South Park: The Stick of Truth was simply a fantastic game back in 2014. It was one of my favorite games of the year not because it was a South Park game but because the creators behind it, Obsidian Entertainment, were also the creators of Fallout: New Vegas. They were able to take all of their great experiences of action RPGs and take the South Park characters and make a game that really stood out visually, sound wise and even the story. It all came together to make one experience that was really unforgettable and of course because I'm a lifelong fan of South Park well the game just really clicked with me. So when Ubisoft reached out and sent South Park: The Fractured But Whole my way well needless to say I was excited but something pretty big has changed. While Trey Parker and Matt Stone have written this game just like the last one Obsidian is nowhere to be found. This game was developed in-house by Ubisoft at Ubisoft San Francisco so this game may not be as good as the previous one. Or could it be better? Let's find out.
The previous game had a Lord of the Rings/Game of Thrones vibe which fit really well with the whole RPG aesthetic but this one is completely inspired by comic book superhero movies. If you're a fan of South Park you'll no doubt recognize some of the superhero personas of the kids of the town like Cartman is the Coon and even Mysterion and if you don't know who that is well you probably weren't watching hard enough. Just like in one of the episodes of the TV show the kids are coming together with all their superhero personas to try and create some large franchise to sell off. But before they can get their non-existent television shows and movies together they have to get some money first. So when they find out that there's a missing cat in town with a cash reward they head off on an adventure to find it and that's where the fun begins. Just like any good South Park episode the story evolves in bizarre and strange ways but these characters in this town and all the dialogue that's written here is top-notch. This feels like a really long episode or even a really big movie. This is something that I thought was gonna be over in maybe a couple of hours of gameplay but I feel like it was even longer than the previous game. If you're a fan and you've seen the entire series you're going to get a ton of the references that are being thrown at you but if you're not and you don't really know South Park then you might not really understand what's going on.
Now forgive me for a second here because I got to fanboy out. The graphics on this game are perfect, absolutely perfect. It looks just like an episode of the TV series. Every single frame, every single moment felt as though they put a ton of time and effort into it and it really does show. Although I really love the graphics from the last game this game here I have to say is probably better. There's some better use of animations, better use of textures and just tiny things here and there that make the game feel graphically like it's kind of an upgrade. Which is really shocking because the other one I thought was perfect but somehow the developers on this one managed to push the envelope further and give the graphics an even tighter edge. The backgrounds in South Park as a whole feel a lot more detailed in this game with a lot of characters moving around and making the entire town feel like it's actually alive. Whether you're a fan of the last game or a fan of the show you're gonna see a lot of familiar locations. Unlike the last game this one I think utilizes better camera angles which make exploring and going around the areas a lot more fun. With graphics this good the sound quality is also on point. As you probably expect all the voice actors from the TV series are back reprising each and every character. This adds a lot more details to the game that I simply love because it really does make the game feel that much more like the series. This isn't really shocking or anything because it's what they did in the last game but it's good to know that the same attention to detail and quality is still here. One thing I noticed more in this game than in the previous one was the music. There seemed to be a lot more varied tracks being utilized including weird tracks that just kind of fit the moment eerily well. Like whenever you fight the Raisins girls you hear music that kind of sounds like the Powerpuff Girls theme and it just really does fit well.
Now with this game you probably knew what to expect from the graphics and sound and the story and all that fun stuff but the gameplay is where things kind of change and in my opinion I think they changed for the better. Now they didn't go and rock the boat or anything here this still feels like an RPG – very much like the last game – but they've made changes to the interface and simplified things to feel a little bit more easier and faster to get around in. Your menus for crafting, inventory, costumes, powers and abilities and all that stuff is done through a cell phone that is really easy to get around in and makes the whole experience a lot more enjoyable. I know there's gonna be a lot of RPG players out there that hear me say the word simplification and they get nervous because they don't want their game dumbed down but believe me you've got nothing to fear. This is making things simple that should be made simple while still giving you that really great feel of customization that you get from a really good RPG.
I played this game on PC with an Xbox One controller and it felt natural like I wasn't missing a beat. There wasn't a single moment when I felt like I needed to reach out to my mouse and keyboard to get through some messy interface. Everything worked great just with a regular controller in hand. One of the biggest changes to the gameplay this time around is the combat mechanics. The previous game used a turn-based approach and this one does the exact same thing however now you can move your characters around on a grid system which I really liked. The previous game’s combat mechanics were okay and all but I think this one works a lot better for me because I like to be able to move my characters around on the grid and strategically place them in certain positions. This gave me more feel for the way that the battles are playing out and gave me a better sense of control. The best way to think about it is if The Stick of Truth’s battle system was inspired by Final Fantasy 7 the The Fractured But Whole’s combat system was inspired by Final Fantasy Tactics. The only real criticism I have for this kind of combat mechanic is that it feels like every battle takes a little bit longer than in the previous game and because this is an RPG there's going to be a lot of battles. If you're not a huge fan of the combat system it might drain on you but luckily when you're traversing around South Park and you do see a mob that's gonna come at you and attack there are ways to avoid them or defend yourself so that you don't have to worry about fighting them all the time. Combat progressed as you go through the story and it never felt like I was grinding to get my characters levels and stats up and to me that's the sign of a really good RPG.
Overall this game’s attention to detail on almost every single aspect is kind of an improvement over the first game in every way. If I didn't know for a fact that Ubisoft San Francisco designed this game I would have been certain that it was a sequel created by Obsidian and the only reason I say that is because this game manages to improve in every possible way over the previous game. It's rare to ever see a development studio take all the lessons from a previous game they didn't make and improve upon it without the experience of making the original. And they did all of that without redesigning what the game was at its core, an RPG about South Park. There's only two groups of people out there who would possibly not enjoy this game — people that don't like RPGs and people that don't like or know South Park. For everyone else this is a game to play.