Dredge Review - Reeling You In
PS4, PS5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X|S, Nintendo Switch, PC
As is my custom, whenever I am at PAX I spend the majority of my time wandering around the indie games, taking a look at every booth and making sure to go hands-on with any game that catches my eye. Last year, in the first PAX back post-Covid, Dredge was one of those games. When the opportunity to play the full game for the review came up I jumped at the chance. Brought to us by New Zealand developers Black Salt Games, Dredge is a fishing-based RPG that combines inventory management with dark Lovecraftian overtones to take you on a journey through an archipelago filled with mutated fish and giant sea creatures that can smash your little boat apart in an instant.
There is a part of me that is torn as I sit to write this review. On the one hand, I loved the time I spent playing Dredge. Whether it was spending time fishing, searching for new types of fish to sell, seeing a whale breach the water while sailing on the open ocean under a clear blue sky or pushing through the panicked hallucinations of my fisherman, Dredge had me hooked on the moment-to-moment gameplay. I could easily spend time just looking for fish or the parts I needed to upgrade my boat, not caring that I was not making any progress in the story. I was just content to sail and fish and explore.
Where Dredge stumbles is in the presentation of its narrative. The game starts with a cutscene of the fisherman on his boat and a newspaper job ad calling for a fisherman to Greater Marrow. The ship is wrecked on the reefs that surround the town and the Mayor sets you up with a used boat to replace the one you lost. From there you begin your journey, fishing the waters to earn money to pay for new tools and upgrades. The discovery of your first aberration, a grotesquely mutated fish, sets you off on a quest to the four corners of the archipelago.
Without going into spoiler territory, I still have no idea how or why the seas around Greater Marrow are filled with these aberrations and how it all relates to the man who sends you out to recover four relics lost to the sea. You will find little bits of information scattered through the world in the form of messages in bottles floating in the ocean. Whether I was missing some of them that would have shed more light on the occurrences of the world, or if this is just a trait of Lovecraftian storytelling I am unsure, but I do find myself frustrated that I am prevented from knowing more of the back-story that brought the world to its current situation and of the endings I have found, none of them really gives me any answers.
Fortunately, if you are not bothered by a story that leaves you scratching your head, you can have a wonderful time with Dredge just by playing the game as a fishing RPG. If you so choose you can spend your days sailing through the ocean catching fish to sell to various merchants and using the profits to upgrade your ship. If you do take this path I recommend at least following the main questline to the point where you meet the man who installs dredging gear on your boat, as you will need it to acquire the raw materials for the upgrades that will allow you to hold more fishing gear, better engines and more of fish to sell to pay for it all. There is one other quest in the Gale Cliffs that you will have to undertake to access a certain type of material, but once you have completed that you will be able to continue upgrading your ship irrespective of your progress through the main questline.
If you plan to become a master fisherman and catch every type of fish and their aberration you will be in for a wild ride. Fishing during the day can be nice and relaxing, but when the sun goes down the fog sets in and spooky things start to happen on the water. Without rest, the panic levels of your fisherman will begin to rise and you will begin to experience weird occurrences. Ships that seem to disappear, a glowing shark that will take a bite out of your boat and a weird red haze that fills your head with whispers will only bring the madness closer. Hallucinations will set in and you will find yourself having to dodge rocks that suddenly appear in front of you. There is a way that you can use that panic to find a few tidbits of information, but I only discovered that after I had finished the game. I found myself wishing that I had been clued in on it earlier, and maybe it was because I tended to not venture too far at night, making sure my fisherman was healthy and rested. Indeed, I only discovered these clues when I was intentionally driving my fisherman insane, intent on seeing what would happen if I continuously sailed the seas without rest.
While I am left confused by the narrative in Dredge, that could very well just be because I am a bit obtuse. A person smarter than I may understand it with no problems at all. However, even without getting into the story, Dredge is still a quaint fishing game that allows you to just kick back and relax and do some fishing if you choose. With no time limits or countdowns, you can spend as long as you want to discover all the little secrets hidden in the world and the different types of fish. This is the perfect game for just cruising the ocean and relaxing, even if there is a chance of a giant leviathan cruising past your boat from time to time.
Dredge was reviewed on PS5 with a code kindly provided by Team 17.