Take a seat, stranger, and I’ll tell you the tale about a person who foolishly made a bet on a poker game with a player that turned out to be a dire wolf, possibly some sort of trickster spirit. This person lost their bet when they got too cocky with what they thought was a winning hand, and now had to pay off their debt to our mysterious lupine stranger not in money, but in tales, gathered and grown all across America. Who is behind such an odd story, you may ask? Good Shepherd Entertainment and developers Dim Bulb Games and Serenity Forge, presenting such a yarn as the setup to their new game, Where the Water Tastes Like Wine. And what they have spun is a cross-country trip and back that may be one of the most compelling games to come out soon.
To put it simply, Where the Water Tastes Like Wine is a game about storytelling and the makings of old-fashioned folk tales. As you wander about America, represented by a giant skeletal figure lumbering across a map in a third-person view, you search for various towns and shelters to interact with. Upon spotting certain highlighted sections, you can choose to stop by and witness or get involved with an event playing out in front of you, like a pair of brothers being reunited after thirty years, or an extremely hungry group of crows that keeps demanding food, or maybe a man living an abandoned boxcar who actually claims to have a deed to it. Then when you have the chance, you get to sit down at a campfire with various colorful individuals, who ask you for certain kinds of stories. Give them what they what, and you’ll learn a little bit about their personal stories as well.
Where it gets interesting, though, is how these stories begin to spread, based on your interactions and the people you tell them to. You stop to hear a tale in the next state over, and suddenly those brothers have been separated for fifty years instead of thirty. The group of crows is now a three-headed avian monster. The man in the boxcar is now a lanky, slender monster. Indeed, the true enjoyment comes from seeing how American folk tales like these are crafted, altered as they get passed along like the classic telephone game. It gets you excited to see the next city in the distance, wondering if you’ll come across some bootleggers to get a story from or if their story has already been twisted.
Americana is indeed a big theme in Where the Water Tastes Like Wine, being set in the era of the Depression and using the hard times and snippets of hard-working people just trying to get by as backdrops for some amazing writing and aesthetics. Of particular note are the roots and blues music that make up the soundtrack, helping to set a bit of a creepy atmosphere while remaining incredibly catchy. Speaking of the creepy atmosphere, the visuals use just the right amount of surreal imagery to play up the more haunting and mysterious aspects of the setting (the use of tarot cards to sort your stories is a nice touch), and the highly detailed 2D artwork in your up-close encounters and the more low-poly 3D landscapes of the America you travel across make for a perfect contrast, highlighting the scale of things.
If there is one issue with the game right now, it’s that your character moves a bit slowly on the overhead map (although you can also hitchhike or ride the rails), but I suppose moving faster means seeing your tales grow a little too fast, and this is more of a game where you may want to just slow down and truly immerse yourself in what the country has to offer, making sure you don’t pass up any good material for your future legends. Where the Water Tastes Like Wine easily establishes itself as one of the most engrossing and creative titles in the works right now, putting a unique spin on narrative-based gameplay that you have to play for yourself to truly experience, so make sure not to pass up this bindle full of folklore when it comes out in the near future for PC, PS4 and XB1.