South Park’s creators are notorious for throwing an episode together over a period of six days, so it’s comical that South Park: The Fractured But Whole has been delayed for close to a year. What shouldn’t be surprising is during the delay new content continues to be added to keep the upcoming game as timely as the new episodes of the TV show. Case in point, in the newest demo build we were able to spend some time with had a power up artifact that was a fidget spinner, which is a reference that wouldn’t be found if the game was released on the originally scheduled date.
Making a fidget spinner an item isn’t really that humorous in itself, but it helps illustrate how well South Park: The Fracture But Whole remains true to the spirit of the show. Trey Parker and Matt Stone have often surprised viewers with how quickly they can lampoon a current news event compared other programs, and despite the lengthy development process for this game, the meme fodder du jour was still able to shoehorn itself into the coding.
Much like South Park: The Stick of Truth,Parker and Stone have been heavily involved in the development of South Park: The Fractured But Whole which is great news for fans of the series. The quality of its predecessor was partly due to Parker and Stone’s involvement and them having enough say so to make the South Park game they wanted, unlike the earlier South Park games when the show was just starting out. Fans of the first game that loved the references to various South Park episodes and how the game felt like an extended multiple episode story can rest assured knowing that those facets will return in South Park: The Fractured But Whole despite the gameplay venturing off into new territory.
The boys of South Park were previously playing a fantasy game, much like they were in the Black Friday/Game of Thrones series of episodes with the New Kid, who somehow ended up playing an integral role in that whole adventure. As children have a knack for doing, they ended up getting bored of that game and decided to change the rules over night, deciding that combat is now done in a more tactical turn-based system than a JRPG-inspired one. Also, Cartman is no longer the Grand Wizard since he wants to make his Coon and Friends franchise grow into a much more lucrative entity. Not surprisingly, the fat big boned brat gets his way and the boys are now playing super hero across town.
Cartman reluctantly lets the New Kid play with him on the condition he creates a super hero identity and backstory, which really means pick a character class while Cartman tells him his backstory. There are three hero types to pick from at the beginning, the Brutalist, Speedster and Blaster. The Brutalist is a powerful melee “Hulk smash” type of option, the Speedster can travel across the battlefield quickly and use quickness in his attacks, while the Blaster is the pyromaniac of the group and can inflict burning on the enemies. As the game progresses more hero types will be unlocked and the New Kid can become a multiclass character and mix and match different combat skills. The New Kid’s appearance can be customized independently of his special powers, so players have the freedom to create their own unique superhero that caters both to the costume tastes and superpower preference.
Combat has drastically been overhauled since The Stick of Truth. It remains turn based and damage over time effects such as gross out and burning are still in play, but it has become much more complex. Instead of taking place with the opposing sides standing at opposite ends of the screen, battle takes place in a grid, making it more like Grand Kingdom than a classic Final Fantasy. Character placement on the grid effects what attacks they can do. Most melee attacks require a character stand next to an opponent, but some can be done across a range of tiles on the grid. Ranged attacks do have limits on how close or far a character must be from an enemy and some attacks may be done at an angle or have a spread out area of effect. Two conscious characters cannot occupy the same space at once, so without proper planning it’s possible to end up being unable to do anything of value in some turns.
Because of the extreme short term production of the show the only event where any content from season 21 is likely make it into South Park: The Fractured But Whole is through future DLC, but references from seasons after The Stick of Truth will be present. PC Principal’s exact role is uncertain but he will likely be handing out consent forms and making sure all marginalized citizens of South Park have their safe space. The male pronoun has been used in this article out of laziness because it has the least amount of letters, but since South Park is now more gentrified and accepting of diversity, having the talk with Mr. Mackey will let the New Kid complete his character sheet as being male, female or other, which the updated town can now handle since a third bathroom for “cissies” has been added in some background areas.
The Stick of Truth is chock full of so many random references and nods to the classic seasons there was some worry that it would be hard to replicate that in the sequel without being redundant. It’s hard to say at this point, but during the first couple hours with the game everything seemed to fall into the sweet spot of new and familiar one wants from a sequel. There was a battle against Kyle Schwartz that was artificially extended due to him complaining about things not being fair and changing the rules as they went. This was an original interaction written for the game, but it felt like it wouldn’t feel out of place in an episode of the show.
South Park: The Fractured But Whole shows potential to be a must play for fans of its predecessor with many classic elements maintained alongside the updates. An example of this is the New Kid is no longer concerned with collecting friends on Facebook, but now wants to take selfies with residents of South Park to amass as many followers as possible on Coonstagram. The combat mechanics have evolved into something much more in depth and swords and sorcery have been swapped for super hero capes but a lot of the elements that made its predecessor enjoyable remain whole and not fractured. Everything we know about this game indicates it is authentically South Park, and underneath a properly handled licensed adaptation there is a well-constructed tactics RPG with an intelligently-designed battle system hidden beneath layers of foul language and fart jokes.