Grand Theft Auto V: Choose Your Ending

By Shamus Posted Thursday Sep 13, 2018

Filed under: Retrospectives 41 comments

Last week I outlined the plot of Grand Theft Auto V. As I hope my synopsis made clear, this game gets lost and spends the majority of its running time on elements that are completely divorced from the central conflict. It presents problems, and then throws a never-ending series of distractions at our antiheroes

For clarity, when I talk about the “central conflict” I’m talking about the personal drama between our three lead characters. The game opens with the job that causes the division between Michael and Trevor, and – assuming you choose the sensible ending – they nominally reconcile right before the closing credits. You could also make the case that one of these other plot threads is the “main” one, although that’s just moving the problem around. You could argue that the FIB is the main plot because it gets the most time, but then we have a story where the main plot isn’t introduced for several hours, and when it IS resolved it’s bundled with a bunch of other problems. You could claim that The Big Heist is the main plot because it feels like the most reasonable way to end a game with these mechanics, but then you have a “main plot” that gets almost no screen time and hits its finale over an hour before the story concludes. No matter how you map it out, nothing in this story feels like a properly developed central pillar.

I put the Michael / Trevor / Franklin at the center because it’s present at the beginning, the end, and we get lots of reminders about it as the story goes on, even if the situation isn’t making any progress.

A Really Good Concept

Well, this is awkward.
Well, this is awkward.

On paper, it’s a pretty good hook: Trevor is a dangerous psychopath. Yet despite his depravity, he’s also a fiercely loyal friend. Michael gets married and his concerns shift to worrying about his family more than his career. Trevor has no such reservations and just wants to keep robbing people forever. Eventually Michael – to save his own life and his family – betrays his crew and sets up a situation designed to kill off his associates and allow him to exit this life of crime. By sheer luck and stubbornness, Trevor survives anyway. Once the game begins and the two are reunited, Trevor is torn between his loyalty towards the only real friend he’s ever had, and his deep personal hurt at being betrayed by that same person. At the same time, the story shows that Trevor kinda needs Michael. Trevor’s own criminal schemes are sad and pathetic because his only real skill is killing lots of people. Trevor wants revenge, but he also wants to pretend the last 9 years didn’t happen and go back to pulling heists. Adding salt to the wound is the fact that Michael has taken on a new student, effectively replacing the role Trevor originally served. Also, by getting back in the game Michael has negated the entire purpose of the betrayal in the first place, adding to the hurt.

As much as I’m going to nitpick this story, I’ll admit up front that this premise is dynamite. You’ve got the makings of a really good movie right there. You’ve got a strong personal conflict between two well-drawn characters, and tons of external forces shoving them together. We can argue about whether or not this story meshes with the tone of the world, but this could make for a fantastic 90-minute movie.

But sadly, this isn’t a 90-minute movie. This is a 12 hour videogame, and the 90 minutes of potential drama are diluted and confused by countless side-stories, dead-ends, and digressions.

Trevor, thinking his best friend is dead, decides to go out in a blaze of glory. It's kinda heartbreaking once you understand him.
Trevor, thinking his best friend is dead, decides to go out in a blaze of glory. It's kinda heartbreaking once you understand him.

If the writer wanted to keep this Trevor vs. Michael plot going, then they needed to put in the time to sustain it in the middle of the story and drive home that it was still a threat. Maybe we could get a scene where Trevor says to one of his friends that he’s going to use Michael for “one last job” and then kill him in the escape, since that’s what Michael tried to do to him. Then we could switch over to Michael and he would be talking to the FIB about how he needs to kill Trevor to keep his family safe. Then all of their following scenes together would take on a sinister tone as each of them feins friendship while plotting against the other.

But by the halfway point I honestly thought that the Michael / Trevor conflict was “resolved”. They had a bonding moment where they attacked a reality TV host (it’s a long story) and were then united against the FIB. Sure, Michael was scared and Trevor was hurt, but those emotions don’t drive the story. By the time they start working for the FIB, it feels like their mutual distrust is just there to fuel their banter. It’s not portrayed as a looming threat and it certainly doesn’t seem to be building to anything.

