Death is a part of almost any medium, and video games are no exception. It is a powerful storytelling tool, one capable of conjuring up a wide variety of powerful emotions in a player: from shock, to respect, to satisfaction, to tragedy, to outright grief. Death scenes are often some of the most effective in any work.
Death scenes can be powerful for several reasons, whether they happen to a hero or villain, are proud or tragic. Some stand out even more so than the rest, creating unforgettable moments in their games.
10 Noble Six Goes Out In A Blaze Of Glory (Halo: Reach)
Halo: Reach is a deliberately tragic story, focusing on a well-known defeat from the backstory of the original games. There are no illusions at any point throughout the game that the UNSC may win against the Covenant, creating a powerful tale of heroism, futility, and defiance in death.
This is exemplified in the deaths of many members of the game’s central Noble Team, including that of protagonist Noble Six. After handing the package over to Captain Keyes, the player controls Six as they fight an endless army of Covenant, inevitably dying. Afterward, a cutscene showing Six’s ruined helmet on a restored Reach plays, highlighting the theme of dying for a great cause.
9 Booker DeWitt Drowns (Bioshock Infinite)
The plot of Bioshock Infinite is a complex affair of differing timelines and alternate realities, but one of its final scenes is well-regarded for how small-scale and human it is. After defeating Zachary Comstock and escaping Columbia, Elizabeth takes Booker to the sight of his own unsuccessful baptism.
When Booker expresses confusion, a group of alternate Elizabeths explain that they have to ensure Comstock is wiped from history by killing Booker, his alternate self. The scene is both visually beautiful and poignant, while fitting into the game’s themes of duality and identity.
8 A2 Has To Kill 2B (NieR: Automata)
The game NieR: Automata is odd in that its third playthrough has a different storyline to its first two, acting as the third act of a much grander narrative. It begins with a distinct punch to the player: the death of a major character and original protagonist 2B.
After seemingly narrowly escaping a Logic Plague infecting androids, 2B reveals herself to be succumbing to it. What follows is an agonizing sequence as the player tries to take her someplace safe to die, with mysterious character A2 giving her a merciful death. The scene is tragic for just how cruel it is to 2B, and for the major impact it has on the rest of the game’s story.
7 Roach And Ghost Die To Betrayal (Modern Warfare 2)
The Call of Duty games are not renowned for their stories, but the Modern Warfare sub-series drew fans as a result of its approachable plotline and its likable characters. Each member of Task Force 141 has their fans, but two of the more popular were Gary ‘Roach’ Sanderson and Simon ‘Ghost’ Riley.
In the game’s third act, the Task Force splits up to achieve multiple objectives. Roach and Ghost are saved during their lengthy mission by the allied General Shepherd, only for him to comment on clearing up ‘loose ends’, shooting them both. The player is forced to watch from Roach’s perspective as, in their last moments, Shepherd sets the two alight.
6 Mordin Solus Fixes His Life’s Mistake (Mass Effect 3)
Every companion has their fans in the Mass Effect series, but an unexpectedly popular one is Mordin Solus, the Salarian scientist, and special operative. In particular, fans appreciate the moral quandary of his work on the Genophage, keeping the Krogan populace low by terminating most of the species’ pregnancies.
Mordin leads the efforts to cure it as part of Mass Effect 3‘s plot, only for other Salarians to sabotage the efforts. To ensure the cure goes ahead, Mordin delivers it manually, sacrificing his life in the process, and admitting that he made a mistake in ever working on the biological weapon in the first place. Players can only watch as he laments his wish to peacefully retire, and does his duty anyway.
5 Lee Everett Leaves Clementine All Alone (The Walking Dead)
Death is very common in Telltale Games’ The Walking Dead, based as it is on a very dark fictional universe. One death hits harder than most for many, that being the death of Lee Everett at the very end of season 1. The season has focused on Lee’s growing relationship with the young girl Clementine as they survive together, with him becoming a paternal figure.
At the end of the season, however, a walker bites Lee while he searches for Clementine. He manages to save her once more before he realizes the bite will kill him. Whether Clementine puts Lee out of his misery or leaves him to die naturally, it’s a heart-wrenching scene that serves as a tragic end to a beloved pairing.
4 John Marston Doesn’t Get To Enjoy His Life (Red Dead Redemption)
As the name implies, the game Red Dead Redemption follows former outlaw John Marston as he attempts to wipe out his unsavory past deeds and kill his former gang. This is on the understanding that the FBI will release his family and he’ll be able to live in peace. Marston does so, achieving a degree of peace with his past as he does so.
After John fulfills his side of the bargain and attempts to live an honest life, FBI Agent Edgar Ross betrays him, leading an army to attack his ranch. After working so hard to redeem himself, John’s life is cut short as he buys time for his family. The ending is known as one of the saddest in gaming, and one that sticks with fans long after it’s finished.
3 The Joker Gets An Unexpectedly Poignant Death (Batman: Arkham City)
The Joker is infamous as one of the most inhuman, twisted, unpleasant villains ever created for comic books. The archnemesis of Batman, he dedicates his life to hurting and killing others to purely torment the superhero, with next to no redeeming features. Despite this, his death in Batman: Arkham City is as sad a send-off as any character could hope for.
Part of the tragedy is that it is entirely preventable. Batman cures himself of the Joker’s poisoned blood, and the Joker attacks him out of paranoia that the hero won’t save him. In their struggle, the cure breaks, and Batman gravely confirms that he always meant to save the Joker. The villain dies laughing, but there’s a sense of real sadness as Batman carries his foe’s body into the streets, serving as an effective capstone to the game’s exploration of the treatment of prisoners.
2 Sephiroth Runs Aerith Gainsborough Through (Final Fantasy VII)
Player characters die all the time in the gameplay of the Final Fantasy series, but there’s a cheap, readily-available item that can bring them back: the Phoenix Down. What truly catches fans off-guard is when a death takes place outside of combat, when it tends to stick. Of these, none is more shocking than that of Aerith in Final Fantasy VII.
The death itself isn’t particularly impressive, with Sephiroth simply stabbing Aerith. However, it’s become one of the most infamous moments in all of gaming, a shock twist that cements Final Fantasy VII as one of the best games in its series. Even with the incredibly dated graphics, the scene lives on in the minds and hearts of fans.
1 Andrew Ryan Holds His Philosophy To The End (Bioshock)
The philosophy of Objectivism is a major theme in Bioshock, with the game’s setting of Rapture exploring what an entire society founded on it would look like – resulting in a ruined husk of a city filled with power-hungry and warped scavengers. This all rests at the feet of Andrew Ryan, the Objectivist tyrant the player hunts for most of the game.
When they find Ryan, there is no elaborate boss fight or gameplay sequence. In a true demonstration of the game’s themes and messages, the player has control ripped away from them as Ryan reveals just how elaborately they’ve been controlled the whole game, forcing the player to beat him to death with his own golf club while he rants about his philosophy. The scene is shocking, creative, and serves as a perfect meta-narrative point about gaming as a whole.
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