What's better than a great game? How about a series of great games, each building upon the last, weaving an epic tale that keeps drawing you back?
Video games have been getting sequels since the very early days, when Pac-Man was introduced to Ms. Pac-Man. These days, developers seem more inclined to keep adding to or rebooting a popular franchise rather than taking a risk with a new IP. But sometimes, just sometimes, developers decide it is time to wrap up their storylines. Like a television series finale, there is a lot of pressure on these games to live up to everything the franchise has done and has promised. When these promises are met, we get some of the greatest gaming experiences of all time. When they fall short, well … you have one annoyed fanbase.
Now, these days every game and its grandmother is getting a reboot, spin-off, or forced sequel, so you'll notice a few titles on this list where the franchise is still going. If a game was intended to be, or should have been, the series finale, or if otherwise wrapped up the series' overarching plot, I'm counting it.
Here are ten of the best game series finales, those games that wrapped up their series in a satisfying bow, and seven of the worst, those games that permanently left a dark mark on our collective nostalgia.
Oh, and if it's not obvious: Spoiler Warning.
17 Best – Dark Souls III
The world of Dark Souls is dark and unforgiving, and that is exactly what made players fall in love with it. Intense difficulty while remaining fair, challenging players to learn from their experiences, and all the while hinting at a deep world rich with lore for those willing to seek it.
Dark Souls III follows close in the footsteps of its predecessors while also improving on the formula. Faster combat, such as that found in FromSoftware's other offering, Bloodborne, some of the best boss fights of the series, and the impressive visuals of the Kingdom of Lothric make this game a worthy conclusion to the series. And perhaps most importantly, the story rounded out the series well, no matter what ending your Ashen One received.
16 Best – Gears Of War 3
The conclusion to the Gears of War trilogy brings an epic end to a fantastic shooter series. Gears of War made its name through over the top violence, ridiculous set pieces, and a larger than life cast of characters, and the third installment did not shy away.
The plot featured our favorite COG's taking on a new threat, the Lambent, a threat to them and their old friends, the Locusts. After gunning down many thousand of them alongside the latest Carmine, you finally uncover some secrets that have been hiding the entire series, including learning more about the history of Marcus Fenix and his dad. Oh, and you get to stab the Locust Queen in her chest, which is oh so satisfying.
Epic Games would wait five years before putting out Gears of War 4, set 25 years after the events of the original series, though many would agree the story was probably best put to bed after the trilogy.
15 Best – Prince of Persia: The Two Thrones
There have been numerous iterations of The Prince of Persia franchise, but the pinnacle of the series will always be the Sands of Time trilogy. The final game in the trilogy, The Two Thrones, builds upon the foundations of the series, continuing the kind of trippy story that only time traveling shenanigans can create, while expanding upon the Prince's acrobatic and stealth repertoire. Also, you get a badass whip (and yes, I know this was likely a rip-off of God of War, still awesome).
After a less than successful reboot attempt, Ubisoft would return to The Sands of Time setting with The Forgotten Sands, which was met with a mixed reception and seemed to only have minimum connection to the elements which make the Sands of Time trilogy great.
14 Worst – Assassin's Creed III
It is said that the Assassin's Creed series is the spiritual successor the Sands of Time trilogy, so it seems fitting to put the two close together. Assassin's Creed III concludes the story of Desmond Miles, the assassin descendant whose genetic memories have provided the setting for the games thus far. Mechanically, there is nothing wrong with this game, and, if it was your first entry into the series, you might even enjoy it. Where it fails is as a sequel, adding very little to the gameplay that previous entries did not have (although the Colonial setting was, admittedly, pretty cool and well done).
It earns it spot here through its weak conclusion to Desmond's story line, ending five games worth of build up and intrigue in a fairly silly and unsatisfying manner.
The Assassin's Creed franchise, of course, keeps going after Demond's end, with yet another game slated to release this year.
13 Best – Phantasy Star IV: The End Of The Millennium
Though it never took off in the west as well as its peer, Final Fantasy, during the late 80s and early 90s, Phantasy Star had its own loyal audience. While it didn't add much to the stereotypical turn-based RPG gameplay, what it did have was stellar storytelling, great art design, and a well composed soundtrack. Even more than two decades later, Phantasy Star IV is still considered one of the best of the genre, appearing on many lists of all-time best games.
As far as a conclusion to the series goes, Phantasy Star IV is a great example of telling a new story while still building on the old, revealing the secrets of the Algol system to Chaz's party and to players.