The Ending Choice

Our options are to kill Michael, kill Trevor, or blow up the collector base.
Our options are to kill Michael, kill Trevor, or blow up the collector base.

The final choice for this game is so awkward, unsatisfying, and inappropriate that I wonder if it’s a clumsy satirical dig at ending choices in games. On the other hand, where’s the satire? This doesn’t satirize dumb choices. It simply is one.

Your choices (as presented to Franklin) are:

  1. Kill Michael
  2. Kill Trevor
  3. Unite with both and kill all of your enemies.

If you choose the third option then the story leads to a more or less natural conclusion with our three protagonists settling things with their various foes. But if you chose to kill Michael then I guess that makes this a story about Michael paying for his betrayal? If you kill Trevor then I guess it’s about… what? Using him for one last job before betraying him again?

It’s really goofy to offer this choice at the end that boils down to “choose what you think the previous 12 hours were about”. If this was a story about making Michael pay for his backstab, then why were we obliged to spend so much time making things right between him and his family? If this was a story about finishing off Trevor, then why didn’t we do that ages ago? Neither of these options really work as a proper conclusion.

We get three ending choices, but only one of them lets us kill this annoying jackass who has been creating problems and frustration since he showed up.
We get three ending choices, but only one of them lets us kill this annoying jackass who has been creating problems and frustration since he showed up.

The worst part about killing Trevor / Michael is that these choices take all the other plot threads and throw them out for no reason. You’ve spent the entire game inexplicably working for obnoxious people you hate, and if you choose one of these options then they all live and you never get to settle up with any of them. The whole game is reduced to a pointless wank. Yes, the central conflict is between Trevor and Michael. But your ending choice is to have Franklin kill one of themAlthough Michael shows up to help if you choose to kill Trevor. Still, the mission is played from Franklin’s perspective.. If this decision is going to hinge on the Michael vs. Trevor conflict, then shouldn’t it be settled between Michael and Trevor?

I’m obviously not against choice in games! In Mass Effect, the game offered us lots of choices. But when it came to the end, everyone was railroaded into accepting the premise of the story: Stop Saren and the Reapers. That was what the plot had been building towards and that was the expectations in the minds of the audience. I’ve heard a lot of criticism of Mass Effect over the yearsI might have written a little of it myself., but I’ve never heard anyone gripe because the game didn’t offer them the choice to romance Saren and help the Reapers. Grand Theft Auto V offers us no choices throughout the game, but then at the end it allows you to pick from three different endings, two of which make no sense in terms of story structure.

It feels like an odd choice to not have the smoking wreckage of Devin Weston's car visible in the frame. Still, that's a really nice shot.
It feels like an odd choice to not have the smoking wreckage of Devin Weston's car visible in the frame. Still, that's a really nice shot.

So the kill Michael / Trevor choices don’t work as conclusions to the story we’ve experienced, they don’t effectively resolve the conflict between these two men, and they will be incredibly unsatisfying to the audience because they don’t resolve or pay off the conflict with our numerous antagonists. They feel like a spiteful “screw you” to players who chose them, which is baffling since:

  1. Most players didn’t.
  2. Nobody asked for these extra choices to begin with. If this non-branching game had come to a non-branching conclusion, it would have felt completely natural. This isn’t a BioWare game and nothing in the preceding 11 hours created an expectation of player agency within the story. So why is this choice here at all?

Normally at this point in the review I’d say something to the effect of, “This money could have been better spent elsewhere.” But it’s not like this game suffered from budget constraints. You can’t look at the rest of the product and say it would have benefitted from more money. I don’t know why the team spent resources offering the player two thematically inappropriate and narratively unsatisfying options, but their inclusion doesn’t detract from the rest of the experienceI mean, assuming you don’t go and CHOOSE one of them..

Next week we’ll look at the overall (lack of) structure of Grand Theft Auto V and talk about the challenges of telling stories in a game with such a massive scope.



[1] Although Michael shows up to help if you choose to kill Trevor. Still, the mission is played from Franklin’s perspective.

[2] I might have written a little of it myself.

[3] I mean, assuming you don’t go and CHOOSE one of them.

