In Dredge you play the role of a fisherman who takes up a job offer of being the local angler for a place called Great Marrow. After a rough journey, you find yourself taking control of a pretty slow and near-useless ship provided to you by the mayor of the town and start catching fish to boost their economy. It’s all pretty standard until you start encountering strange fish and messages that hint at something more that may be out there.
If I had to describe Dredge‘s atmosphere in one word, that word would be foreboding. Right from the offset, everything about this world just feels off. Whether it be the mayor running a Tom Nook style scam to sell you one of his ships whilst casually warning you not to fish at night, or the lighthouse keeper telling you that there’s nothing for you here, there’s just a sense that something is up and people are hiding things from you. The depths hide something and people just don’t want to talk about it.
This feeling of dread amplifies once you go out fishing. Whilst being relatively simple in itself, relying on you locating suitable fishing spots and playing a brief timing based minigame to reel it in, things take a turn one the evening sets in. Darkness creeps in fast, obscuring your vision substantially. A mysterious eye appears on your compass signalling you’re being watched, and will change colour depending on your level of sanity. This sanity meter can increase the odds of attack from the monstrous creatures, or even affect your vision causing rocks to appear when it’s way too late. Obviously you want to keep fishing to get a larger haul, but the further you stray away from land the chances of making it back in one piece start to fall. In the dead of night, your vision becomes extremely limited and even with the lighthouse guiding your way back to Great Marrow, there’s still a high chance of knocking against the rocks and causing damage to your hull: thus making some of your equipment useless, and may also result in you losing some of the contents of your fishing trip. Finally making it back to shore safely feels like a relief, but only a momentary one as you realise you will have to go right back out there soon enough.
It’s a neat little hook and it’s that fear of the unknown that really helps keep you motivated to keep going. Mysteries Under Lake Ophelia tried a similar thing, but the gameplay hook and very moderate horror vibes made me feel bored by the time its short duration was over. Dredge, on the other hand, masters both elements and justifies its rather lenghty runtime.
What helps is that the simple fishing is improved by the other elements that accompany it. Your ship only has limited space, and both the fish and equipment come in different sizes forcing you to arrange them as best you can to make everything fit. It’s almost exactly like Resident Evil 4‘s inventory system, and it works really well here too. Your haul can then be sold at the 24 hour fishmongers (a hilarious concept in itself) for money that can be used to pay off your debt or purchase new equipment to improve your boat or your fishing skills. NPCs will also give you quests that you can go after for monetary rewards, or for pieces that will help you upgrade your ship. These tend to be delivery or catch related quests, but it’s enough to give you something to do and help you progress.
What keeps the story moving forward is the introduction of an NPC early on known as ‘The Collector’: a shady fella that seeks certain artifacts from wreckages spread across the archipelago. There are five in total, with one near your starting location and the other four located around the neighbouring islands. Dredging up these questionable objects is a relatively straightforward task, but it’s mainly there to get you exploring the map, meeting the odd residents, and catching a lot of difference fish to fill out your logbook.
It’s one of those indie titles that sets itself a very specific and limited goal, but also achieves it rather well. The simple graphics are pleasant enough to suit the mood, and the audio presentation adds to that aforementioned feeling of foreboding I mentioned earlier. Sure, the game could have done a little more with the horror elements and the sanity meter, but it also doesn’t particularly need it either. That uneasy feeling of the unknown pretty much stays with the game over its 8ish hour runtime, and I think it’s enough to spice up what is essentially just a game about fishing.
THE PALE REACH
For those wanting some more aquatic Lovecraftian antics, in November 2023 the team released a short piece of paid DLC called The Pale Reach adding in a handful of new quests, items, and – most importantly – fish. Located in the southern part of the map, you can access this content at any point during the main quest: however, given the distance you need to travel to reach this icy new landscape, it’s certainly recommended that you acquire a slightly better engine first to ensure you can get there safely.
Once you reach the frozen depths, you’ll be greeted by the Travelling Merchant who will ask for your help assembling the Icebreaker – a bulldozer for the front of your ship that can help break the many blocks of ice scattered around the region. So begins a quest of dredging anew as you search for the missing pieces.
In terms of questlines, there’s not anything particularly new here compared to what is seen in the main game. Quests will have you fishing, trawling, and setting crab pots to acquire fish you may need. Most of the time any fish will suffice for your objectives, but one side-quest has you looking for more specific creatures should you wish to unlock the content’s new book.
The DLC is a nice addition to the content and doesn’t feel out of place with the rest of the game, feeling more like a bonus side quest rather than a whole new storyline. Finding out what happened to the missing crew is interesting, and is full of the typical cosmic horror – even if the final payoff is so underwhelming that I didn’t even realise the storyline was over.
Dredge succeeds at being the first (and quite possibly the last) fishing game that I have truly enjoyed. The combination of the simplistic fishing mechanics, inventory management, upgrade system, and the overall feeling of horror that pervades the world really helps make a compelling game that makes you want to see it through to the end. With new content, both free and paid, being added at regular intervals you can be sure that there’s a lot to keep you busy!