let anyone take your place, you get the honor of dying to save the world and then watching your character’s touching funeral. Awkwardly, though, if you play the Awakening add-on, you can still use your sacrificed character, and it’s just never mentioned that you’ve come back from the dead.

5. Fable II (2008)
Fable 2

The Fable games are all about choice, but none has so much impact as the end of Fable II. Sure, earlier in the game you’re asked if you want to give up your youth and beauty so a stranger doesn’t have to lose hers, but if make the sacrifice there, you get the consolation of looking like a badass. In the course of the events leading up to the game’s finale, your sister, family, and dog all die, along with a building full of people. Then you get to make one of three wishes: get a ton of money, resurrect everyone who was in the building, or just resurrect your loved ones. It’s easy to turn down the cash payoff, but putting the life of a handful above many more is tougher. You can go on wrapping up side quests and just exploring even after you’ve completed the plot, so if you do choose to essentially sacrifice your family and loyal pooch, the impact is dramatic. Your character might still be alive, and unlike many of the entries on this list, this isn’t an exercise in self-martyrdom, but the absence of your best friend romping beside you is a constant and tragic reminder of your choice.

6. Chrono Trigger (1995)
Chrono Trigger

The “to be or not to be?” moment seems to be a recent thematic development in video games—we’d like to hear some older examples in the comments—but one exception to that trend is a two-decade-old role-playing game. Chrono Trigger is beloved 17 years after its release because its story feels valid no matter what choices you make in its branching timelines. Unlike Mass Effect or other games fixated on some moral binary, Trigger’s choices are simply about what flavor you would like the tale to take on. Silent lead Crono does the noble thing no matter what you do: He and his posse of time-travelling good Samaritans will attempt to fight Lavos, a massive parasite destined to destroy the planet, and Crono will die trying. What’s unique about Trigger though is that it lets you choose the shape of his sacrifice. Bringing Crono back is just a matter of gathering a few powerful goods and fighting your way to the peak of a mountain infested with Lavos’ offspring. If you choose, though, you can challenge Lavos again and get revenge for your comrade first. If you do it that way, the game ends with the heroes diving back in time to save him, but their success isn’t guaranteed—potentially making Crono’s martyrdom permanent. Like all of Chrono Trigger, it’s a bittersweet moment, equal parts hopeful and a little sad.

7. Radiant Historia (2011)

Vainqueur, the setting for Radiant Historia, is a rough place literally held together by martyrdom. It’s comprised of two countries engaged in a perpetual war and troubled by magical desertification. Compounding the problem: The populace is turning into sand right alongside the land. Hero Stocke, his long-lost sister, and his villainous boss, Heiss, are intimately tied to the scourge that’s ruining their country. Turns out the royal family has kept the “Sand Plague” at bay by sacrificing one of the twin siblings born each generation. The previous sacrifice was supposed to be Heiss, but he escaped and broke the cycle, splitting the timeline in two. (Obviously.) Once you reconcile history, someone’s gotta die. There are many quests in the game that involve helping people in both timelines. Complete all of them and Heiss has a change of heart, sacrificing himself to save Stocke. Your good deeds inspire a man to martyr himself. If you fail to help enough of your fellow citizens, however, Stocke pays for it with his own life instead.

8. BioShock 2 (2010)

The BioShock series can be viewed as the full evolution of Seasonal Affective Disorder, with the underwater community of Rapture falling into death and madness. It’s a cautionary tale for Seattle, but also for the perils of forced genetic harvesting. You play Delta, who is the fourth iteration of the Big Daddy, a genetically altered human grafted to a giant Sladen suit. Eleanor, the Little Sister you’re charged with protecting, is the subject of experiments by her crazy-ass cult leader of a mother. Throughout the game, you have the option of either sparing the Little Sisters you encounter or absorbing their ADAM—super sea-slug stem cells introduced into humans. Your actions determine whether or not Eleanor drowns her mother, but also your own fate. If you’ve let some Little Sisters live, and harvested some others, you’ll be presented with a choice at the end of the game. Either way, your Big Daddy body dies, but you can beg Eleanor to allow you a dignified natural death, teaching her an important life lesson. Or you can agree to live on as she absorbs you into her own cellular structure and proceeds to enslave humanity (presumably). It’s a pyrrhic victory.

9. Dragon’s Dogma (2012)

The final scenes of Dragon’s Dogma offer a couple of opportunities for martyrdom, both offering the same moral: a noble death is better than a lonely existence. In one of the game’s possible endings, you meet the titular dragon itself and can choose to offer your lover as a sacrifice rather than fight. In return for this sacrifice, you become the ruler of all the land, and a cutscene shows you sitting alone in a vast, empty throne room, looking awfully bored. If you skip the sacrifice and press on past the dragon to win a fight with the being that steers the fate of the Dragon’s Dogma universe, you become the puppetmaster yourself. It turns out that being the puppetmaster is pretty dull, too. Sure, you’re invisible, and you can roam around the world spying on the populace undetected, but the citizens of Dogma lead highly ordinary, stultifying lives. We know what you’re thinking—you’ll never get an “I’ve seen everything!” moment. Best to exit this higher plane of existence and experience the game’s “true” ending, in which you kill yourself and free the land, once and for all, from meddling dragons and superbeings.

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239 Responses to “To be or not to be: 9 games that let you choose martyrdom”

  1. Mookalakai says:

    The Bioshock 2 ending where you save all the Little Sisters, and then they come back to you on your deathbed was the hokiest thing ever, but also super adorable.

    • Mike_From_Chicago says:

      Think that was bioshock 1, and what do you expect? The whole game was swarming with people in adorable bunny-masks.

      • Mookalakai says:

         You’re right, I was mistaken. I now remember there being a tattoo on Jack’s arm in that scene, which obviously would make it from the first one.

    • AHyperkineticLagomorph says:

       Yeah, that was Bioshock 1. It was kind of charming, for as silly as it was.

      • GaryX says:

        Yeah, but man did they really fucking drop the ball on that game in like the last hour.

        • JoshJ says:

           Oh my gawd… I bought a 42 inch hi-def tv for gaming and you program a smaller, smudgy screen into the last 30 of the game? Fuuuuuuck that. Bioshock’s presentation was neat, but ALL the game mechanics (on-heartbeat spawns, etc) were SHIT.

        • Mookalakai says:

           There was a build up to how awesome playing as a Big Daddy was going to be, but in the end it was just blurry window to watch through. I think that’s one of the things Bioshock 2 actually did much better than the first one, making playing as a Big Daddy gratifying, and generally I think having better gameplay.