These days, the Phatasy Star series is focused on online games, the most recent title being Phantasy Star Online II, which seems to not be coming to the west. It seems the story of Algol is permanently settled.
12 Worst – Ultima IX: Ascension
Ultima is one of gaming's seminal series. The first came out way back in 1981, and over the next 20 years the series would go on to set standards that are still being used by RPGs to this day. Over nine games the player controlled the same character (referred to first as the Stranger, and later as the Avatar) as he journeyed through Britannia and protected it from all sorts of threats from the mainstays of fantasy.
Ultima IX was to be the big conclusion to the series, with the Avatar waging one last battle with longstanding villain the Guardian. Fans felt let down that the game, attempting to appeal to a wider audience that may not have played previous entries, largely ignored existing continuity. The game was also plagued with bugs and felt unfinished. Overall, not a fitting way for a titan of the genre to come to an end.
11 Best – Mega Man X8
Mega Man X breathed exciting new life into the stagnating Mega Man franchise, and to platformers in general. The game was so popular that it spawned its own series, a total of 11 games of varying quality. After the much maligned attempt at a 3D entry, Mega Man X7, the series seemed doomed on the sixth generation consoles. Fortunately, Capcom decided to give the series the chance at a proper conclusion, giving us the fantastic Mega Man X8. It brought the series back to its roots, using a 2.5D style instead of X7's 3D. We finally see an end to Sigma (this time for good, as the narration repeatedly points out) and we see some pretty cool Maverick bosses.
The Mega Man X story line reached its conclusion, though a divergent series, Megaman Zero, is implied to take place after its events.
10 Worst – Half Life-2: Episode Two
Not technically a finale, but, by all looks of it, all the conclusion we are ever going to get from the series so it counts. Half-Life 2 was a great and innovative game at its time, and even to this day many consider it one of the best first person shooters ever made. What it lacked was a satisfying conclusion, which Valve wanted to remedy through episodic expansions.
Episode One and Episode Two did just that, with the announced Episode 3 supposedly concluding the trilogy and giving the players some closure. Unfortunately, it never happened, nor have we had any word on it in years. It has become vaporware, and it seems we will never seen the inside of the Aperture Science ship Gordon Freeman was about to set off for.
9 Best – Tomb Raider: Underworld
The Lara Croft trilogy that started with the 2006 reboot Tomb Raider: Legend is a bit of an odd duck. The first game was followed up by a remake of the original game, Tomb Raider: Anniversary. It fell to the series conclusion, Underworld, to bridge these two games.
At its surface, Underworld serves as a direct sequel to Legend, beginning just after the events of the first game. But it also serves to address unanswered questions from Anniversary, all while making some great improvements to the first two games, such as replacing Quick Time Events with 'adrenaline moments' (something I wish other games would take note of). Combined with puzzles and exploration that feel like classic Lara Croft and seventh gen graphics and you have a true classic.
8 Worst – Tomb Raider: The Angel Of Darkness
The last Tomb Raider title created by its original developers, Core Design, and the one that was so poorly received that it forced the first reboot. The game was lackluster, with poor controls, unnecessary stealth mechanics, poor AI, and frame rate issues. The Angel of Darkness was met with such a negative reaction that it caused the head of Core Design to retire, and forced Eidos Interactive to give the production of the next game to Crystal Dynamics. Hell, even Paramount Pictures was in on the The Angel of Darkness hate, blaming the poor box office its movie The Cradle of Life received on the fan's reaction to the game.
In retrospect, The Angel of Darkness may have been the victim of being ahead of its time. Many of the complaints, such as the RPG mechanics and stamina meter, are pretty common place these days. But there's no denying the damage it did at the time.
7 Best – Resident Evil 5
Here's an entry likely to cause some contention, and for good reason. Resident Evil 5 had a number of faults, not the least among them a tonal shift from survival horror to action game (and with none of the campiness that allowed Resident Evil 4 to get away with it), occasionally clunky controls, and, of course, Sheva's AI.
But what Resident Evil 5 did do right was serve as satisfying conclusion to a plotline that had been running since the very first game. Albert Wesker, a STARS traitor turned full on Neo-clone, has been plotting in the background since 1996, and it was oh so satisfying to finally confront him and take him down once and for all. RE5 wrapped up most of the series outstanding plot points fairly well, which is likely a big part of the reason it felt they were stretching for story in the next game.
