You take on the role of the new kid, a pointedly silent protagonist whose timely arrival in the small Colorado mountain town of South Park comes at a moment of great crisis—a war between the elves and humans over the titular Stick of Truth.
It’s delightful, truly, whether you’re a serious fan of the show (I’ve seen every episode) or a more casual viewer. If you, like me, feel that the show has not been at its best in recent seasons, you’ll be pleasantly surprised to discover that the game itself is South Park at its finest.
The true joy of the game is in its sense of imagination. This is an RPG about kids pretending to be in an RPG.
There’s something genuinely sweet and wonderful about this massive game the kids of South Park are playing. For all its adult humor (and potty humor) South Park: The Stick of Truth is really a celebration of kids’ imagination and play. It makes me want to be a kid again.
There’s bits of Narnia, Mario, Game of Thrones, and Middle Earth all jumbled together. The humans aren’t just up against elves, they’re up against the Drow Elves. A later faction is the Army of Darkness. (There’s even some Star Trek humor.)
As an RPG it’s decidedly on the light side. Combat is rarely terribly challenging or very deep, but it’s always fun and consistently funny. It’s turn-based “just like in Medieval times” according to Cartman, who leads the human faction as the Grand Wizard of the Kingdom of Kupa Keep (or KKK.)
Your array of powers and fart magic is limited but enjoyable. Attacks and blocks are of the timed variety, similar to the Paper Mario RPG. Aside from a few tough fights, mostly it’s a pretty easy experience, but that fits nicely with the flow of the game, which is largely about story and exploration.
You also gain a stable of special “Summon” characters (like Jesus) who you can call in to aid you in a particularly tough fight, though not against bosses. (Jesus comes in guns blazing; other Summon characters have their own super powerful moves.)
Players can choose between four character classes: The Fighter, Mage, Thief, or Jew. These boast different special powers, but not much else.
The fart magic is the same for each class, and each class is open to whatever gear you come across. And you come across tons of gear and loot. There is no end to the ways you can customize your character’s appearance, and even weapons and armor can be customized via Patches and Strap-Ons. (Yeah, that’s what they’re called.)
You’ll never worry about running out of health potions and other consumables, which are scattered everywhere about the game and pretty cheap at any of the myriad shops. No resource management here, and this makes combat encounters even easier.
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On the other hand, the town of South Park is a surprisingly deep open world—and an example of an open world done right.
Not everything is immediately accessible to you. You’ll notice small spaces you can’t reach and boulders you can’t break, until you find the right tools or powers later on. Some doors are locked, and some rooftops inaccessible until the right key or equipment is found.
This leads to some retreading of your steps, exploring areas that you knew would be reachable later on. It’s quite enjoyable and impeccably designed. Everything is close enough together to make traversing the game quick, and Timmy’s fast-travel service ensures that you’ll never find moving about the town tedious.
This is another brilliant aspect of The Stick of Truth: Pacing is top-notch.
Cut-scenes are rarely too long, and the story moves on at a brisk clip. (The stuttering character Jimmy has a couple moments where you’ll need to actually skip the cut-scene manually in order for it to ever end….)
Side-quests are plentiful, but you’re never bogged down finishing them as the story progresses. Rather, you tackle all these quests organically, as you explore the game or work on the main story missions. Again, this cuts down on tedium and ensures that players continue to complete various missions as the game unfolds naturally.
Completing missions gives you experience points to help level your character and often leads to you making new friends.
Gaining popularity is a core mechanic of the game, as you unlock Call of Duty like “Perks” based on how large your social network is. Perks are essentially passive abilities that boost your character’s stats or give you special defenses or boosts in combat.
South Park creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone write and voice-act, and the entire game feels and looks just like an episode of the show itself.
It’s an incredible accomplishment in every aspect, a totally immersive, interactive South Park experience, and quite possibly the best spin-off since Bigger, Longer, and Uncut. In many ways, this is the best South Park we’ve had in years, and a high note for the show.
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It’s also a game made by people who obviously care a lot about video games.
Much is mocked here, sometimes overtly and sometimes more subtly: The silent protagonist you play is often called out on his inability to speak; the sewer level is openly referred to as a sewer level; Nazi zombies (one of the many enemies you’ll encounter) are “so over-played” according to one character in the game.
This is a game made by people who have played a lot of games and the gentle mockery will please gamers of all stripes, save for the easily offended crowd who should avoid this at all costs.
This is also a game made by RPG veteran studio Obsidian, and as such you’ll encounter some bugs. This is the one real downfall of an otherwise brilliant escapade.
Like other reviewers, my playthrough was plagued by stuttering, typically when you move from one section of the map to another. Characters will jitter and jolt as they move into the block. It’s irritating but not game-breaking. I once found that I could no longer equip any of my items and had to reload a checkpoint.
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The first abortion scene—one of the censored scenes in Europe—had a mini-game that simply would not work for me for the longest time, meaning I had to play and replay one of the least fun moments in the game until it finally did what I wanted it to. To be quite honest, this was annoying enough that I wished fervently that I’d had a censored copy of the game.
There are moments where things aren’t exactly explained to you quite well enough also, but this is a minor complaint. I’ve also heard of save file issues, and when I first installed and updated the game I was immediately met with a corrupt data message and had to delete the update and download it again.
So there are problems of the technical variety here, but in my experience nothing that you can’t overcome and nothing that should keep you away from what is an overall extremely fun and funny experience.
It is a mark against the game, since there’s really no excuse to release something with such obvious problems. Hopefully a patch will come quickly and fix all of these, but really it should have been more polished at launch.
Technical issues aside, there isn’t much else to complain about here. You can turn up the difficulty if it’s too easy, but you’ll discover that this really isn’t the sort of RPG you play for challenge or mechanical depth.
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Then again, it’s really not supposed to be.
It’s kids playing at roleplaying, with their homebrewed costumes and forts and grand imaginations.
Your “buddies” can only join you one at a time and you have no control over their look, gear, or leveling. That’s okay, too. Keeping the game simple on the surface allows for more depth elsewhere, in the game’s story and exploration.
The social media aspect of the game—gaining friends, reading their posts, etc.—is also charming.
One character you encounter—on his own quest to find Manbearpig—quickly becomes the most annoying person in the game thanks to his Facebook spamming. He’s also one of the most difficult boss fights in the game.
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All told, South Park: The Stick of Truth exceeds my expectations in almost every way. The bugs are annoying and may be reason enough to hold off on a day-one purchase for some people, but nothing I encountered broke the game or the experience for me.
While the game entire can be finished in around ten hours, you can spend more time at it if you want to find every secret and treasure. And this is a game with very little filler.
A strong story, excellent writing and voice-acting, and the fact that the game really does look and feel like an episode of the show, makes South Park: The Stick of Truth a truly great video game experience. It’s the first game I’ve played in 2014 that’s really kept me glued to the screen from start to finish.