    • Spacemonkey Mafia says:

         I enjoyed the good ending to Bioshock as well.  
         What I really don’t understand why Bioshock 2 wasn’t a grown Little Sister returning to Rapture.  It makes all the narrative sense in the world, as well as being a much more interesting protagonist than some ret-conned Big Daddy, which I don’t believe anyone was really interested in playing.
         I had an idea for Bioshock 2 being a Little Sister returning to a Rapture that was being dredged from the ocean in a massive reclamation project that has been abandoned.
         You’d start above water in a 60’s environment as aesthetically stylized as Rapture’s art deco, and would have to slowly work your way downward through a string of environments until you got to point where the city had been almost entirely reclaimed by the sea and the Splicers had devolved into Lovecraftian aquatic horrors.
         Since the other thing I found a little dissatisfying about Bioshock 2 was a Rapture effectively unchanged from the first, despite the terrible toll time and genetic mutation would take on such an environment.
         All this is of course contingent on the idea that Bioshock needed a sequel, which despite my story pitch, I don’t really believe it does.

      • Vervack says:

         I don’t have all the facts, but I’m under the impression that the story of Bioshock 2 underwent a lot of changes in its early development. The account I’ve heard has it that the original idea was that the main antagonist would have been a Little Sister who couldn’t adapt to life on the surface. After growing up, she would’ve gone back to Rapture, kitted herself up as a Big Sister, and started abducting children from the surface to start the city up again. The player would’ve been a detective hired by one of the parents of the missing children (possibly Mark Meltzer from the ARG), and you would’ve gone to Rapture and fought against the Big Sister repeatedly.

        There were other ideas of uncertain provenance, such the idea of the splicers de-evolving into insecto-humanoid abominations (which may have been a holdover from the very early days of the first Bioshock, which was initially set in a cluster of sealed underground biospheres that were built by the Nazis in the 1940s and abandoned for a few decades). Probably the biggest departure I’ve heard of was the idea that the second game would be centered around Rapture’s attempt to fight off a Soviet military incursion that was attempting to loot the city and spirit its wonders back to the USSR.

        I don’t know what all this was abandoned, to be honest; 2K Games probably just ordered “more of the same”, and that was that.

        • Spacemonkey Mafia says:

          Each of those ideas is eminently more satisfying than what they landed on.  Granted, from what I’ve played of Bioshock 2, the greatest pleasure is exploring more of Rapture.  The Ryan museum in particular is super awesome.  But the pleasure of exploration doesn’t make the story any better.
             But I’m sure your analysis of 2K’s thought process is pretty spot on.  It’s likely the same process that had some bluetooth-earpiece exec looking over the assets and upon seeing the Big Daddy, going “That’s a huge dude, like GoW.  You should be that.”

      • Professor_Cuntburglar says:

         Yeah, considering how many freaking leaks were in the first game, I’m not sure how it was not completely flooded in the second.

        • Spacemonkey Mafia says:

          Can you believe one kid with a bucket was responsible for dredging that entire city?

    • AngryRaisins says:

      Bioshock 2 is kind of maddening – in terms of mechanics it’s a smart set of incremental improvements on Bioshock 1 (simultaneous guns and plasmids, tougher and more varied enemies, no game pauses when hacking), whose combat was a bit of a weak spot.  But the story is just so awkwardly crammed in to fit with the first one.

      • Vervack says:

         I agree with everything you wrote. In an ideal world I would have liked Bioshock remade with the graphical facelift, gameplay improvements, and the improved decision mechanics of the sequel. I do like the way the story was handled, and I do like the some of the setpieces (especially Alex the Great), but in the end it just feels like a game that didn’t need to be made.

        I wasn’t terribly fond of the decision to make the antagonist a cult-minded collectivist either. Given how much the setting was tied to Ryan’s ideology, the very environment made Lamb seem more like a pretender to the throne than a force in and of herself. Also, making an American audience rail against collectivism is like convincing the Japanese of the merits of a fish-based diet: it ain’t exactly challenging.

        • Spacemonkey Mafia says:

            The collectivist cult came across as an incredibly forced stab at parity.
             Like they felt a philosophical obligation to show that all extreme ideologies are bad.
             Sure, they are… but it’s a lame, adolescent crux to build a world on.  And a too-easy way to try and distinguish itself from the first.  Lamb was also poorly folded into the mythology of Rapture.

  2. kiwiskin says:

    Nier’s final ending has probably my favorite example of this.   Not only do you choose martyrdom, but your save gets erased too. 

    • CrabNaga says:

      Your save gets erased AND you can’t even use the same character name ever again on that console. That is, unless you use the dark arts of console save manipulation…

      The part where the game literally scrolls through every single part of the pause menu and “erases” all the items, words, weapons, quests, and maps you’ve amassed over the game is one of those rare bits of effective fourth wall breaking.

      It didn’t make running through the 2nd half of the game for the 4th time any more worth it, however.

  3. GhaleonQ says:

    *just finished reading a Yukio Mishima article and will subject people to my related train of thought*

    Hm.  That’s a nice list, even if the choice element tilts it toward very new games developed in the west.

    I know that there are a number of eastern games that have the martyrdom element (although they usually don’t let you expressly choose it; it’s either determined or tied to a gameplay element), but there are certainly far more western ones that do.

    Is the eastern equivalent having the event erased because it was a dream or because everyone loses their memory of it?  For every Heart Of Darkness in the west, there’s Radia War Chronicle, Super Mario Brothers 2/U.S.A., multiple The Legend Of Zelda games, Era Of The Illusion Of Gaia, ActRaisers 1 and 2, Ace Combat 3, and so on.

    Western aims for sacrifice, eastern aims for cyclicity or transience.

    I’m biased, but I’d say the differences in religion, myth, and ancient history probably affect each hemisphere’s storytelling tropes.

    • Enkidum says:

      I don’t know enough of the games to know if you’re accurately classifying them, but assuming you’re right about the distribution of sacrifice vs mind-wiping in East vs West, you’re probably right about differences in myth/religion being the source of that.

      Japan’s always been big on suicide, but it’s generally seen as a way of restoring honour rather than a way of helping others. And I might be wrong here, but I would think that sacrificing yourself for others would not be seen as quite as noble as it does to us gaijin.

  4. caspiancomic says:

    In my opinion, Nier has the mother of all self-martyrdoms: The hero not only gives up his own life to save his friend, he actually gives up his whole existence. Everybody who ever knew him forgets about him, the game goes through your journal showing your every entry being erased, your save file is erased, and you can never use that playthrough’s protagonist’s name again. As in, if you called your hero “Nier”, and get ending D, even though your save is erased you can never call your hero Nier again on another playthrough. That’s commitment to the bit.

  5. Merve says:

    Spec Ops: The Line lets the player character kill himself at the end, but it hardly qualifies as “martyrdom,” given the story. It’s actually one of the few games that legitimately lets you commit suicide at its end.

    • Vervack says:


      It lets you do it two ways: you can either have Walker refuse to accept your responsibility for everything that he did and make him shoot himself during the confrontation with “Konrad”, or you can have Walker accept what he has done, destroy “Konrad”, then choose to suicide-by-cop with the recon group in the epilogue. Of course, you also have the option of killing everyone in the group and completing Walker’s descent into evil, or surrendering to the soldiers just so you can finally stop killing things.

