With every game I've completed over the last few months, I feel like I'm starting to understand what works for me and what doesn't. I probably should have written on this topic some time ago, but I wanted to spare some of the rants (like my Persona 3 tirade) that have come to mind, and take a more measured approach. In general, I that good game endings are becoming few and far between; not because developers are incapable of concluding or producing a well written narrative, but rather because they have more interest in maintaining a franchise that may last an indeterminate number of titles (a-la Call of Duty).
I certainly don't begrudge game developers the need to make franchise games, and earn as much as possible. To the contrary, the proliferation of sequels tends to give us better titles in the immediate term. Think about it - Mass Effect 2, Uncharted 2, Gears of War 2, etc. "Sequel-itis," as it gets dubbed, allows develpers to build assets, engines, and other tools that can be iterated upon; in short, it can be a wonderful thing. The problem arises when developers assume that their games will have sequels, and that every games will play the sequel in question, and therefore can leave gaping plot holes to be wrapped up at an undisclosed time. With some franchises, we have been waiting many years from something approaching closure. But not all devs decide to go the "cliffhanger route," many don't and are better for it. Other developers just leave games on a question mark without any real hope of a sequel.
With that foundation, I'll cite some examples of what I think works, and what doesn't. I'm going to try to keep the spoilers here to a minimum, and I'll place spoiler tags on the discussions regardless, so no worries. But these will not be detailed spoilers if possible
Portal/Portal 2 -the good
Dead Space 2- the good
Enslaved: Oddyssey to the West - the Bad
Dragon Age 2 - the Bad
Assassin's Creed 2/Brotherhood - the WHY?
To summarize, I see different trends. Sequels within larger franchises can wrap up effectively by putting a period on the immediate events of the game, while leaving the door open for bigger issues or different stories to be pursued in later sequels. The problem comes when developers make the assumption that gamers should be required to play 2, 3, 4, or more games to get the smallest amount of closure.
I have to write from my own perspective here, but this is a relevant issue for people like me, who may not have the time and/or money to keep buying and playing each game in every series. I know I'll be in law school this Fall, so it's not likely that I'll be able to keep up with series like Assassins' Creed or Dragon Age. Frankly, I'll be lucky to get to any games while school is in, and so for me, these will remain entirely unresolved stories. Games should do what they can to build their brands, but not at the expense of the individual games' experience. This is even more relevant when secondary titles may never happen. Think about Ubisoft's Prince of Persia (the cell-shaded one), Too Human, or Alpha Protocol - assumptions that these would be bigger franchises left big holes in the narrative when all was said and done.
Do you agree, or am I missing something critical?