From The Archives:

41 thoughts on “Grand Theft Auto V: Choose Your Ending

  1. Gunther says:

    I went into the game spoiler-free and ended up with the “kill Trevor” ending (I assumed that I was just choosing mission order, there had been zero story choices up until that point).

    An hour of gameplay later I realized my mistake. Since I hadn’t known to keep a pre-choice savegame, I’d have to replay the entire goddamn game to see the “real” ending.

    Such a terrible design decision.

    1. Tonich says:

      AFAIR, you can see all the endings in one playthrough, just go to the mission replay menu in your in-game phone.

  2. Wiseman says:

    I find it weird that the DIAS element wasn’t usually mentioned in this retrospective. All games feature different levels of it. If you take GTA 3 and Vice City into account, then missions were usually brief, and this structure detracted less from those games.

  3. Daemian Lucifer says:

    I feel like the final mission shouldve been triggerable by any one of them,and you would get the goal to kill the other two,for whatever reasons were established before.Then,during that mission,you could get an option to reconcile,maybe even gated by some earlier mission,and if you pick that you get to go on the killing spree with all three as buddies.

  4. ElementalAlchemist says:

    I’ve never heard anyone gripe because the game didn’t offer them the choice to romance Saren

    You clearly never visited the official Bioware forums. That sort of thing is exactly why they shut them down.

  5. Hal says:

    This sounds like a situation where those endings ought to have “branched off” of the main story (killing the billionaire.) That is, you progress to a certain point, and then you have the option: Do you want to kill Michael/Trevor? Or maybe it just happens and the game says, “Welp, okay, let’s keep going.” Kind of like Morrowind if you killed important NPCs.

  6. BlueHorus says:

    Kind of unique as weird ending choices go. Usually all the choices are dumb and/or binary like Fable’s famous ‘kill your sister with magic sword’ vs ‘throw magic sword away’.
    (My personal ‘favorite’ is Far Cry 3’s ‘leave Murder-Funtimes Island with your friends’ or ‘murder all your friends and stay’.
    Hey genius, why don’t you stay on the island and – crazy thought – not slaughter your friends? You could even just, I don’t know, SEND THEM HOME WITHOUT YOU and NOT MAKE GATHERING THE BOAT & ALL THOSE SUPPLIES A WASTE OF TIME.)

    RE GTA V: From what I’ve heard of Trevor, I’d be happy to kill him – but I’d also want to settle up with Devin the Douchbag as well as well as any others.
    And being locked out of a load of game content by making the wrong choice? Awful, awful idea.

    It’s not necessarily a bad idea for an ending choice, but the implementation…

    1. evileeyore says:

      “(My personal ‘favorite’ is Far Cry 3’s ‘leave Murder-Funtimes Island with your friends’ or ‘murder all your friends and stay’.
      Hey genius, why don’t you stay on the island and – crazy thought – not slaughter your friends? You could even just, I don’t know, SEND THEM HOME WITHOUT YOU and NOT MAKE GATHERING THE BOAT & ALL THOSE SUPPLIES A WASTE OF TIME.)”

      You’re almost never going to hear me defend FC3 from a storytelling standpoint… but…

      In this case the ending is framed as “Kill Your Friends (Thus Proving Your Loyalty To Crazy Hawt Chick) And Stay” or “Die”. You don’t have a third choice even hinted at.

      1. BlueHorus says:

        Really? I picked the ‘leave’ option, and it went pretty much as expected. Short, unsatisfying clip of a boat leaving.
        (It’s been a while though, it could have implied you weren’t on it or something similar.)

        1. Shoeboxjeddy says:

          Yeah, he kills his friends in Far Cry 3 because that ending is giving in to the island’s crazed priestess who is ordering you to do it. She then names Jason the sacred warrior and then mounts him and… sacrifices him. Woops, lol. You gotta read the fine print when accepting those “crazed island religion” human sacrifice pacts.

    2. Agammamon says:

      And being locked out of a load of game content by making the wrong choice? Awful, awful idea.

      Then what’s the point of having a choice in the first place?