      Interesting thing is that the game has a number of obvious decision points, but they’re mostly decorative. The only ones that really matter are the ones at the end, but I don’t hold this as a knock against the game. It’s made blatantly clear that the conflict of the story is being escalated by Walker’s decision to keep driving into the center of Dubai, come what may, so choosing between Path A and Path B is only a cosmetic decision; no matter what you decide, you’re still walking and that is the problem. By leaving the only decision points with divergent outcomes to the very end, they essentially become the player’s final judgement on Walker: should he accept his self-knowledge, and what should he do with it?

    • Mookalakai says:


      I felt that the option to have the soldiers shoot you at the end was the most emotionally gratifying ending too. I just firing a few times in the air to bait them, and everything looked like it was leading up to that. Everything Walker had before entering Dubai was destroyed, in some form or another. His choices, if he wanted to get out of there, involved telling the world the truth about what happened, or choosing to cover it all up, and both of those are pretty gut-wrenching options. In that regard, choosing to be shot at the end was kind of like a mercy killing, because it seemed like Walker should have been killed hours before then anyway.

      • Merve says:


        The ending I chose was the one where Walker surrendered. To me, it felt most appropriate to have him live with the consequences and knowledge of what he’d done.

        The interesting thing is that all the endings feel appropriate in some way. I could imagine Walker committing suicide after consciously acknowledging the things he’d done. I could imagine Walker taking his own life while in the grips of an hallucination. I could also imagine him saying “Fuck it,” letting himself be overtaken by his demons, and just killing everybody before living out the rest of his meager existence in Dubai.

        Powerful stuff, yo.

        • AHyperkineticLagomorph says:

           I chose the shooting yourself in the head ending, but now I kind of wish I’d gone the surrender-to-the-soldiers ending. But to get that I’d have to replay the game and I’m not sure I’ll ever WANT to do that again.

        • Aaron Riccio says:

          That ending that you and I both chose is the one where he says something to the effect of “What makes you think I lived?” Which is sort of true: we don’t always “live” with what we’ve done, even if our bodies continue to function.

        • Aaron Riccio says:

          @AHyperkineticLagomorph:disqus : Getting the other endings (or achievements for choices, which I hear the developers were none too happy with — as this makes the morality a reductive thing) is as simple as just choosing to begin from that level . . . no need to replay the whole thing. (It gets really frustrating on higher difficulties, mainly because your squad tends to run into the Heavies and leaves you with no way to get them up before you’re ripped apart yourself.)

          I do think the game was a bit of a stretch though, in the blur between what’s real and not. Some of the flashes Walker has when confronting Konrad just felt like absolute revisionism . . . then again, I’ve never gone *that* insane.

    • GaryX says:

      I’m not reading these spoilers, but is Spec Ops: The Line a game I should seek out? Everyone was so lukewarm on it, it seems like.

      • It’s a couple of days worth of fairly mindless shooting. Good fun but not as deep or as affecting as the reviews makes it out to be in my opinion. If you see it going cheap and you like shooters, go for it.

        • GaryX says:

          Ah, okay. Thanks. I mostly wanted to play it for the story which I kept hearing was smart and deep, but I wasn’t sure if we were grading that on a vidja game scale.

        • Mookalakai says:

           Agreed that the gameplay is mediocre at best, and it honestly might turn people away because there is nothing special about that aspect of it. The story is generally pretty solid, with some very surprising and daring moments for a shooter to undergo. I think it’s worth playing if you already play a lot of shooter, because its themes are clearly targeted at that crowd.

      • Merve says:

        I say that you should definitely play it, especially if you can get it on the cheap. It doesn’t have the best story of any game I’ve ever played, but it is the game I’ve played that makes the best use of all its available storytelling tools – cutscenes, setpieces, mechanics, etc. The voice acting is superb, and it features what is probably Nolan North’s best performance.

        The gameplay is solid – not spectacular – but that’s kind of the point. It’s very arcade-y/unrealistic, but it wouldn’t have worked in any other way. You’ll see why when you play the game.

        I’ll say this, though. If you interpret the game purely as a critique of the shooter genre, it might annoy or even offend you. If you interpret it as a broader critique of some of the more jingoistic or celebratory aspects of military culture, then I think you’ll find it worthwhile.

        • Aaron Riccio says:

          It does have some great loading-screen messages though, particularly as you get deeper and deeper into the heart of darkness. It never quite went as far into the Eternal Darkness mold as I was jonesing for it do (although the title screen does change depending on your choices), but there were a couple that set me back. “How many Americans have you killed today?”

        • Heffenfeffer says:

          The loading screen messages threw the game into sharp relief – and I loved them.
          “This is all your fault.”
          “The US Military has strict rules about killing unarmed civilians. But this is a video game, so have fun!”
          “You are still a good person.”

      • It’s more mature and thought provoking than most games but it’s nothing exceptional, and nothing that you haven’t seen in other media. A step in the right direction for gaming narrative but it’s not always wholly successful. As I said, it’s a couple of days worth so it depends how much you like shooters and how much they’re asking for it.

  6. KidvanDanzig says:

    I remember a lot of people being pissed at Fallout 3’s original ending in the sense that it was a transparent DLC grab – you’re faced with a massively lethal radiation dose and this is supposed to be a dilemma, despite the fact that the game was designed such that at the end of the game, the majority of players will be tagging along with Fawkes, a mutant who is immune to radiation and can just go in and flick the switch, no harm done, everyone’s happy. In the original game you can call him out on this and he gives you an Anton Chighur-ish dodge, “If I did it, it would be meaningless” or some such horseshit.

    Then you get the DLC, send Fawkes in, everyone’s knocked out by the radiation pulse, and Ron Perlman STILL thinks you’re an asshole. Also the wasteland has been ruined by the addition of several bullet-sponge monsters (albino radscorps, ghoul reavers, etc)

    In the best ending of Deus Ex: Human Revolution you can say “fuck this; fuck everything” and cause the giant deep-sea structure you’re hanging out in to collapse, killing every major character in the game, save for maybe Malik and the fascist girlfriend.

    • Fluka says:

      The Deus Ex HR ending struck me less as martyrdom and more of a “Screw you guys!  I don’t wanna talk about it!”  I…guess…you’re not forcing your choice on everyone else, and that’s noble?  But it more felt to me like Adam just being kind of tired after a long day and saying fuck it.

      I have not played the game, and I know little about it, but the more I hear about the original Fallout 3 ending the more it makes me furrow my brow.  Do your damn job, radioactive-immune mutant friend!  Don’t be a dick!

      • fieldafar says:

        All four endings of Deus Ex: HR had that “Fuck it” feeling for Adam. He either lets someone else deal with it or just end it all.

        • Heffenfeffer says:

          It’s rather amusing that if you choose to hit the self-destruct button (and used non-lethal takedowns for the rest of the game), you still get the Pacifist Achievement.

        • djur says:

          Which is interesting, considering that all of the original Deus Ex’s endings involve JC Denton taking a very active role in the future of mankind.

