Where the Water Tastes Like Wine
Tales From The Fireside
American folklore is a deeply unique brand of storytelling. Every country and culture has their own legends and stories, but there is something very different about the way American folklore is born and evolves. Perhaps it’s the centuries-long history of the blending of cultures, or maybe it’s the bast and almost unbelievable wonders that can be found in the American landscape. Or perhaps it’s the romanticized notion of cowboys and wagon-train travelers sharing stories over a campfire.
Whatever it is, Where the Water Tastes Like Wine managed to capture that essence and distill it into a charming experience.
Where the Water Tastes Like Wine
Developer: Dim Bulb Games, Serenity Forge
Publisher: Good Shepherd Entertainment
Release: February 28, 2018
AMD FX-6300 Vishera @ 3.5 GHz
16 GB RAM
GeForce GTX 1060
WTWTLW isn’t so much of a game as it is an exercise in narrative building and creative nonfiction. It’s built upon the belief that every legend and tall tale starts with a seed of truth which is nurtured and grows with each retelling. As a storyteller by craft and trade, this notion fascinated me to no end. It threw me back to local legends I grew up hearing and retold to others; maybe embellishing or omitting details as I saw fit.
After a “devil at the crossroads” moment during a game of cards, players are tasked with collecting stories and using them to pry the truth from characters they meet along the way. There is no goal other than uncovering each person’s unique truth. It’s entirely up to the player to decide the “when” and “how.” With no hard objectives or guidelines to follow, players are free to collect stories and retell them as meticulously or haphazardly as they please. The only advice the taskmaster give to aid in your quest for truth is to not collect too many of one kind of story. Players had best heed this advice if they want to make any sort of progress.
There is an interesting mechanic for categorizing your collection using Tarot cards. Each card represents a theme (love, travel, death, etc.), and groups of stories are lumped together under each theme. However, it is up to the player to determine the mood and flavor of the story in order to get key characters to trust them enough to share their truth. As nice as this process is for keeping all of your collected tales organized, I can’t help but wish there had been just a little more done to utilize the Tarot card motif. I would have liked to see the ability to do whole Tarot spreads for characters; becoming more accurate as they come to trust the player more. Or perhaps it could have been used to divine the larger tapestry of the cultural truth players weave with each newly collected story. For a game as steeped in American Southern Gothic tropes as WTWTLW, there could have been so much more done here.
This game is intensely American Southern Gothic, and it’s great for anyone (either foreign or domestic) to cut their teeth on the genre. From the dark, brooding guitar and lyrics embroidered with genre staples of Evangelical Christian dogma, enduring economic hardship, alcohol abuse as a coping mechanism and a tinge of the supernatural, the soundtrack is a rich, wonderful experience for those either unfamiliar with or not particularly fond of American Country music. Unfortunately, the game tends to loop “Vagrant Song” and its reprise for an exceptionally long time before turning to an instrumental track.
“A wonderful experience for those much more interested in narrative and world building than action.”
The only other real complaint I have about WTWTLW is the whistling minigame. The main mode of transportation is walking. Hitch hiking and train hopping are options near cities, but most of the time players meander their way across the American landscape at a pace slower than molasses in January. Holding LEFT SHIFT enables a light QTE/rhythm game hybrid that makes you walk a bit faster.
However, the mechanic is a broken one that ruins the magic of the rest of the game. The controls are clunky, and it makes the game lag and drop frames like crazy. Occasionally, this will cause you to miss a cue and break the chain, stopping the minigame and resuming your sluggish pace. After a while, I gave up on it and just endured the slow walking.
All in all, WTWTLW is a wonderful experience for those much more interested in narrative and world building than action. If you like films such as O Brother, Where Art Thou, Road to Perdition or even The Grapes of Wrath and are interested in how stories evolve over time, this game is well worth looking in to.