  7. “Maybe we could get a scene where Trevor says to one of his friends that he’s going to use Michael for “one last job” and then kill him in the escape, since that’s what Michael tried to do to him”

    I don’t think Trevor is capable of doing that to someone he is emotionally attached to (like Michael, and later Franklin), as Trevor has really huge abandonment issues (see the sidestory related to his mom).

    “we could switch over to Michael and he would be talking to the FIB about how he needs to kill Trevor to keep his family safe”
    That would kinda work, but the FIB in GTA is too dumb and they’ds flat out say that Trevor is liabiity that need s to go (which they do say).

    I think with a tweak the writers could have had Michael go after Trevor, and persuade Franklin to go after Trevor.
    That way the player would get not “3” endings but branching endings.

    For example:
    In a cutscene Michael is convinced by the FIB to go after Trevor, the player as Michael drives to where Trevor is and gets into a fight with Trevor.
    “Michael: Why the fuck did you shoot at me?”
    “Trevor: I knew you where a snake, you came to take me out just like they said.”
    “Michael: What? Fuck, they set me up.”

    The player changes view to Franklin. Franklin is persuaded or forced or blackmailed (or scared?) by the FIB into taking out Trevor, they say he’s a loose canon that has no issues killing his friends. This is a hard sell, maybe the FIB could threaten Franklin’s friends/family (or imply such?). Franklin is given the task to take out Trevor and is given a sniper rifle and told where Trevor is. We now switch to Trevor.
    “Trevor: Oh look at Michael making excuses again. You still came to take me out.”
    “Michael: I have no choice, it’s the only way to get them off my back and keep my family safe.”
    “Trevor: I’m, your fucking family!”
    Or something along those lines. The whole thing ends with Trevor pointing a gun at Michael who’s laying on the ground.
    The player now gets the choice, reconcile or make Michael’s death real and permanent this time.

    At this time the player is switched to Franklin, who is just now arriving. Who in a cutscene gets to the a spot and lays down to snipe Trevor. But Franklin sees the end of the the Trevor Michael fight with Trevor pointing the gun at Michael laying on the ground. (yeah, a “slight” time cheat here for things to align up)
    Depending on the choice the player did, Franklin will see the FIBs words be true and Trevor shots Michael, or he’ll see the FIB lying and see Trevor lower his gun, reach out a hand and help Michael up and hug him.

    If Trevor shoots Michael then Franklin gets the choice to shoot or not shoot Trevor.
    If Trevor does not shoot Michael, then Franklin relaxes and notices a glint in the distance, looking in the scope he sees a two snipers aiming at Trevor and Michael. Another choice for Franklin, do nothing (both Trevor and Michael gets shot), or Franklin takes out one of the snipers (player now has control), which causes the other sniper to miss and hit next to Trevor and Michael’s feet. Franklin now has to take out the other sniper (at this point Franklin/Michael/Trevor can be killed by the sniper).
    If the player is “fast enough” they take out the other sniper and something explodes next to him (because “GTA”).
    Trevor and Michael see the explosion and the sniper flying in the air then look around and spot Franklin who is standing up.
    Suddenly Trevor runs to his truck, grabs a rifle and aims at Franklin and pulls the trigger. The bullet whizzes past Franklin and hits a FIB guy that had snuck up right behind Franklin, about to kill him.
    Yes, I’d be that sneaky, if Michael was shot by Trevor and Franklin shot Trevor then a FIB guy would have shot Franklin.
    If Trevor shot Michael but Franklin (as a player choice) does not shoot Trevor then Franklin is also saved by Trevor.
    At this point they all gather, and starts some planning and we basically gets the “Death Wish” ending as in the current game. The “Kill Trevor” and “Kill Michael” endings basically got melded into one instead with choices and multiple perspectives.

    Possible ending conditions would be. 1. Only Trevor dies. 2. Only Michael dies. 3. All three die.

    I always like cause and effect and consequences and how a multiple viewpoint/character game like this could have characters influencing the other character’s story arch (due to player choices while playing as the characters).