    • Staggering Stew Bum says:

      Liked for “and Ron Perlman STILL thinks you’re an asshole”.

      Sure I could go in there and die for no reason, or I could do the intelligent thing and send in this giant mutant dude who is resistant to radiation and follows my commands. But no, I’m the coward for making the intelligent choice. War may never change, Ron, but you need to manage your expectations of people buddy.

      As for the Chigurh-ish dodge you mentioned, the choice of who out of yourself, Fawkes or Lyons has to go in to the chamber would have been better if it was decided by a coin toss:

      Player: You don’t have to do this. Fawkes: People always say the same thing. Player: What do they say? Fawkes: They say, “You don’t have to do this.” Player: You don’t. Fawkes: Okay. [Fawkes flips a coin and covers it with his hand] Fawkes: This is the best I can do. Call it. Player: I knowed you was crazy when I saw you sitting there. I knowed exactly what was in store for me. Fawkes: Call it. Player: No. I ain’t gonna call it. Fawkes: Call it.

    • Aurora Boreanaz says:

      I’m really glad I’m not the only one who thought the original Fallout 3 ending was insane.

      You can add this to the “there’s no reason I had to die” list – I’m pretty sure I tried (and succeeded) to run in, input the code, and run back out before the door closes.  Spoiler alert – you still die from the radiation.  REALLY?  Because the five feet of space between the open doorway and the console = lethal radiation?


      • djur says:

        It’s a shame, considering that Fallout, Fallout 2, and Fallout: New Vegas all have excellent endings. (And, in the case of FO2, a fun post-game which doesn’t require you to shell out for DLC.)

        • Heffenfeffer says:

          * Fallout 2 Hint Book
          “This would have been helpful at the beginning of the damn game…”

    • Professor_Cuntburglar says:

       See, I didn’t understand why you couldn’t run in, turn on the machine, then run out real quick and chug a few Radaways. It’s not like you weren’t exposed to massive amounts of radiation throughout the entire game.

  7. Fluka says:

    Thoughts on Dragon Age Origins and avoiding dragon-death:

    – You don’t have to have sex with Morrigan!  You can make Alistair have sex with Morrigan!  It’s super-awkward, particularly if your Grey Warden is Alistair’s girlfriend (“Yo, I love you.  In other news…”).

    – The old god baby *is* going to be addressed at some point?  In DA3 I assume?  Maybe?  If that happens?

    – Morrigan’s underwear is apparently more covering and supportive than her everyday clothing.

    • I never finished DA:O because once I’d decided to kill Morrigan because I just couldn’t tolerate her existence one second longer, I was informed that it’s basically unfinishable without her unless your primary character is an offensive caster. So I just uninstalled it.

      I’m probably the only person who liked Dragon Age II better.

      • Effigy_Power says:

        By no means. We are a select few, but we exist.

        PS: Your avatar unsettles me. ^_^

        • Aurora Boreanaz says:

          I tried to like DA2, I really did.  But I got really tired of the cycle of “Mages aren’t bad, we’re just misunderst…BLAARGHIWILLKILLYOU!”

          If you are given a choice in a game to try and protect innocents from needless murder, and 90% of the time said innocents turn into horrifying demons, it gets old.  I get that magic users in the DA universe are extremely unstable, but if you’re trying to play a “good” character and all of your choices result in everyone dying anyway, it’s not that fun.

          I suppose I should have just broken down and switched over to the “kill the mages” party, but they were all messed up too.

          So I guess the moral is, everyone in the DA universe is a mess.

        • Fluka says:

          @Effigy_Power:disqus Oo, I’m one!  I love both games, but I think I really do like DA2 a smidge better, mostly because the whole experience felt a lot more unusual and personal than the hero’s quest of DAO, even while it was tremendously flawed.

          @AuroraBoreanaz:disqus I think the whole plot and ending work better when they’re viewed as a tragedy, rather than a fantasy epic.  A lot of the game seems to test how far your Hawke is willing to take his/her moral convictions (or lack thereof).  That’s certainly how it worked for my mage Hawke: she spent the whole first half of the game defending the mage cause and freeing her fellow magic users whenever possible, up to the point of dabbling in blood magic.  Starting at the end of the second act, though, doubts began to creep in. LOTS OF SPOILERS.  A crazed mage kills and zombifies her mother in a really nasty way.  The rebel blood mages take her brother hostage.  Untethered Tevinter mages come back to re-enslave her hot elf boyfriend.  By the time Anders blows up the damn Chantry, she just wants to keep her family safe and save others the same suffering, so she goes against every moral instinct and sides with the Templars.  While, of course, killing other innocents.  She wins against Meredith and she’s the champion, but it all feels hollow.  It’s impossible to end the game without feeling incredibly guilty and wrong in some way.  

          “No good ending” could be another good subject for an inventory, come to think of it…

          The main problem with the DA2 ending is that’s pretty easy to think of a “Wait, couldn’t I have just done “this*?” alternate ending, i.e. supporting neither faction, kind of like the destruction ending in DE:HR.  My Hawke otherwise would have just gone, “Eh, whatever.  You sort this out.  I’m gonna go have a beer with Varric.”

      • The Guilty Party says:

        Eh? Why’s it unfinishable? Morrigan was always a pain in the ass so I almost never used her, just ran through with me as a warrior, another warrior and a thief and Wynne for the healing.

        • Fluka says:

          Agreed.  You can make it without Morrigan.  A non-mage without Wynne is pretty much screwed, though.  Who’s gonna heal you and show you grandmotherly concern?

        • tedthefed says:

          I…… liked Morrigan.  I hope we can all agree that Shale is objectively the best character, but Morrigan had a dignity I appreciated.

        • ChicaneryTheYounger says:

          I loved Morrigan. Then again I love Leiliana. And Alistar. And Shale. And Zevran. And Sten. And Wynne. Basically everyone except the Dwarf. Fuck that guy.

        • The Guilty Party says:

          As a character she’s fine. But as someone who disapproves of me helping people, and me being kind of ocd with keeping everyone’s affection high, she spent almost all her time on the sidelines.

        • Fluka says:

          @tedthefed:disqus I like her too, and my ladymage and her became good friends in their love of dignity and skepticism, but like @The_Guilty_Party:disqus says she was very hard to keep happy outside of camp.  There’s a reason the bioware store sells a “Morrigan Disapproves -12” tshirt.

        • Aurora Boreanaz says:

          @ChicaneryTheYounger:disqus  – Would you still hate the dwarf if you knew he was voiced by Brian Bloom?

      • tedthefed says:

        The problem with DA2 is that you can almost literally SEE the developers running out of time.  Not just in the dungeon design, but in the story, too.

    • saabmanlutz says:

      Morrigan doesn’t look anything like what I’d imagine a swamp witch would look like.

      • Aurora Boreanaz says:

        Tell me about it…but I guess since she’s half- or full-dragon as well, they go by different rules.  See also her mother in DA2.

