South Park: The Fractured But Whole is a game I didn’t think would ever happen. The Stick of Truth did well commercially and critically, and even earned my Game of the Year in 2014 — which is obviously the highest honor a game could ever hope to achieve. But it also went through multiple delays, primarily driven by Matt Stone and Trey Parker’s wish to keep rewriting and tinkering with different gameplay elements. I thought for sure they wouldn’t be interested in doing a sequel.
Well, thanks to the change in developer from Obsidian to Ubisoft, I was wrong. And while some of that first-time magic is gone, The Fractured But Whole improves upon its predecessor in several main ways.
On a surface level, the most immediate change is the concept. Gone are the fantasy tropes and in are superheroes. The game actually starts in a fun way, and the genre transition totally makes sense and justifies your character starting over from square one. Strictly from personal preference, I was never in love with the “The Coon” arc of the show, but it did shine a light on plenty of nerdy things I enjoy and I’m not bored with superheroes yet. I’m glad the “kiddie” aesthetic remains, as it’s always fun to see how the actual costumes are constructed from everyday items, and the crafting materials are variations of the same — with a flavor text twist. Seriously, the amount of unique writing that was done for item descriptions is frankly mind-boggling.
You’re still able to select a class, but Fractured does a smart thing and allows you to pick and choose abilities from different classes as you progress in the story. By the end, my new kid was basically an all-powerful amalgamation of elemental, psychic, and plant-based powers — but I could have also gone the route of assassin, speedster, fist-fighting tank, tech-wiz, and more. These individual powers all have different strengths and weaknesses, depending on the make-up of your team.
The simple turn-based combat gets a significant depth improvement in Fractured, which certainly helps keep things fresh in the late game. One of my chief complaints about Stick of Truth was how combat became rote by the end, since you were effectively using the same attacks over and over. The new abilities help with this, but most of the praise goes to the grid system that’s been implemented. If you’ve played a tactical RPG before, you know what to expect here. The battlefield is segmented into squares, and you can move your characters around them before attacking. It isn’t the deepest of additions, but it’s something.
Different classes can move different amounts of spaces on each turn, and different abilities affect different layouts on the grid. Stan’s hero, Toolshed, has an attack that stretches out horizontally, hitting every space to the left and right of where he’s standing. But he also has a diagonal attack that functions like a bishop in chess. Other characters might deal immense damage, but only to the square directly in front of them. One of my favorite moves was a heal that restored health and removed debuffs from my teammates — but it only worked in a small range around where I was standing. Positioning becomes far more important in Fractured, both for dealing and avoiding as much damage as possible.
Each character has a super move powered by a meter that fills over the course of a battle. You can increase the charge rate of the meter through different armor attachments, and by “parrying” an attack — a timed move that also restores a small amount of health. The super moves all come with a fun animated sequence, but they’re essentially more powerful versions of traditional attacks.
The fart mechanics have also changed, which is a marked improvement. Instead of farts being super moves, you use them to manipulate time in combat — and in a few story-specific scenes. You can stop time, which allows your character to run up and hit enemies without using an attack. Late in the game, you’re able to switch from day to night and back, which is very useful in a specific boss fight. I usually stuck with the ability to skip an enemy’s turn, which is useful for avoiding damage or keeping characters in the grid spaces you want. There’s a recharge on the farts, so you can typically use them once or twice per battle.
A big issue I had with Stick of Truth was its difficulty — namely, it lacked any. I never really had to use special moves or items because the game just didn’t offer up much of a challenge. I don’t think Fractured ups the difficulty in any significant way, but it does offer more variety in enemy and boss types. Because of the grid system, there are plenty of different strategies that enemies can employ. A policeman, for example, might charge up over the course of a few turns and then run back and forth in a straight line, dealing massive damage to anyone in his way. This allows you to maneuver your characters to avoid his attack. It isn’t crazy deep, but it’s a start.
The bosses are a bit of a different beast in Fractured. I actually found myself quite frustrated on more than one occasion. Before a fight, you can pick and choose from around a dozen different party members — though not all are unlocked for any given battle. Different heroes have different move sets that can be very ill-suited for a boss’ tactics. There were a few times where I died more than once trying to find the right combination of kids to deal effective damage or avoid the enemy’s attacks. This concept isn’t new for JRPG players, but in a game where combat is typically so easy, it’s frustrating to die only because I didn’t know enough about the impending battle. I can see how the ability to switch out party members mid-battle might mess with the game balance, but that knowledge doesn’t make dying any more fun.
Still, this is a small gripe, because the boss battles themselves are insane and often hilarious. There’s a reoccurring bit where Kyle’s cousin, other Kyle, comes in and out of fights, trying to help. He sucks, so he just ends up stopping the momentum of the combat and hurting himself. It happened maybe ten times to me, and after each one, I thought, “this won’t be funny the next time” — but it was. He also comes back toward the end of the game in a big way, and I couldn’t believe how freaking crazy the scenario was.
There still aren’t many side quests of note, though what’s there is at least funny and involves some fan-favorite characters. They mostly amount to fetch quests, though. Thankfully, the main story is robust and varied enough that other distractions aren’t necessary. Though my playtime ended up similarly to Stick of Truth — a bit over 20 hours — Fractured feels longer than the first. Part of that is due to there being more story, but it also just feels longer. The whole thing is still enjoyable throughout, but I was ready for it to end a few hours before I hit the credits.
As I said up top, some of the first-time fun is gone after playing Stick of Truth, and that’s most obvious in the writing and story. After a strong start setting up the circumstances, I found myself losing interest after playing for a few hours. But once the story gets going, it really gets going. Fractured does rely more on recent South Park jokes than the previous game, and I don’t think I’m alone in thinking that the recent seasons don’t hold up to the originals. If you like the more recent stuff, you’ll probably find a lot of the callbacks more enjoyable than I did. But don’t get me wrong, I still laughed out loud on multiple occasions. If you like South Park, there’s no reason not to play this game.
So, where does South Park go from here? Obviously, there’s no guarantee we see another game, but with Ubisoft now fully behind the franchise, it’s probably safe to assume. Personally, I’d love to see them take on sci-fi next, with some Mass Effect and Star Wars influences. Leave your opinion in the comments below, and be sure to check out my other video game reviews!