    You may notice that Franklin does not kill/try to kill Michael because I have a hard time believing Franklin would do that, even if he didn’t like Michael. I do believe Franklin could be persuaded to take out Trevor, the only difficulty I have with him doing that is that Trevor and Franklin have both shown loyalty to each other, so Franklin would need to be pushed. Perhaps in a twist of fate the person(s) that caused Michael to betray Trevor way back would be the same one(s) that convinced Franklin to go after Trevor.
    This would give all three that much more reason to go after the FIB guy(s) “responsible” for this mess.

    Of course. I’m just writing this after having played through the game several times, and I’m sure the writers at GTA was under some time constraint/pressure, as I don’t assume I’m a better writer than them. But I gotta agree with Shamus in that the ending(s) could have been written better (more time/resources for the writing team could have fixed that maybe?).

    1. I forgot to mention this but, the Death Wish end would have become. Franklin+Trevor or Franklin+Michael or Franklin+Trevor+Michael.

      In the case of Franklin+Trevor or Franklin+Michael then Trevor or Michael would have a out loud contemplation for what this means with the other guy gone, and Franklin interjecting with his view on things.

      With all three then Death Wish would play out almost the same as it currently does. With only two characters alive the Death Wish would play out a tad differently with them being a duo. (you’d still switch between them but both characters would be in the same area/place, giving you a tactical choice).

      1. DerJungerLudendorff says:

        This sounds way more coherent, and uses the interpersonal relationships and the multi-character narrative much better than just a simple ABC choice.

        Of course, it’s easy for us to just sit back and speculate a new ending afterwards (we don’t have to make it happen for one), but it’s often suprising just how many opportunities these companies leave on the table.
        It was probably a relict of an earlier plan or something, but that still makes it weird why they didn’t just cut the other two endings

    2. Vi says:

      I think you’re really good at this!

  8. Bubble181 says:

    I dunno. I’ve seen a LOT of hatred for Trevor on forums and around the web, back when the game came out. Plenty of players were very happy to be able to take him out.

    That aside – why does a game (or another piece of fiction) necessarily need one specific “main” story? If you tell several stories, it’s best they somehow mingle/interact, or tackle the same topic from different angles, or some such – but there’s no real need to necessarily have it all be centered around one “main” stem with branches.
    What’s the “main” story of A Song of Ice and Fire (the books)? Human vs White Walkers? The Others don’t even show up in the first book except in the first chapter. They’re almost absent from books 4 & 5 (or 3-part-two and 4). Stark vs Lannister? Not only does that pretty much get resolved by book 3, it’s also portrayed as “ultimately futile because worse is waiting”. “Targaryen comes back and saves the day”? Daenerys is on another continent, without any involvement in the rest, for literally all five books. “The fight over the iron Throne”? But half the main characters don’t care.

    There’s a thematic unity, and the different storylines collide, split, reunite, influence one another – they form one big narrative, but not one Main Thread with a bunch of side branches. And ASoIaF isn’t even a great example, since you *could* try to mush it all together – just the first one I could think of.

    That said, GTA5 probably could’ve done better by referencing the main set-up in the beginning a few times throughout. The way it’s done now allows for more interplay in a stable status quo, though, without some missions feeling “off” because “at this point in the story these two wouldn’t do this together” or some such.

    1. Karma The Alligator says:

      Human vs White Walkers?

      I’d say yes, because the early stuff is all about setting up that conflict: old legends coming back, “Winter is coming”, etc.

    2. Cubic says:

      What’s the “main” story of A Song of Ice and Fire (the books)?

      I think it was planned as a trilogy: 1. Civil war, 2. Dragons, 3. Zombies, if I recall correctly. But it was just too darn popular to stop at a mere three.

    3. Joshua says:

      “What’s the “main” story of A Song of Ice and Fire (the books)? Human vs White Walkers?”

      It’s a story where a great evil is coming to destroy the world, and humanity has to resolve all of its internal conflicts and develop the best leadership to unite to stop them. The White Walkers are the framing device, much as zombies are in stories where the main characters spend most of their time in conflict with each other rather than the zombies.

      It’s what I call a rejection of the Council of Elrond, or “Yeah, like all of these antagonistic factions would really just put aside their differences and team up to fight the dark lord in the span of a single chapter (more or less)”. Wheel of Time is one such story too, although the Forsaken show up more often in the plot than the White Walkers do in ASOIAF.