    • Effigy_Power says:

      Even better, well, if you’re evil, you can make Loghain have sex with Morrigan, which he is not too shy about, but initiates the scene with “I hope you don’t mind if I think of my dead wife.”, by which I hope he means he is thinking of her memory, not her rotting corpse.

      I actually liked Loghain once I got to know him and so it seemed okay for him to get some sexy witch-behind for his troubles.

    • George_Liquor says:

       Yeah, it’s weird how Morrigan gets undressed and suddenly she’s more clothed.

    • KidvanDanzig says:

      The God Baby is almost certainly going to be central to the plot of DA3, along with the autistic dwarf boy who is probably the Key to Everything. Which is straight out of, like, Stephen King’s Dreamcatcher. I’m sure David Gaider is real proud. 

      Actually, if Mass Effect 3 is any indication, the God Baby might not be that big of a deal. I imagine it’s sort of similar to the whole Rachni thing, where it happens in the first game and you’re like “oh, this is going to have some really eventful consequences” and then it amounts to a wet fart. Dollars to donuts that if you / Alistair didn’t end up having sex with Morrigan she’s still pregnant in the sequel, just with some black magic baby who’s just as important to the story. Gaider and co. have been surprisingly candid about the fact that the DA series was never really meant to reflect player choice and that they had a specific story they wanted to tell in a specific way. Future of RPGs.

      • The Guilty Party says:

        Bitterness aside, Mass Effect is more one story told over three installments. Dragon Age games feel more like little bits of history of the world that you get to play. In some ways that makes them more free, since they can jump to Interesting Events and not have to provide as much continuity. In other ways, it’s harder because to write a truly divergent story based on wildly different world states is more or less economically impossible. So you have to finesse everything into one more or less canonical world history.

        But yes, I would bet on things working out to basically the same thing in the end anyway, with some minor tweaks to the default ‘some sort of godbaby is being born’ bit if you were the one that fathered the godbaby, or if it was Alistar/Loghain.

      • tedthefed says:

        And thank christ for that. I’m serious: I don’t want my choices fucking up a story.  I would MUCH rather have a clear, single vision… even if it’s got Demonbabies and autistic dwarves… than a bunch of dinky scenarios that can’t add up to anything because they’re all based on individual choices I made two games ago.  

  8. Vervack says:

    There’s a rather…idiosyncratic version of this in Ice-Pick Lodge’s Pathologic. Rather than giving you a story with multiple outcomes, though, they give you three versions of the same story with the player in the guise of a different character in each iteration.


    Okay, some basic info before I start. Pathologic is set in a weird little unnamed town on the Siberian steppe whose primary industries is cattle ranching and meat processing. It’s one of those weird little speculative-fiction places that don’t sync up to the time and place they’re located in. One day, three people arrive/appear in the town: the “Bachelor” Daniel Dankovsky, a doctor/medical researcher, the “Haruspex” Artemy Burakh, a shamanistic surgeon, and the “Devotress” Klara, a young woman/girl with with healing hands who is not exactly what she seems, maybe. Shortly after they arrive, a mysterious “Sand Plague” begins to eat its way through the town, and each character has twelve days to stop it from wiping out the town.

    Oh, and Pathologic is also a model built by children and a decision-making simulator built by Russian game developers. Please try to keep up.

    Anyway, the final decision for each character concerns the fate of the town. To broadly simplify it, this decision revolves around the relationship between the town and the Polyhedron, a great cubist conch-shell structure that looms over the western half of the town that violates the laws of architecture and structural engineering. There are different ways to solve the problem, but each character has a preferred method, based on their personality and the faction of the town they work to save during the crisis. The Bachelor’s preferred decision is to have the military lay waste to the town while the survivors evacuate to inside the Polyhedron, creating a little utopian community within. The Haruspex, by discovering that the Polyhedron’s base stabs into a layer of plague-bearing earth, will have the building uprooted to restore the town. As for the Devotress…well, here’s the thing. It’s eventually revealed in her playthrough that she was originally meant to be an avatar of the plague itself, and in the other two playthroughs that is how she is represented. However, when the player chooses to play her role, she essentially goes off-script. This results in the incidental genesis of a malevolent clone designed to keep the story going, but it also offers her an opportunity the other two do not have: by asking her followers to sacrifice themselves, she can embody the plague back within herself and essentially save the town, the Polyhedron, and the original character of the setting.

    And now that I’ve typed all that out; I’ve realized something I hadn’t before. The Bachelor, a man of empirical science and rationalism, eventually has the mystical, superstitious town destroyed while its inhabitants live in a utopic commune in an artificial building built on the principles of mathematics and design. He prefers a “Western” solution. The Haruspex, by contrast, has the mathematical parasite excised, reverting the town to its traditional, “Eastern” roots. However, it is through the sacrifice and continuous effort of the Devotress that both town and Polyhedron can survive and prosper, creating a special area of synthesis that cannot grow (for if the Devotress leaves, it will collapse back into town vs. Polyhedron once again as the plague returns), but can serve as an example to the world. This, it hardly needs to be said, is the “Russian” solution, and this reading makes the whole game a metaphor for one of the main arguments that’s been driving Russian philosophy since the 19th century got started.

    Hot damn I knew that history degree would pay off someday!

    • caspiancomic says:

      Oh man, I want to play Pathologic so badly. I have a huge internet crush on the Ice-Pick Lodge team (and in fact the second entry in my essay series on The Void should be ready tomorrow!), and feel obligated to mention for the ten millionth time that they’re running a Kickstarter that recently reached its funding goal. Also, where’s Blue Vodka Lemonade? She’s playing this game right now I believe.

      Anyway, I was really excited to read your little moment of head-slapping realization, because in the process of doing my Void write-ups I have them all the time, so I know the feeling. They really are a very gifted company, and are very talented at suggesting things like backstory, character relations, and running themes with the kind of feathery lightness you very rarely see in videogames.

      I was tempted to bring up The Void in the comments section, because technically all but two of the game’s endings result in the main character sacrificing himself, but I decided against it because I’ve done precious little besides flap my gums about The Void around here recently. And, I mean, I’m going to do it again tomorrow, so hopefully everybody’s feeling tolerant and polite enough not to stuff my head down any internet toilets.

    • TheDronesNeedYou says:

      Wow, that sounds wild. Thanks for summing up what seems to be a very interesting game that I probably would never have known otherwise.

  9. Hmm, does Planescape: Torment count?  Probably not, because the ending is the same whether you choose to fight the Transcendent One or “absorb” it, although the latter will save you a lot of effort. 

    That’s a case where I’m not even sure what martyrdom accomplishes–or even if it actually worked!  The conceit throughout the game is that your character can’t die, that some sort of concerted effort to seek deliberate eternal slumber is the only kind of resolution possible to both the pain and the revelations you’ve put others through.  And then the final cutscene shows you heading off to yet another battle, this time in Baator.  Are you ever going to be able to die, even there?  Or is it all part of some endless cycle, not unlike a certain Stephen King hero in a certain batch of books?

