Look into the abyss, and Dagon stares back at you. Dredge isn’t a direct descendant from the Lovecraft ancestral tree but shares the same inbred cosmic horrors.
I’d anticipated coverage earlier this year, but a busy schedule prevented that. With the launch of The Pale Reach DLC, Team17 kindly provided a review key for both, and I haven’t looked back.
A fisherman shipwrecked, you arrive in Greater Marrow, greeted by the ever-hospitable mayor. He supplies you with a new fishing vessel, providing you keep the townsfolk fed and repay him for the boat. That’s all there is to it. However, there’s something… off.
Dredge is an open-world fishing game with Lovecraftian bonds. Black Salt Games has created an exceptionally intuitive experience here. Anyone picking up this game will be an adept skipper within the first ten minutes. Unlike Fishing: North Atlantic, the controls are arcade-like; push back and forth to accelerate and brake, with a dedicated button for fishing/dredging.
Without leaving your seat, a QTE launches each time you fish. Then you have fun finding a place to stash the prize on deck in a Tetris manner. Utilising space in the game is essential as you haul your catch, trinkets, upgrades, and occasional passenger on top or below in the storage compartment.
Dredge Review: A Fishing Adventure With A Sinister Undercurrent
In the time it takes to learn Dredge’s controls, you discover what happened to the fisherman before you, and the previous mayor. Well, it’s alluded to as the writing expertly drip feeds just enough information. Don’t eat the fish.
The main narrative thread involves collecting relics for an ominous party, and it’s up to you whether you do so immediately or go fishing. Despite the dark tones, Dredge is surprisingly cosy. There are no boss battles or combat like in King of Seas. If anything, you’ll take hull damage from complacent navigating.
The locals warn about fishing into the night, which occurs after 6 pm. A fog John Carpenter would be proud of materialises, and the longer one spends in it, the more the hallucinations manifest and grotesque beasts dart at your boat to cause actual harm.
Sleeping at a port remedies this, and the game will autosave each time. I must have died a dozen or so times taking avoidable risks, so it’s pleasing that you don’t have to replay a large part of the game or restart from scratch.
As with first-person simulators, there’s a great deal of monotony from repeated actions, which, at the same time, can be attributed to a calming effect. With that in mind, expect some grinding and a few bouts of getting lost – even with a map and compass.
Life’s A Dredge
Navigating can take time, and there’s only one fast travel option. Scouring the coast and seabed for shipwrecks provides parts for upgrades, such as faster engines, bigger nets, and bespoke rods for different water depths and their respective regions. They are subject to damage, however.
Attacks from ‘the unknown’ caused engine failure at one point, and without any backup sails or secondary equipment, I had to coast back to a shipyard for repair. It was painful, what with the day/night cycle of terror and cruising at such a sluggish pace.
Waypoint markers are available from the in-game map; but note that they don’t show on screen, and you have to flip back and forth to the map. This feature only serves as a marker as a reminder for a particular species or part to collect later. Subsequently, it’s easy to lose track of where you are, and at night, obstacles will appear spontaneously during the poor visibility, adding to the mystery and, dare I say – fear.
In a rare moment of playing Dredge, I was in a stalemate as it was impossible to source a relic without the correct gear. The solution was found in a pursuit I thought was optional but instead was crucial for progress. Unlocking it revealed new equipment and, ultimately, advancement. So, in cases where you’re stuck, the game won’t necessarily help when you need it.
Dredge has the uncanny ability to mix dread and zen. An unusual mix, but a combination that made this hard to put down. Within two days of receiving a code, I’d finished the main story and maxed out all upgrades (without completing the fish encyclopedia – that’s next).
Say what you will about what defines an indie (I honestly don’t care), but if Dredge doesn’t win the Best Independent Game award at The Game Awards 2023, it will be a surprise. It’s not often that a Lovecraft-inspired game would get associated with chill vibes, just chilling. That said, Dredge is excellent.