    4. Vinsomer says:

      I think the reason ASOIAF works and GTA5 doesn’t, is that ASOIAF’s conflicts are all a part of one singular conflict, the fight for control over Westeros. So yes, the white walker stuff takes a back seat for a while, but it’s still a looming threat and therefore who is in control of the Iron Throne by the time the WW finally attack is hugely important. ASOIAF is more about exploring this fantasy society through many different lenses. And GTA5 is a little like that as well – Middle class Michael, Black Franklin and white trash Trevor all show different sides to San Andreas. But that aspect gets sidelined precisely when the plot becomes muddled in the second act. Trevor becomes less a harrowing depiction of mental illness and drug abuse in poor white communities and more a caricature who does lol randoms things. Franklin becomes less the window to the black community and more the guy who says ‘damn’ a lot at all these wack-ass white folk.

      GTA’s problem is that it’s not really showing different sides to San Andreas, it’s just kind of ignoring one storyline (at least in terms of theme, character etc. if not literal events) to focus on another without resolving the first – and character gets suspended in that mire. It’s less like one long story and more like if you got a trilogy, chopped it up and mixed the side story arcs around, then slapped it together as a single narrative.

      1. The Rocketeer says:

        “Middle class” Michael? Michael owns a very nice house with an in-ground pool in an analog to one of the most expensive neighborhoods in the country. He has a huge sailboat more valuable than an actual middle-class home. Michael is loaded.

        1. Vinsomer says:

          Well, you get what I mean. Different countries have different standards for what is ‘middle class’. In mine, Michael would be described as ‘middle class’, but maybe not America.

      2. Matt Downie says:

        ASOIAF has yet to prove it can provide a more satisfying ending than GTA V…

    5. Syal says:

      What’s the “main” story of A Song of Ice and Fire (the books)?

      Some say the world will end in fire. Some say in ice.

      The main story is “people are so smallminded and greedy they will ignore, or even exacerbate, extinction-level threats for their own short-term personal gain.” It’s medieval fantasy Atlas Shrugged.

      1. Syal says:

        If we’re going for X vs. Y, it’s something like “realism vs. human greed.”

  9. Dreadjaws says:

    Yeah, I keep forgetting the game actually lets you choose one of three endings, considering the other two make no sense whatsoever. I always thought those two choices were just added at the end when someone mentioned it was “in” to have three choice endings in games at the time.

    But even if that was the case, why from the perspective of Franklin? Trevor would have been the one to make any sense. He was unhinged and might snap at some point. Perhaps he’d realize he couldn’t forgive Michael after all or something might happen to make him believe he’d been betrayed again (perhaps a setup by the FIB). In the case of Franklin, Trevor might consider him a “third wheel” that interfered in his friendship with Michael.

    Or, you know, something just could happen that would push Trevor over the edge. He was the one character that the writers didn’t need to try very hard to make him do something insane. Maybe they genuinely thought they were “subverting expectations” by having Franklin do things that are completely senseless, or actually believed that by adding extra endings that came out of nowhere they were being satirical. It really fits with their general idea of “satire”, which is doing the exact same thing others do and just pointing it out without being actually satirical.

  10. Cubic says:

    I thought the triple ending was okay actually. Either give in to the dark side and kill whoever you despised most, Trevor or Michael, or reconcile and kill all the bad guys as bros.

    1. DerJungerLudendorff says:

      I’m pretty sure the Dark Side would just recruit these guys into mid-level management and a quirky hit squad respectively.
      If anything, killing them both (and then going after the other bad guys) is practically a redemption arc.

  11. Redrock says:

    It’s always kinda odd when a game that previously didn’t offer choice suddenly does so. More than a little jarring. Rockstar does that sometimes, but more often than not it’s the little things, things you might not even notice. Like in Max Payne 3 where you can shoot the poor dismembered bastard in the head or just wait for him to die of shock and bloodloss. Or the quest with the mysterious stranger in Red Dead Redemption – although there it’s both a side quest and thematically appropriate. In GTA V it’s just weird.