    Either way, just like those books, P:T was a crap-ton of fun while it lasted.

    • Travis Stewart says:

       Actually, you can martyr yourself by unmaking yourself using one very weak sword, which takes out the Transcendent One too.

    • Captain Internet says:

      The scene at the end is definitely an afterlife that he’s been condemned to on one of the planes, although presumably he could have just gone there and joined in anyway.

      • Travis Stewart says:

        Indeed, the interpretation I’ve heard most often is that he just goes to fight in the Blood War, no death involved.

    • dreadguacamole says:

       It does – That final cutscene is basically him dying and going to hell, which was the fate the nameless one was trying to avoid in the first place when he went for immortality.

       It’s my favorite videogame ending, period.

  10. Zach Adams says:

    First thing I thought of was the original BLOOD OMEN: LEGACY OF KAIN…which is unique in that the entire timeline built afterward assumes he made the selfish choice.

  11. Nathan Rogers-Hancock says:

    No PLANESCAPE TORMENT on either list? Huh.

    EDIT: Just read to the bottom of the comments after posting, sorry.

  12. Staggering Stew Bum says:

    Very pleased that this Inventory didn’t go with the obvious selection of Mass Effect 3, because *SPOILERS I GUESS* there is no martyrdom for Shepard no matter what you choose. Unless Shepard leads a big enough fleet to Earth to worry the Reapers, and then picks DESTROY, she will actually die meekly in a pile of rubble in London with martyrdom a figment of her imagination.

  13. HobbesMkii says:

    I saved my dog in my first playthrough of Fable II. He wasn’t terribly helpful throughout the game except to bark at things, but by God I was not going to let him stay dead after he took a bullet for me.

    • Effigy_Power says:

      They undid that issue with the DLC about the island with the weather changes (could have made that shorter by researching the name of said DLC), where you could lead a person to a crypt on a graveyard and then sacrifice them to get your dog back.
      It did, if you knew that before the final choice, so basically on every subsequent playthrough, make the sacrifice a bit less meaningful, but I guess they realized that without the dog you couldn’t really play much of the equally meaningless sandbox-style game after, since the dog is a vital game mechanic for certain quests.

      • Spacemonkey Mafia says:

        I was so eager to get the DLC after having sacrificed my dog and really feeling his/her absence in the post-game quests.
           Then I did get him back and it felt surprisingly hollow.  
           Oh well.  I still really like that game.

        • HobbesMkii says:

          I actually did not know that was doable. I think the choice was rather meaningless in the end. I owned half of Albion by the end of the game and had quite a few families by that point as well, so it wasn’t like I needed money or people. I only had the one dog, though.

    • GaryX says:

      I didn’t give a shit about that decision after that game’s shitty ending where, as I tried to contemplate what to do next, the game yanked the reigns from me. Fucking dumb.

  14. Mercenary_Security_number_4 says:

    I love Fallout 3, but the original ending was just plain bad writing.  They tried to add some gravitas on to the end but it came out so forced.  The entire last quest is mostly watching a giant robot kick ass, which is cool but kind throws out agency.  While I find New Vegas to be ultimately an inferior game, at least the end quest in that game felt like it was actually important that you were there.  The hero feeling crucial is of course what the martyr moment was supposed to accomplish in FO3 — but rather than being a conclusion set-up and given resonance by the proceeding story, it relies on the lazy contrivance of ending the story with a mostly unearned death.  I would have rather had the choice been between between destroying the citadel or destroying rivet city, since those two settlements spent the storyline in a friendly but real philosophical disagreement about what was important.  It would have been a tragedy either way, but would have been a decision that stemmed from the game’s theme of the uneasy relationship between military rule and civilian community.

    • MrTusks says:

      I lived a squeaky-clean life in Fallout 3, but I sent in a minion to die of radiation poisoning because I didn’t think that was the actual end of the game. I went in myself the first time and died, but I don’t recall there being an ending cinematic, so I assumed sending in another was the only way to “finish” the game. Despite being a perfect angel the whole time, I got the “bad” ending due to that one decision. Huh. Also…


      Is there any way to save Dad?

      • Mercenary_Security_number_4 says:

         your game probably glitched the first time and hung up when trying to load the cinematic.

        No, saving dad is not an option.  In the words of Gilbert Grape, “dad’s dead, ellen.”

    • Professor_Cuntburglar says:

       If they made Liberty Prime a useable follower in fallout 4, I would literally give them all of my money.

    • KidvanDanzig says:

      If I recall correctly, it was mentioned in the Fallout 3 special edition booklet that the original plan was to have you actually piloting the giant robot to take back an Enclave-seized Rivet City. They cut it due to time constraints.

  15. deiseach says:

    Jade Empire’s sacrifice ending is great. It’s presented as a halfway house between being a nauseating goody-two-shoes or the most evil thing this side of Emperor Palpatine, but . . . it’s not a spoiler to say there’s nothing bi-partizan about it

    • Cal C. says:

      Jade Empire is one of the best X-Box games that seems to have been completely forgotten.  The ending I believe you’re referring to – the surrender ending, right? – is also one of my favorite video game endings. 

      Man, what a great game.

      • Aurora Boreanaz says:

        I have to admit, I thought the last 3rd of Jade Empire was pretty brilliant.


        It’s a rare thing when you get to the “final boss” and he KILLS YOU, forcing you to fight back to life and gain strength before fighting him again.

    • George_Liquor says:

      It’s a rare video game that lets you prop up a fascist dictator as one of its endings.

  16. LoveWaffle says:

    Mass Effect 3 (and to a lesser extent 2) is the glaring omission from this list.  

    And, even though it wasn’t a choice, John Marston’s sacrifice at the end of Red Dead Redemption should have gotten an honorable mention for being one of the most powerful moments in gaming.

    • GaryX says:

      Except, what’s brilliant about John Marston’s sacrifice is that it’s entirely fruitless. The “sacrifice” ultimately dooms his own son to the same future.

      Man, I fucking loved that ending.

      • Mookalakai says:

         Totally agree, Red Dead is one of my favorite games ever, and I wanted everyone to know I’m finally going to put up my Bonnie McFarlane poster that came with the game.

    • Merve says:

      Speaking of Rockstar games, L.A. Noire could also belong on the list, considering that the protagonist saved everyone else before attempting to save himself.

      Then again, Cole Phelps is an asshole.

      • Aurora Boreanaz says:

        Since someone mentioned Zero Punctuation a few days ago, I gotta say that his LA Noire video was pure comedy gold.

    • Professor_Cuntburglar says:

       I felt like the RDR ending would have worked better if they had given you a choice, between sacrificing yourself and gunning down the dudes outside the barn like you did in every single mission before that one.

      • LoveWaffle says:

        Completely disagree with just about everything you said.  The RDR ending is one of the best endings to a video game in recent memory, and being able to gun down the soldiers outside the barn would have completely ruined it.

        If anything, there should have been more of a choice for Jack to turn away from killing Edgar Ross.

