South Park: The Fractured but Whole is fun but flawed
South Park: The Fractured but Whole has faced delays, but it will finally be releasing this October 17th. At a Ubisoft event yesterday, I got to play through roughly the first three hours of South Park’s latest RPG.
And I liked it. I laughed. And laughed. A lot. It is funny, but I also have concerns how the gameplay will hold up over the full length of the game.
My time with TFBW spanned various aspects of the little mountain town of South Park and its universe. The character customization correlates game difficulty with your character’s skin tone (though, to what extent, or if it's just a joke, I don't know). I also battled the Raisins Girls; fought with Catholic priests who, well, you know what they wanted to do to a little boy; and even summoned Moses with a macaroni picture.
However, there’s also stuff that I got to play that I’m not allowed to talk about. Without getting too specific, there are some story changes that I’m not a huge fan of and that don’t seem to make a whole lot of sense, at least yet. The plot actually feels like two stories jutted together: The previous idea and framing that’s been shown in past trailers and demos, and a newer, final version that now includes time travel (real or imagined, I’m not sure) and Cartman trying to change the past and also locate a missing cat. It isn’t working.
Another big change in TFBW is its combat. I’ve talked about this before and I was initially excited for the grid-based tactical twist on its gameplay. I was hoping it would improve on the battle system in South Park: The Stick of Truth, however I’m not sold yet.
This time around, there are three starting classes to pick from: Blaster, which I went with, Brutalist, and Speedster. Characters also have Ultimate moves, which charge up when you deal and receive damage (and also charge faster if you hit a button prompt, when you are on the receiving end). But, these moves still seem like they could be overpowered. I’m also unsure what the depth of abilities is going to be like, or if there’s even any real progression through the classes.
Toward the end of the demo I did unlock the ability to dual-class, which opened up the psychic, elementalist, and cyborg class options. That gave me some different abilities to pick from at least, but it’s still too early to tell how deep the actual customization is going to be, or how important any of the RPG-element micromanaging is going to be in the grand scheme of things. And battle depth was also an area where the first game suffered, for what it’s worth.
In fact, the battles so far feel more like stepping stones along the way throughout the story. I’m curious to see what the balance will be in the full game between battles and the other aspects of the game, but at least early on it I’m getting the impression it might be a tad RPG-lite adventure.
On the other hand, TFBW also throws a lot at the player. Aside from your character’s level, there are also Might Levels, which change depending on which artifacts you equip. There could be depth here, or it could just be another level of gatekeeping players.
There’s other stuff going on, too. Cartman sends you to take selfies (yup, yup) with other denizens of South Park, which is an idea that actually works much better than I thought it would. The pooping minigames at various toilets around South Park also grew on me, and there are other good things I can’t talk about yet, including several particularly enjoyable deep cuts from the show.
It’s 2017, so TFBW, of course, has crafting. (Surprise!) Crafting is, for some reason, explained to the player by Morgan Freeman -- who is now running a taco stand – which was another bit that actually worked much better than I would have expected. You can craft healing items, such as burritos, and other things like artifacts, costumes, and mission items.
There might be a level of depth in the crafting, but it’s also a shame to see the items you pick up now being relegated into five component categories after collecting them, with the individual flavor text from The Stick of Truth gone. Many of them are also generic – or I suppose could be references I’m missing -- instead of the reference-laden pick-ups from the last game.
Even though I laughed plenty, I still have a few humor-related concerns. South Park is known for its particular brand of humor, and I hope TFBH has hilarious jokes that land even harder than what I’ve seen so far.
Also, in just a few hours of the game, it has also already repeated a joke and reused one situation. There’s also a near-constant dialogue of commentary going on from other characters, and while most of the comments are funny, the continual barrage of them could wear thin. But the humor is working, for the most part.
Maybe I’m the one setting a high bar, but I also hope there’s jokes that could only work in a videogame, aside from what I’ve seen already. Use the medium! Hopefully TFBW ends up being something that could only be done as a videogame, not just an extension of what could have been an episode of the TV show with some combat thrown in the middle.
Overall, what I’ve played of South Park: The Fractured but Whole is promising, but I’m still worried. There were plenty of areas for the new development team to improve upon Obsidian’s The Stick of Truth. And they have made changes; I’m just not sure how they'll play out over the course of the whole game and if the changes will necessarily be for the better. We’ll find out when it (finally) releases next month.