An unobtainable achievement in the game Where the Water Tastes Like Wine, which is out on every major console and PC, is confounding achievement hunters and folks who like nice round numbers.
Where the Water Tastes Like Wine (which will hereafter be referred to as WtWTLW because...no) is part visual novel, part puzzle game. You play a vagabond criss-crossing America collecting stories, which you then share with other travellers in hopes of eventually reaching a legendary, nirvana-like place...where the water tastes like wine. (Full disclosure: Former Kotaku staffer Gita Jackson contributed writing to the game.)
On Steam, the game has 38 achievements. Only 37 are attainable. The last achievement, “Where the Water Tastes Like Wine,” cannot be earned, and it’s causing Steam players a great deal of heartache.
But there’s a good reason why your PC copy of WtWTLW might sit at an ADHD-distressing 99% completion.
Johnnemann Nordhagen is WtWTLW’s lead designer and he implemented this nefarious achievement system in order to drive home WtWTLW’s core message.
“One big theme of WtWTLW is the idea that America promises a lot to its people, but fails that promise for most of them,” Nordhagen told Kotaku. Throughout the game you hear stories that critical race theory deniers are trying to sanitize from America’s historical record—stories of the rape of indigenous lands, labor struggles, and the bleak reality of Black life under Jim Crow. There is no place in the real America where “the water tastes like wine,” and Nordhagen wanted the achievements in the game to reflect that.
WtWTLW’s achievements were added late in development, and having a big, “You finished the game!” achievement, as most games do, bothered him.
“The game is supposed to be wistful and still full of yearning at the end. It’s not a resolution,” Nordhagen said. “Using the metagame tools that Steam provided, I could drive home, ‘Hey, you’re still searching, this country and these people are still searching. Nothing is solved here. There’s no destination, just a journey and a lot of work building together.”
That you can only see, and not obtain, the “Where the water tastes like wine” achievement reflects the struggle of people trying to make America live up to its own ideals.
That message, however, sometimes gets lost among WtWTLW’s PC players. Perusing the comments section of one of the game’s achievement guides on its Steam page, you can see players expressing their frustration.
“I just finished the game and I really loved it,” wrote one player. “But the developers just completely ruined everything with the last achievement. I wanted to be grateful for the game, but I can’t now.”
The existence of this un-gettable goal is even enough to turn certain people off the game completely.
“I like to collect 100% achievements. Guess I’ll pass on buying the game,” one user wrote.
Nordhagen understands that his manipulation of the achievement structure for a bit of creative license can be unsatisfying to some players, but he didn’t expect the kind of responses he’s received.
“I have to admit at the time I thought it was just a clever little thematic touch, that people would go “Ohhhhhh” and kind of nod when they realized,” he said. “I had no idea how big achievement culture was, or how toxic it is.”
He also expressed sympathy for players who were unaware the game is not 100%-able on PC. (Because of the rules surrounding console certification, Nordhagen’s little achievement twist isn’t possible on the Xbox or PlayStation and players on those systems can 100% the game as normal.)
“Steam players see the achievement, but cannot obtain it. They are the most damned, and the most human. PlayStation and Xbox players can 100% the game and are dully content. Switch players don’t have achievements, and thus dwell in God’s light,” Nordhagen said in a tweet thread.
However, for Steam players, not all is lost, as a scant 0.3% of players do have the final achievement. If one simply must 100% the game on Steam there is but one solution available—hack the game. Cheating to get the final achievement, when you think about what it means and what it’s supposed to represent, is as American as apple pie.