        • Professor_Cuntburglar says:

           I guess I didn’t feel like it was earned? My personal opinion on endings like that is that there should be a choice, and by the end the game should convince you that sacrificing yourself is the right choice. As the player, I am John Marston, and I should have the same emotional journey as him. The ending would have worked if it was a movie, but I didn’t feel like it worked in a video game.

  17. Mike_From_Chicago says:

    On the subject of older games that follow this theme, there’s “blood omen: legacy of kain” (on ps1 in 1996, maybe?) a top-down pseudo-rpg where you play as a vampire. After the final boss battle you can either kill yourself and restore balance to the world, or you can rule it as an immortal vampire-king.

    First time I played I chose the good ending, being a wiener. Apparently the game designers held that ending in such contempt that it just triggers a boring cutscene with some voice-over, whereas the sequel presumes the bad ending.

    • They were probably forced to shove a “good” ending in there. Moral ambiguity was not tolerated on home consoles until much later.

    • GaryX says:

      I never played that game, but I remember how badass the sequel to it looked in the ads in EGM I used to read.

      • Aurora Boreanaz says:

        Soul Reaver was really fun.  I think I played Soul Reaver II as well, but don’t remember for sure.  I never finished Kain 1 either…at the time I was really averse to playing such an evil anti-hero.  Raziel was more to my taste, as a fallen evil character seeking revenge against Kain, which made him almost good.

        The drama of the series’ development is impressive on its own.  Soul Reaver 2 and Blood Omen 2 were in development at the same time by competing studios who settled a court case between them.  Then the fifth game in the series re-tied their stories together.

    • Spacemonkey Mafia says:

      I never passed Legacy of Kain, but I did enjoy the game’s addition of copious blood fountains.
         That’s progressive civil engineering.

  18. Treymoney says:

    It’s a divisive game, but Far Cry 2 has a great ending. SPOiLERS! After being betrayed by and forced to kill your former allies and friends, the mercenary you were sent to kill reveals his plan. Tired of war and murder, he wants to help the surviving civilians to escape their wartorn country. He gives you two choices, and whatever one you choose he will perform the other. You can manually detonate an explosive, keeping the militias from following and stopping the civilian exodus. Or you can take the bag of diamonds that were the Macguffin of the entire game and use them to bribe the border patrols to allow the civilians to cross, promising to shoot yourself shortly after.

    • AHyperkineticLagomorph says:

       While I did enjoy that part of the ending, I felt the part where you kill your “former allies and friends” was completely silly. I helped them frequently and they still betrayed me because… I don’t actually remember there being an actual reason.

    • TheLivingTribunal says:

      The twist that the Jackyl was the good guy all along was decent, but having to promise to kill yourself because you’re inherently evil or something leaves a really bad taste in my mouth.  Why wouldn’t it be enough to be given a choice of using the diamonds to help the refugees vs. keeping them for yourself?  It’s not as dramatic but it makes a lot more sense.

    • Professor_Cuntburglar says:

       I’ve been playing FAR Cry 2 for the first time recently, and the more I play it, the more I think there’s almost some really insightful commentary about both shooters and cycles of violence.

      It’s also really fun to set stuff on fire.

  19. Raging Bear says:

    I love inFamous 2 absolutely to bits. I suppose there are more ballsy, world-sweeping-implication endings out there than I thought, because I haven’t seen a lot of them and really enjoyed that i2 went there. Also a good example of how a great song and well-edited highlight reel can make a credit sequence super badass.

  20. If you romance Alistair in Dragon Age, he dies for you no matter what. Asshole.

    • Effigy_Power says:

      Unless you let him have some witchy strange. Then he survives…

    • Aurora Boreanaz says:

      I was a goody two-shoes dwarf in DA:O, but when I finally caught Loghain I was so furious with him I killed him.  Then of course I found out that someone had to die at the end…so I made Alistair marry the queen and sacrificed myself.  Hooray, everyone is saved but nobody is happy!

      • GaryX says:

        Should’ve just got your bang on.

        • Aurora Boreanaz says:

          I was already involved with Leliana, plus the whole goody-two-shoes thing precluded me from siring a Damien.

        • GaryX says:

          @AuroraBoreanaz:disqus Psh. Who said anything about Damien? You’ll be severely underpowered whenever they decide to pick up these storylines that seemingly dropped.

        • azudarko says:

          I was equally goody-two-shoes, and in a relationship with Alistair (mods!), but at the end of the day I figured that I was one of the most powerful things currently existing in that world so if I -did- create a horrible monster baby, it wouldn’t be too hard to go and smash it to monster-baby-bits. 

        • George_Liquor says:

          I was being all goody-goody too, so I spared Loghain, which ended up making Alistair leave. Then, as a goody-goody, I didn’t want to spawn a demon puppy, so that pretty much left me with one choice.

          The moral to this story: Be evil. You’ll live longer.

  21. Dikachu says:

    At the end of DeathSpank: Thongs of Virtue you actually have the option of sacrificing yourself for the greater good (so the deuteragonist chick can remove your evil thong and destroy it), or killing her so you can use the evil thong for good.

    Of course in The Baconing (the third game) you see her head floating in a jar, so obviously they assume he actually chose the latter.

  22. Heffenfeffer says:

    There are a couple of others that I’d like to bring up – first up is every Call of Duty from Modern Warfare on, where you can pick an actual perk called “Martyrdom” in multiplayer. This drops a live grenade at your feet when you die. For some reason, this was deemed annoying enough to be nerfed severely in future games.

    The second is Singularity. At the end of the game, you’re given a choice of three kills to make: Kill Demichev and you rule the world with Barisov, kill Barisov and Demichev and you rule the world yourself, or go back in time and kill your past self, which causes your current self to die.

    …and then come back to life in the game’s introduction, which is now *in Russian* and shows a giant statue of Demichev.

  23. Spacemonkey Mafia says:

    For me, a character’s death in a video game is a difficult narrative to make resonate. Butting against, as it does, the primary abstraction of video games; being that an the road to this final martyrdom, you’ve already died a thousand times.  Sometimes in an epic showdown with a world-devouring demon, and other times you misgauge a leap to grab a pair of discarded boots you see on an outcropping that just might fit, and you ignobly fall to your death.
       I haven’t played Nier, but it sounds like that game really creates a finality to death that transcends the game world, which is admirable.
       It would be interesting to see more developers play around with the implications of a characters death.
       Aliens: Infestation for the DS apparently works in that, once a character is dead, they are dead.  You have a roster of backup soldiers to call on, but the number is finite.  My understanding is Heavy Rain also makes a characters death permanent and just manipulates the world around that death.
       And I like that idea.  It would be pretty great to have an rpg as a loose collage; like the movie Slacker, or the Aeon Flux episode, ‘War’, that cycles through multiple protagonists, each from the opposing side of a war.
       It would be a tough balance to have characters who are finite, but to have an emotional connection to each.  I dunno, maybe the whole conceit is more trouble than it would be worth for a developer to expand upon.
       Equally unfeasible, it would be awesome to see some post-game DLC based around the game protagonist dying.  Either another character in the world experiencing the aftermath of the protagonist’s decision, or if the game is high-fantasy, having the protagonist navigate the afterlife.
       More Valhalla than Celestial Bureaucracy, though.  No one wants to play a game where your filling out parchment in triplicate for a four-armed sage.