    1. Joshua says:

      LOTRO did that a few times. You have so many quests where your character is hit with the Idiot Ball and railroaded to do illogical choices, and then a few times you get prompts about how you would like to proceed. Half of those times, they just invalidated your choice if you went with the one they didn’t like and railroaded you back into the first choice in rather obnoxious fashion. For example, one quest-line in Rohan has you forced to choose between listening to the grandmother and obeying Theoden (really Grima Wormtongue) and leaving the orcs alone, or doing what’s right for the people and fighting back against the orcs. If you choose to follow the grandmother, your character keeps accidentally screwing up and doing what she doesn’t want you do do, yelling at you all the time.

  12. Tonich says:

    I saw both of those nonsensical “kill your buddies” endings on my second playthrough, tried them out of sheer curiosity, and they both grossed me out. Felt like the wedding scene from GTA IV, but this time I was playing the villain.
    I mean, I can KIND OF justify going for Trevor. After all, he’s a completely unpredictable psychotic murder machine, so having him around is like sitting on a powder keg wondering when and where a sudden spark would come from. But Michael’s involvement made it personal and much more… err… backstabby – at least that’s how I felt.
    Michael’s murder on the other hand felt particularly nasty and uncalled for, especially when the old guy started talking about how things were finally looking up with his family (honestly, for some reason unknown to me, I always sympathised with Michael’s struggle to find at least some resemblance of family happiness).

  13. Joshua says:

    “I’ve never heard anyone gripe because the game didn’t offer them the choice to romance Saren and help the Reapers.”

    Did anyone complain because they didn’t get a choice to help Saren and romance the Reapers?

  14. Jason says:

    I’m sure I finished the main plot, but I don’t even remember this choice. I still have all three characters, so either I didn’t get there, or I didn’t choose either of the kill your friends options. It’s unlikely that I would have chosen to kill either main character, for all of the reasons stated above. They must not have registered as realistic choices, so that’s why I didn’t do them.
    Sort of like in the last boss battle of a JRPG, when the boss gives you the choice to join with him. The answer is always no, because it’s usually a trick question and you either die, or get stripped of all your power and can’t win the fight.

  15. Decius says:

    Not all stories have satisfying conclusions. Most of them don’t.

    Having the option to select a conclusion to the story that doesn’t tie the entire narrative together is what radical freedom in videogames is about. It’s the “A prisoner released for no good reason just killed the god Vivec because he could and never figured out what to do with the hunk of metal looted off that corpse because the last dwarf refuses to talk to him” ending of Morrowind: Deeply unsatisfying, but the game is richer because of the features that allowed for that choice to be made.

    GTAV didn’t provide the features that allowed for an unsatisfying ending, but they did correctly recognize that the option to have such an ending was not a failure mode. I bet they had plans for more branches tying things together, but lacked the money to double or triple the number of missions and cutscenes available to have enough for all of the branches.

    1. Wiseman says:

      Rockstar not having the money to do it is an impossible interpretation of the development History of this game. They’ve been on top of gaming sales for a while.


      Extensively marketed and widely anticipated, the game broke industry sales records and became the fastest-selling entertainment product in history, earning $800 million in its first day and $1 billion in its first three days. It received widespread critical acclaim, with praise directed at its multiple protagonist design, open world, presentation and gameplay. However, it caused controversies related to its depiction of women and a mission featuring torture during a hostage interrogation. Considered one of seventh generation console gaming’s most significant titles and among the best games ever made, it won year-end accolades including Game of the Year awards from several gaming publications. It is the third best-selling video game of all time with over 95 million copies shipped, and is one of the most financially successful entertainment products of all time, with over $6 billion in worldwide revenue.

    2. DerJungerLudendorff says:

      This choice only showed up in the last mission though. It wasn’t facilitated through features that enriched the rest of the experience, it’s just a single branching mission using the same mechanics as before. And with a terrible narrative in 2 of the branches.

