Saints Row first impressions: Near endless customization in a living, breathing world

. 2 months ago
Saints Row Boss character in Santo Ileso jumping over a police car
Volition / Deep Silver

The reboot of Saints Row is a return to form for those familiar with its larger-than-life, wacky antics, while also ensuring it anchors itself with more realistic themes than some of the series’ previous entrants.

First arriving on our screens back in 2006, the Saints Row franchise has spawned multiple games, from sequels to the spin-off Agents of Mayhem. Now, Volition are bringing it back to its roots with the Saints Row reboot, and from what we’ve seen so far, it looks like it’ll be chock full of things to do.

In a hands-off preview event, Dexerto had the chance to check out gameplay of what players can expect to get up to in the brand new locale of Santo Ileso — and it’s a world that we cannot wait to explore for ourselves.

A wingsuit in Saints Row
Volition / Deep Silver
The vibrant, living city of Santo Ileso can be traversed in many ways.

Santo Ileso is sprawling and vibrant

If one thing’s for certain, it’s that Santo Ileso has been designed in the mindset of the city being a character in its own right. This dense backdrop to the game’s narrative — which was inspired by the American West — features nine districts that are teeming with life. It was something I loved the most about my time with the preview, as open-world games that really focus on the characterization of a world are the ones that help me feel the most connected (and in turn, immersed) to the story.

From what was shown, the region is full of vibrant NPCs traversing the city, standing around in groups, or playing music out on the street. What’s more, there are in-game emotes to choose from, including unique walk styles to playing guitars, and these NPCs will react to how you act, tethering you to this world as an inhabitant rather than that of a spectator. During our preview, Volition revealed that Santo Ileso is full of small details to discover that, while they may not aid in the game’s progression, help to add more depth and life to this world. It’s beautifully rendered and gorgeously lit, and I can’t wait to explore it myself.

As you start the game (which follows more of a linear arc but includes plenty to do off the beaten path), The Saints themselves are yet to be formed. Stepping into the shoes of The Boss, you’ll slowly build up their power and notoriety over time as you start to create criminal ventures from what becomes your gang’s HQ: The Church. This space away from the mayhem can be customized with over 100 unique props to discover — including a metal rabbit statue — in true, wacky Saints Row form. From here, you’ll be able to expand your reach out into 14 Criminal Ventures like Arms Trafficking, unlocking features and instances to complete as you go.

The Boss doing a wheelie on one of Santo Ileso's districts
Volition / Deep Silver
There’s lots to do across all nine of Saints Row’s districts.

Side Hustles dotted throughout the world are available for you as repeatable quests to earn that all-important cash and EXP — and what’s a criminal enterprise without copious amounts of cash? These are also designed to introduce you to the specific mechanics of the game. In our preview, we were shown the ‘Riding Shotgun’ Side Hustle, where you’ll, as the name suggests, ride shotgun while fending off an onslaught of enemies. This introduces players to the car surfing mechanic, where you’ll climb out of the moving car right onto the roof to get a better shot at the tailing vehicles.

Volition have also managed to stay completely self-aware of how out of this world the game can be. While there were no superpowers to be seen in sight during our preview (we’re looking at you, SR4), you’ll still be able to install ejector seats into your car to spring up into the sky and glide off in a wingsuit (while bouncing off pedestrians for a little height boost if you find yourself losing altitude). One mission showed The Boss flinging a member of one of the game’s three enemy factions, the Idols, around in a porta-potty attached to their vehicle in order to destroy their camp. What’s more Saints Row than that?

While it’s apparent that the story doesn’t look to reinvent the wheel and seems to be more of your standard turf-war fare, during the Q&A section of our preview, it was stated that the game looks to find a middle ground between realism and comedy. More meaningful story beats — including one where one of The Boss’ squadmates, Kevin, gets kidnapped — definitely seem to be present, but the dev team stated that the overall tone features humor closer to SR3 while being less dark overall than that of SR2.

Buckaroo shop in Saints Row
Volition / Deep Silver
Customization is a huge part of Saints Row.

Customization lets you play your way

I’ve got to say, Volition have hit the nail on the head when it comes to customization. From returning stores from past entries such as Leather & Lace to newer ones such as Buckaroo Leggin’s (shown above), there are plenty of clothing options to unlock and dress your Boss in as you play. What’s more, you can also save presets and change your whole appearance right on the fly from the Style app (or at the Saints’ HQ) before getting right back into the action.

Everything from hair, voice, skin (texture and color), gender characteristics, and body sliders can be tweaked through an expansive system, with different ‘types’ of facial parts like eyes and nose shape to choose from in order to create who you want your Boss to be.

Customization options can be unlocked as you play, allowing you to tweak 80 possible vehicles at Jim Rob’s garage, each with its own presets to choose from or change with paint jobs and body edits. Signature abilities, like the previously mentioned ejector seats, can also be equipped here. Varying enemy types can be taken down by using some of the game’s many abilities, including a flaming punch and the ‘Pineapple Express’ skill — which sees The Boss launching an enemy off into the distance with an explosive attached to them.

A hoverboard in Saints Row
Volition / Deep Silver
Hop on a hoverboard to traverse the city in style.

Co-op looks to be incredibly seamless, allowing drop-in and drop-out play as you team up to take down everything together, whenever you’d like. Rewards and EXP are shared between players, meaning you’ll have an incentive for teaming up together, too. In our preview, we were shown two players teaming up to tackle the ‘Mayhem’ mode, where you’re tasked with destroying as much as possible within a time limit.

During the Q&A portion of our preview, we were also told that a big focus on accessibility has been considered, too, further allowing you to customize your experience outside of gameplay itself. This includes everything from difficulty options to Tobii software integrations, changing button holds to toggles, and the option to hide UI elements like the GPS on your screen.

A promising reboot for The Saints

Saints Row looks like to be a promising reboot for the series, going above and beyond with obscene amounts of customization — whoever thought they’d want to put their gun in a guitar case before? This beautifully realized open world looks to be full of customizable abilities and options to help you play your way in Santo Ileso.

Vehicles like dirtbikes, hoverboards, and helicopters, signature abilities and an upgradable HQ means that fans old and new will have something that makes their time as The Saints’ Boss an absolute blast.

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