    • GaryX says:

      Yeah, you hit upon what makes it hard for video games to make death really resonate: it’s innately built into the concept at this point. Yet, if you have a game try to skirt that or change it like the 2008 Prince of Persia, you have hoards of people decrying it as “too easy” even though the difficulty hasn’t changed, just the dressing around the mechanic of “death.” 

      The last part of what you’re saying is how I wish they had actually addressed the Mass Effect 3 ending. Rather than cards, if they had just given us a DLC that allows to control someone else from the crew (maybe even various members?) and explore the post-Reaper world. They wouldn’t have to make it necessarily large, but rather focus on being able to something detailed and widely divergent based upon your final endings. Giving a nice denouement like that could’ve been great.

      • Aaron Riccio says:

        There was an interview with someone recently (here or on the Verge, I think it was one of the Spec Ops guys) that was explaining that martyrdom is so rarely allowed in games because it makes creating a sequel difficult. (You have to go to prequels or find new successors, ala Assassins’ Creed.)

        Personally, I don’t get attached to game characters all that much (save for when I was growing up with RPGs), so . . . 

    • rvb1023 says:

       Neir’s ending brilliant in that regard (Most of that game is brilliant minus the average gameplay and graphics).  Best use of New Game+ I have ever seen.

    • caspiancomic says:

       Off the top of my head, character death is permanent in Fire Emblem. It’s why in the course of the game you recruit so many characters: they’re meant to be falling down dead left right and centre, and the developers don’t want to running out of doods before the final battle. In a similar vein, supporting characters from Suikoden Tactics can be killed permanently if they die in battle. This means you can, if you wanted, kill off something like three quarters of the cast of Suikoden IV, if you particularly disliked that game.

      Also, you might get some mileage out of the concept of a “Nuzlocke Run” in Pokemon. The idea is that you are only allowed to catch the first Pokemon you meet in any new area (if you fail to capture the first ‘mon you meet you don’t catch anything), and if one of your team faints in battle, they are considered “dead”, and must be set free. Players are encouraged to name their every Pokemon. This not only creates a huge and unique challenge in the game, it also makes the player’s connection with his every critter much stronger. It’s a popular habit among Nuzlocke players to make in-character Let’s Plays or even short run webcomics about their personal narrative during these challenges.

      • PaganPoet says:

        I don’t the permanent character death is limited to Suikoden Tactics. They could also die permanently in Suikoden I – IV (I never played V) in any of the large army battles.

        I’ll never forget having to reset Suikoden I after hours of not saving because one of my characters died in one of those battles.

        • caspiancomic says:

           Yeah, in each of the Suikoden games there are a set number of characters who can die if things don’t go their way in major battles- some of their related characters even have different endings if their friends die (Sancho will have a different ending if Max dies, for example). Amusingly, Sheena can die in the first game, but he’s a plot important character in the sequel, so even if you load a Suikoden 1 savegame with a dead Sheena on it, he’ll have miraculously returned to life to no fanfare. I can’t remember offhand if Max can be resurrected the same way.

          There’s also a rich tradition of plot-important characters dying if you make crappy choices with them. In the first game Pahn can die permanently if you don’t level him in time for his character-redeeming duel. In the second, making one too many selfish decisions will result in Ridley’s permanent death (and swift replacement by his son, Boris). There is such a decision to be made in Suikoden V, but I won’t spoil it here, in case you ever get around to it.

  24. Hatefly says:

    Not many people remember the original “Blood Omen: Legacy of Kain” had the option to martyr yourself at the end.

  25. rvb1023 says:

    The Infamous games will really go down as pleasant surprises in that I didn’t expect a lot more than a fun game about being a superhero and then ended up getting a well told story along with it.

    Dragon Age’s martyrdom never felt that great but I was happy either way because I didn’t have to listen to Alistair anymore. 

    Fallout 3 has and always will be terrible.  It didn’t just become bad at it’s horrible ending, it was pretty much like that the entire time.

  26. Wade says:

    Red Dead Redemption ought to be on here. Moreso than a couple of these choices. I guess the opposing point would be that you don’t have a choice with John Marston on his ending. But to me, that was an emotionally devastating end.

  27. PaganPoet says:

    Blood Omen: Legacy of Kain also lets you choose martyrdom, although it is not the canon ending to the game.

    Now there’s a series that could use a new sequel or reboot. Although I’d prefer to see something more in the style of the original game. More action RPG, less action game. I preferred the darker, more occultish art style of the first game as well.

  28. KidvanDanzig says:

    I really wish Black Isle would have been able to finish their Fallout 3. The ending for that one had you being forced to choose either (a) fiery nuclear death for the entire US (b) fiery death for a handful of large-scale cities or (c) blowing up the orbital missile platform with you on it, in which case you had a 4/5 chance of some missiles launching anyway. And I think (c) wasn’t even available unless you were a programming genius.

  29. Josh Shaffer says:

    This list fails without mention of Jedi Knight: Dark Forces 2. “Dragon’s Dogma” totally ripped of the miserable alone-in-the-throneroom-sequence. Totally awesome endings to that game.

  30. Don’t forget Shin Megami Tensei: Persona 3. The choice at the end of that one is a little different, though — you choose between “main character dies” and “everyone in the world dies,” though it’s a choice the game allows you to make freely.

    Planescape: Torment might be another contender, though getting your nameless protagonist permadead is close to being the stated story goal.

  31. John Clavis says:

    If I may offer a nitpick (SPOILERS) regarding the Evil Ending of inFamous 2…

    SPOILER SPOILER SPOILER (and a rear wing as well):

    There’s a plague spreading that’s apparently going to kill every human on Earth. Cole (in the Evil Ending) is given a way to activate the latent superpowers in approximately one out of 1000 people — a process that also cures that one person of the plague, while automatically killing every non-latent-superhuman in a five-block radius (as a necessary part of the activation process). He begins to cross the country, assembling activated superhumans around him to fight Earth’s defenses as he activates every latent superhuman he finds, murdering thousands and thousands of human beings in the process as millions of others (one assumes) continue to die of the unarrested plague. At one point, a character actually refers to the superhumans as potentially the only people who could survive the plague (albeit through this horrific method), as a sort of new species that would literally consume humanity in the process of being born.

    In other words (if you choose the Evil Ending), mankind isn’t headed for slavery at Cole’s hand, but extinction.

  32. xuqing says:

  33. Nick Holmes says:

    The Black Cauldron (Sierra, 1986) is another one: (skip to 1:48)
    Pretty grim for a game aimed at eight-year-olds.

  34. Matt Koester says:

    Well, you just spoiled all the games I wanted to play!