We've been playing a lot of Payday 2 and Saints Row 4 recently, and it occurred to us that these games both have something in common: they get a LOT better late in the game. Payday 2 let's you open up a host of great skills the longer you play that make gameplay considerably more fun when you get to the higher skill levels. Likewise, one of the chief complaints about Saints Row 4 is the depressing VR world you inhabit for most of the game but late in the game you open up the sky and suddenly virtual Stillwater is a beautiful place to be. These games are leading us to wonder why developers create games that save the best for last; they keep such amazing graphics or gameplay for the end of the game when many gamers won't even get to experience them.
We certainly understand the motivation of game developers; they want to reward earnest gamers who spent hours completing their games with a great final mission or some amazing graphics. The god of all first person shooters, Halflife 2, rewards players at the end with an unstoppable gravity gun which can hurl any enemy (or energy balls that vaporize your enemy) so that your final assent through the citadel becomes a empowering experience (EDITOR'S NOTE: though I am still working through my 2013 backlog, I may drop everything to play through Halflife 2 again). Blood Dragon (last year's Far Cry 3 DLC) also gives you a hilarious final level (with music from Rocky 4) that is worth the playthrough. And of course, the powerful giraffe scene in The Last of Us comes very late in that game, exactly when you need an emotional boost to carry you through the game's emotional and somewhat jarring final levels.
One of the first games that had such a level was Kid Icarus, in which you spent the entire game as a land-locked flightless angel as you amassed tools for fighting medusa. At the very end of the game, you finally took flight and the game became very different for its final level. Of course, this approach of saving the best for last can also backfire horribly, as in Battletoads vs. Double Dragon's final stage in which the game suddenly switches from sidescrolling brawler to intergalactic shooter (and if you die, no more continues!). When what you think is a great finale is actually a horrible departure from enjoyable gameplay, it can demolish the entire experience. Maybe that's why the great Resident Evil 4 put its best level right in the beginning, as you face off against an entire village of homicidal maniacs. Sometimes putting the best foot forward propels you through the rest of the game.
The tragedy, of course, is that a lot of players will never see these levels. I've spoken to a lot of gamers who never got to see that awesome sky at the end of Skyrim, which is too bad because that sky is incredible. There's just so much to do in Skyrim that playing all the way through can be a bit of a distraction. So help us get the word out about games worth finishing and graphics worth seeing. Is there an ending level you wish more people had seen? Is there something great that needs to be on our radar? Let's us know in the comments!