Where The Water Tastes Like Wine takes place on the entirety of America, set in a folkloric Depression era. You, a nobody, happens to cross paths with a strange folk, playing cards on a bar’s table, surrounded by other players. When only you two remain in the game, he offers a deal. You hand is good, so you take the chance, pouring your own blood over the table as a signature. When you take a look at your hand for a second time, however, your cards are different. The strange fellow smiles. Your life is of his property now.
From that moment, you begin an unique tasks: to gather stories across the states, get to know the people that has been affected by many things in this era, and then share those stories with many folks as possible. There are rumours about a place where the water is as sweet as the wine, too. “I hope you find what you’re looking for”, the wolf says.
The map is, as expected, dense and large as the entire country. The player, represented as a skeleton with a travelling bag, is free to travel at their own pace. Stories appear with markers across the map, in a 3D point of view, which led to dialogue windows with, sometimes, only one image that summarizes the tale. Most of the stories are fully narated, while others are only told through dialogue. There is always a decision that is left to the player to choose, which can shape the story in different ways.
There is also a number of main characters that are represented by camps in specific places of the map. Not only they are voiced, but also introduce an unique interaction in which the stories we have collected gain an importance, as if we were talking about a type of currency. Divided in categories based on the tarot arcanas, these characters will ask for specific types of stories throughout an entire night. If we match their desires, their trust on us will start growing, potentially leading to hearing more about their lives, and the past.
It’s easily one of the most rewarding moments of Where The Water Tastes Like Wine. These characters are interesting from all points of view: the art, writing and music are combined together, forming an unique atmosphere that stood up with me. We are talking about believable people that has their own weight on the shoulders, stranded in this place to roam and survive at their own manner, slowly sharing their unique tales to us. Which, inevitably, will get told throughout the country by different voices.
The more we talk to them, and the wider their “eye” opens to us, we begin to see their true nature, altering their appearance completely just for us.
But there is more to enjoy and do during our travels. Some of the main cities will have special tasks for us: the possibility to explore the streets, do a quick job in exchange of cash, buy food in the stores to replenish our health and sleep, or use the train as a shortcut to another city. In our travels, there is a chance we can meet an old friend of us, or a completely new person. Cars can also be used for short travels, literally asking for a lift with our thumb until someone decides to pick us up. Oh, and while there isn’t a sprint button, you can walk faster by whistling a song, matching some prompts on the screen with either the keyboard arrows or the joystick’s buttons in a small but appealing rhythm game.
The aesthetic, the writing and the soundtrack, all live in harmony from the very first minute. Where The Water Tastes Like Wine is set to stand among games that create a new period, a new era, in the industry. It’s what Bastion from Supergiant Games meant in 2011. It’s what Gone Home from Fullbright meant in 2013. It’s a game that builds a legacy, that can’t be match with anything else in the market. It’s a collaboration of talented musicians, artists and writers in hope to create something new, something fresh. And they delivered it.
In my short time during the game, less than 10 hours according to Steam, I have almost cried and burst in laughter in just a few minutes of reading a story. That’s what it takes for the game to captivate you. A brief period of your time in which it presents a familiar dispute, a paranormal experience or the joy of two brothers who haven’t seen each other for decades, getting out of their vehicles in the middle of the streets to chat.
Where The Water Tastes Like Wine is a love letter to anyone that enjoys games and narrative driven experiences. And I can’t wait to see what’s waiting for me on the rest of my journey.