6 Worst – Dead Space 3
Like Resident Evil 5, Dead Space 3 represented a massive tonal shift for the series from survival horror to action. Unlike RE5, Dead space 3 doesn't get a pass on grounds of completing a major story. That might be because Dead Space's story has always been more straightforward (not a bad thing), or it might be the stretched out way they try to bring Isaac into another game after the events of the previous game.
In a way, it kind of reminds me of a superhero movie franchise. The first two entries are great, but the third never lives up to it. Dead Space 3 ignores all the things that made the originals good, throws Isaac and his AI partner against hordes of enemies, and introduces a bunch of redundant and unnecessary mechanics.
Also, the final boss is the moon. Just putting that out there.
5 Best – Uncharted 4: A Thief's End
In case it needs to be said, I'll say: Uncharted 4 is a fantastic game. Naughty Dog really outdid themselves for creating the final entry in their beloved franchise, taking all the mechanics that made the Uncharted series great and refining them so they all worked together like a well oiled engine.
But that's not why I put it on this list. Well, not the major reason. The reason is the short little epilogue that follows the main game. It is something short yet incredibly personal. In that moment, you can feel the developers' love for their series, and you get to share those feelings with them as you remember your favorite moments. It is those kinds of moments that will make you remember a game forever, and none of us are soon to be forgetting Uncharted.
4 Worst - Knights Of The Old Republic II: Sith Lords
Bioware's Knights of the Old Republic is possibly the most beloved Star Wars game of all time. Obsidian took up the responsibility of creating a sequel, giving us Sith Lords. It is hard for me to put this game on this list, as the game itself is actually pretty good, for the most part. But it was unfinished, with hours of content on the cutting room floor, a rushed and unsatisfying ending, and hundreds of bugs.
Worst of all, the ending did not conclude the storyline started in the first game, and no further sequel was forthcoming. Players were left wait 8 years before getting to see the continuation of the story line … in the form of an MMO. For those players unwilling to dedicate the time it takes to get into an MMO, the story line may never be concluded.
3 Best – Batman: Arkham Knight
Super hero games have a troubled history, and Batman in particular seemed like a tricky one to pull off. Which made Arkham Asylum such a welcome surprise, effortlessly combining Batman's trademark gadgets, stealth, and a rhythm based combat system that was quite different from anything before it. Its successor, Arkham City, took all that and brought it into an open world setting. Arkham Knight had to top all of that.
Though it suffered a rocky release on the PC, Arkham Knight was a worthy conclusion to the series. Adding the batmobile to Bruce's modes of transit, bringing out some of the best members of Batman's rogue's gallery, and some great voice acting from Mark Hamill as the Joker (in Batman's head) keep the game going strong all the way through, even during the slower parts. Though I do hope they leave the series at that, for I think all their tricks are now played out.
2 Worst – Mass Effect 3
The victim of too much hype and not enough time in development, Mass Effect 3's ending has become a running joke on the internet. It is the pinnacle of disappointing endings and broken promises.
From the beginning, from the very first game, you are taught that decisions have consequences. Thus you weigh your options as you decide the fate of the Rachni, whether you should show mercy on a captured enemy leader, whether it is in the best interest in the galaxy for the genophage to be cured. All the while, you wait for these decisions of morality, of Shepard's Paragon/Renegade status to have some big impact on the ending.
Only to find out, to your disappointment, that your decisions mattered little in the end. One dues ex machina and the trilogy is over. Bioware/EA would try to make it right with an extended version of the ending, but one that failed the address the primary problem and left the dues ex machina intact.
1 Best – The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt
It has been a long road for CD Projekt RED's The Witcher series, from the clunky mess only redeemed by narrative and choice making of the first game, to the more polished and epic split stories of Assassins of Kings, to the massive budget, open world conclusion of Geralt's story, Wild Hunt.
Wild Hunt features the strong narrative and morally gray decision making that the series had become known for, polished up the combat, and tossed it into an unprecedented open world. Witcher 3 is so good it hardly requires the previous games, but it does do its job as a finale, bringing to an end the long running plot of Geralt's lost memories, the missing Yennefer, and the aggression of the Nilfgaard Empire. That and a metric ton of side stories concerning the other colorful characters who populate the world.
CD Projekt RED has been teasing us for some time with the possibility of a Witcher 4, though with Geralt's story sadly at an end it is uncertain who it will follow or when.