A question I pondered a few times is: what is a good ending? Eventually, I realized that there are several factors, and that is even for the outcome. “…and they lived happily ever after” might sound like a good ending, but it will help none if it’s reached in a way that makes it feel out of place.
One of the factors is surely satisfaction. I believe that many people stick with a story to see the bad guy defeated and the problems that arose solved. How the story is told is great part and I would say that the more you can hate the antagonist, the more satisfaction you get from finally seeing him meet the deserved end.
Satisfaction is good, but the bad guy’s defeat is just a part of it. How the story ends is about more than just that. What went on through the story should be reflected by the ending – it would be weird if a land decimated by wars would suddenly turn into “everything is all nice” with his death, forgetting the destruction. Rebuilding takes time and the outcome should probably reflect that if the damage done was massive.
This goes with what I mentioned above. It’s pretty much inevitable that characters will die on their way to defeating the antagonist, but even those need to have some sense. I believe that death of each characters should have some point to drive the story forward – to make or break someone. The cost of victory should be related to the power of enemy being fought. Too easy victory will make it look like the problem was inflated, but too high cost could be problem as well.
This also opens opportunities for selfless acts of heroes, going as far as the ultimate sacrifice. In a post I made in 11/2017, I mentioned Kyle Reese from Terminator movie as my favorite example. I might even get back to this topic at some point and make a post more about what I think in this regard.
Balance of power
During a struggle, let alone war, factions with different aims will appear and influence those around. When a faction meets its end, they leave an empty spot that someone will, sooner or later, try to fill. Struggles to take hold of this power vacuum can be base for sequels, but leaving obvious loose ends unresolved will only result in disappointment, more so if the end hints that there will be no sequel but leaves unanswered questions.
So, in conclusion, what matters for the ending (and affects my review and rating) is how much sense the ending makes. If the ending is sad but makes complete sense and the story was done really well, the rating will be high.
If the story leaves several loose ends, more so if they are left to be unresolved, even the happiest ending in the world will not save me from taking % off, no matter how much I might wish for the main characters to live happily forever.