Note: This article contains extensive spoilers. Obviously.
It’s been 10 years since Rockstar Games released Red Dead Redemption, trading the crowded, car-filled streets of its signature Grand Theft Auto games for the cinematic grandeur of the American West. There’s much about Redemption that lingers in the memory—the sight of a vast plain spread out before you, long nights spent playing poker, or just a bit of all-purpose moseying. But it was the game’s ending that numerous players most remembered. Narratively, there’s nothing particularly special about Red Dead’s conclusion, which sees mostly good-hearted outlaw John Marston eventually gunned down by the forces of Civilization that had spent the entire story kicking him around. The revolutionary moment comes, rather, when John’s son, Jack, takes up his guns to seek revenge for his father’s death—becoming the game’s new playable character in the process. Lots of media has spilled blood and ink on the topic of the inescapable cycle of vengeance; Red Dead forced its players to live it out.
In honor of the game’s 10th anniversary, we’ve compiled a list of some of gaming’s best and most affecting endings. To conclude a story well is no easy thing; to do so when you’ve got a hundred thousand players all trying to make it the perfect expression of their individual tale of heroism or sorrow borders on the absurd. But across genres and generations, these games—presented in order of chronology (mostly)—proved that it’s not always impossible to go out on top.