South Park the Stick of Truth was a surprisingly great love letter to the fans and RPG gamers. Since then, everybody’s favorite town has not had much luck with riding that wave. Phone Destroyer was a monetized mess, and with The Fractured but Whole, the developers have done some fracturing of their gameplay.
The game begins following the gang switching from playing fantasy to the realm of superheroes. What starts out as an argument over how to build a franchise greater than the MCU soon turns into a battle where the fate of all time and space will be determined.
You once again control the mysterious “New Kid” who goes from being the king to a costumed vigilante. With help from Morgan Freeman and his special tacos, you’ll learn how to use your farts to warp reality (no, really).
As with the last game, The Fractured but Whole recreates the entire town of South Park for you to explore. While you will be going into several new areas, you still can access all the homes of the various kids. The story once again shines, as the entire town becomes embroiled in the insanity with everyone from the show reprising their roles here.
The Stick of Truth had some great ideas, but it ultimately was a shallow experience, and the new developers wanted to change that.
The Fractured but Whole features a greater focus on tactical combat compared to the first game. The returning concept is that each kid has their own unique abilities to make use of. Combat is played out now on a field with an emphasis on character positioning and attack ranges.
Every skill in the game has a set range and plane that it can be used on. This becomes an important part of your strategy, as it is now possible to block characters from using their skills.
Advanced maneuvers include knocking enemies back into their allies or into your other teammates for increased damage. Status effects return and can wreck havoc on either side of the field.
One of the best parts about the combat is just how much of the South Park personality is ingrained into the fighting. Every kid will comment on the enemies and what their teammates are doing. Some of the best battles in the game are special situations that change the rules. You may need to escape, fight a specific enemy, or have conditions that make things harder.
I still love the whole idea of everyone coming together to take the fact that kids are wearing superhero costumes seriously.
While the combat seems like an improvement at first look, it sadly becomes apparent that this is a case of two steps forward, three steps back.
The strangest part of The Fractured but Whole is how the developers wanted to push things forward in terms of design, but ended up going backwards. There are a lot more classes to choose from this time around; with each having three normal abilities and one ultimate.
As the game goes on, you’ll unlock the ability to mix and match powers to create your own personalized build. The problem however is just how limiting it all really is. Only having four abilities to use in combat leaves you with very little options. The point is to synergize with your teammates, but that leaves you with 12 possible attacks not counting ultimates.
There were plenty of times where combat just became a slog due to not being able to quickly kill enemies. The reason has to do with the attack ranges.
Because attacks are not only locked in range, but also their attack plane, it makes it very hard to line up enemies to hit them. A common theme of the game is that you are going to be outnumbered for most of the fights.
In turn, it makes it very easy for ranged units to snipe you, and hard to get your characters out of the way or heal them. A huge annoyance is that you can no longer use items and attack in a single turn; it’s now one or the other. With every enemy it seems having some kind of status effecting skill, this can become frustrating to deal with.
The enemy AI is very basic which can be exploited to some extent; the real pressure comes from the damage they can put out. On the higher difficulties, it is very easy for boss enemies to one or two shot your teammates.
While the combat is a big problem, the real issue comes with the lack of progression in the Fractured but Whole.
One system that did work in the Stick of Truth was the ability to attach modifiers to your weapons and gear to give a little more depth to the progression system. This time, things have been streamlined too far in my opinion.
You now have a dedicated “might” stat that dictates how you perform in combat. Finding and equipping artifacts allow you to raise that stat, and is used as a gating mechanic for fights. The artifacts themselves don’t offer a lot in terms of being able to customize your play style.
You can influence certain types of damage, but it’s all done at the surface level with generic attributes. Even when you can add a “DNA modifier” to your character, it’s still just effecting the abstraction and not creating new gameplay elements.
Similar to Yakuza 6, I don’t like how abstracted progression is. No matter how high your might stat gets, it has no direct relation to what you’re doing during combat.
Finally, I have to point out the number of technical issues I ran into while playing the game. Keep in mind, I was playing this on the Switch version, and I don’t know if these problems are on the other platforms.
The game has some severe loading issues; sometimes taking over 30 seconds to load in a new section of the town. I had frame rate lost in several of the busier sections and sound dropping out. Worst of all, one quest would cause the game to infinitely load; preventing me from continuing a quest chain.
South Park the Fractured but Whole may be a stronger foundation for the series, but for what it adds, it takes away in terms of design. I also found the humor to be weaker in this one, but that’s another topic altogether.
If you’re a South Park fan, you may be willing to overlook these issues, but I can’t recommend this game to RPG fans as much as the first one.