    3. Gethsemani says:

      I think this sort of covers it. I mean, I also find Shamus line of criticism pretty odd as a whole, as if the ability to decide which (of 3 characters) you hated the most and want out of the story would be bad. Killing Michael or Trevor might not conclude the story with a dramatic comeuppance if you considered the most important part to be getting revenge on all the people that have used or abused you throughout the story. But it does conclude the story satisfactorily if you really, really hated Michael or Trevor and it has a sort of thematic closure in that if Franklin picks a side instead of trying to reconcile Michael and Trevor, none of them are going to get what they wanted.

      A running theme throughout the game, made explicit in the final heist, is that Michael and Trevor are at their best when they can find common ground and work together and Franklin is in the middle, being as ambitious as Trevor but also having Michael’s good sense in making plans. So the choice does work on a sort of thematic level (as Shamus says, the game is all over the place and often seems to lack any actual unifying theme), because this is a conflict that has been seeded and we’ve seen how neither Michael nor Trevor can really function at their best without the other. We’ve also seen that if someone pushes them together they can put their differences aside and do really well.

      So by not taking the Death Wish option, Franklin is making sure that he and whoever he sided with doesn’t have the potential to take on their enemies. Which makes that ending more of a tragedy then a success story, but it sort of works as an ending for the main story of how these three criminals have to work together to succeed and the will they/won’t they of if they’ll be able to reconcile their differences and sort out all their problems. The choice is also thematically important for Franklin, because his arc is essentially him learning to take responsibility for himself and stop blaming others for his own shortcomings and failures (and taking Death Wish, ie. risking his own life for his friends perfectly encapsulates that).

      With all that said, GTA V could have done with another dozen writing passes or so to make sure it was more thematically consistent. But to say that the ending doesn’t really work is, to me, to miss the message of the nominal main story of the game.

  16. Vinsomer says:

    What really kills the choice is the lack of consequences. Generally speaking, I think most similar choices in games are like this:

    Sacrifice A
    Sacrifice B
    Work very hard to find a solution that avoids sacrifice.

    But the last mission is honestly a joke because you don’t have to sacrifice anything, nor do you have to work particularly hard to achieve the good ending. When I first played I thought the last one would, logically, mean the death of Franklin. And it would have been fitting – rather than murder one of his friends, he’d face certain death and sacrifice himself. So I killed Trevor. The game then told me I could replay the final mission, where I chose ‘Death Wish’… and literally everyone survives and looks off into the sunset as the cheery credits sequence plays. How is the existence of that final choice not a kick to the balls for every player who didn’t choose it?

    If it were me, the change I’d make is this: make the final mission super difficult. And make it so that if anyone dies during that mission, that’s it for them. That is the canonical ending for the game: if Trevor catches a stray bullet and gets wasted, that’s how the story ends for him. No continues, no reloads, no saves. You chose death wish, so now you have it. If any and all of the protagonists can die, that would make getting everyone out really a genuine achievement.

    Similar to ME2’s suicide mission. Getting everyone out is hard and requires a lot of setup, but it can be done. That means that players have to own it when someone dies, and similarly they can own it if nobody does.

  17. Jabberwok says:

    Considering that this was a AAA release, is it possible that the choice was a top-down decision? Someone in a board meeting pointed out that people like choices in games, so the game needed to end with one? That doesn’t really excuse the choice being a non sequitir, but it might explain it.

    1. eldomtom2 says:

      GTA IV also had a multiple-choice ending. Draw your own conclusions.

  18. Taxi says:

    Maybe I should stop commenting on old content, but:
    1) You yourself wrote this critiquque 5 years out of date
    2) I like reading old internet content
    3) I’m sure you like to know that people read your stuff even when it’s old

    So, I will comment anyway!

    Yep agree that only the deathwish ending makes sense out of the 3 story-wise but it’s also weird to rant about completely optional content.

    More importantly, those 2 endings are very well done. Michael’s death was crazily well done and would be an excellent ending to some proper crime story. And Trevor burning? While it by far didn’t redeem Rockstar (or their apologists) for including this horrid mess of tropes as a ‘character’, it was still very satisfying to watch that shit-show in (somewhat) human form burn.

    In other words, the story was a mess but at least I got to watch Trevor burn. It gave me kind of a closure and allowed me to move on from GTA V.

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