Been putting more hours into this lately, and it is quite a nice game. I’ve now traveled across the US and hit California, met all of the cast except two that I missed on the east coast. Haven’t yet finished any of their stories.
Not being from the US I can say that these stories at least are quite different than the traditions where I live. They’re fantastic(al) and tinged with a bitter humor. They feel drenched in the angst of folks who bet their lives on that promised land, only to be met with lies, hard work and injustice. It took many hours until this theme started clicking in my head, which does make the often tedious routine of setting off in a direction and after a few minutes get a snippet of a story, often similar to one you’ve already seen, mostly worth it. The amount of short stories, while individually often very mundane, start fitting into this greater whole. I feel like I’ve gotten a better understanding folk stories from, and the modern myth of, the US. How it all comes together in the title “Where the Water Tastes Like Wine.”
Not having finished any of the larger stories yet I can’t tell how I feel of them. What I’ve seen so far is well written. They’re a bit archetypical, although I know that’s by design and that it’s difficult to build entire lives in 200 lines of dialogue without relying on the reader to bring some of their own experience into it. On the east coast it was also funny to hit one story after another by games journalists that I know of.
Storytelling aside, there’s some good things about the presentation and some things that I had issues with. I generally like the aesthetic of the game. The 2D art is overall top notch, from the interface, to the individual cards for the shorter stories and the beautiful camp fire scenes. The 3D map is not quite as good but I like what they’re going for in terms of style, with a painted look. It’s just slightly too rudimentary to fit together with the story art. Maybe some more elevation could work? But representing huge stretches of land in a nice way is a problem that even massive games like the Civilization series struggle with, and this is a satisfactory look. The skybox here is particularly nice, if static.
The music is nice, but a bit too, uhmm, hoppy? given the amount of time you’re listening to it while walking. I’d often wish for a bit more mellow tune than something that wants to make me dance. It’s nice that it shifts as you cross state lines.
Finally, I want to say that I appreciate the amount of work that it must have taken to put all of this together. 237 short stories (outside of the larger ones), even if they are just snippets, with minor variations is a lot to put into a game. I’d be tempted to say that it’s too much, given that not all of them are super interesting, and quite a few of them much shorter than others. It’d even be tempting to suggest that they cut the number in half or, more realistically, a quarter, and focus more on those remaining, which fits with modern game design. But I think that’d be a mistake. The sheer amount of stories that move around common, large themes serve to reinforce them. Making fewer individual stories could make the moment-to-moment game more exciting, but remove this feeling of walking through a wide portrait of a country.
I appreciate that they went about it this way. It’s an impressive feat. After the initial hump I’m happy to have spent a lot of time with this game.