I can understand why so many people have been upset with the ending of this game. It’s harsh.
That being said, the closing conversations re-established my trust in the game devs. All the fetch quests and ill-considered cave diving and other macho bullshit were definitely avoidance. The three main characters begin as cowards, and I’m not entirely sure that the process of becoming more aware of consequences of their decisions does anything except cause them pain.
The near-constant orange lighting turns out to have served as foreshadowing for the endgame, when the forest catches on fire. This is an interesting backdrop to the theme of “running from something.” It seems easy to judge the characters, but their emotional weakness is juxtaposed against them running away from a literal fire, so it’s not as if you can blame them.
It turns out that Henry is 39, while Delilah is 43. I’m always getting down on teenage protagonists in video games, but what I keep forgetting is that adults don’t get happy endings. I feel like, once you reach a certain age, the best you can do is minimize defeat. I suppose this doesn’t gel with the gaming medium, in which the player expects to be able to make some sort of progress and receive a reward for success.
The ending of Firewatch forced me to confront my own cowardice, but it didn’t offer any solutions, just a vague sense that none of us are alone in being broken as we try to muddle through our lives as best as we can. Although hey, at least I managed to save a turtle from the forest fire (and I named it “Turt Reynolds”).
If I play this game again, I’m going to see what happens if Henry doesn’t tell Delilah about his wife Julia. I’d also like to try to figure out if the northwest quadrant of the map can be explored. I hear that there are raccoons somewhere in the game, and I want to try find them so that I can take tons of pictures of them.
I also skimmed through a walkthrough to see if I missed anything big (like, what’s going on with the two dudebro rangers who leave messages for each other in the supply caches?), and apparently you can have Henry sit in Delilah’s watchtower until the helicopter leaves without him. The credits start rolling automatically, so presumably he burns to death in the fire.
I’m not going to lie – this game hurts on a visceral level. It’s still a lot of fun to run around the woods and discover cool things, though, and in the end the joy of the experience of play more than balances the emotional pain of the story.
( Header image taken from Kyle McKenny’s review for the Swarthmore College Daily Gazette )