Dredge is a game that doesn’t care about you. In keeping with the broader themes present in it, you are a vessel through which stories are told, the outermost reaches of a seafaring society are explored, and a mirror held up against those who judge people and things they can’t understand. It’s an incredible game, easily the strangest one I’ve played in years, and proof that indie titles can be compelling enough to keep you squeezing your controllers until you’ve drawn every drop of blood they have to offer your insatiable need for more.
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A stranger in a strange land
You begin your journey in Dredge washing up in Greater Marrow. This small fishing town has seen better days, but the mayor quickly sets you up with a new boat if you promise to bring in fish to pay off your debt and build up the local businesses by spending your money with them. This serves as Dredge’s tutorial, and it does a fantastic job of teaching you the basics. You’ll fish, deliver, and repeat day in and day out. After one nighttime excursion, you’ll find it easy to understand why everyone’s telling you not to fish at night, with nightmarish visions creeping in all around you. Some fish can only be caught at night, though, forcing your hand.
Dredge is simple, with very few button presses needed to get yourself some fish. All you need to do is press the right button when a market hits a green bar or vice versa. It could not be easier, and the addicting feeling of filling up your hull for a big payday is like nothing else at first. All you want to do is fish and ignore your objectives, making you grow ever richer.
Before long, you’ll head out to other towns, meet a few new faces, and pick up some new Pursuits. These are the game’s side quests, often requiring you to bring in certain fish. These quickly escalate as you unlock more of Dredge’s systems, allowing you to dredge for materials so you can upgrade your ship or research new rods that let you fish in other parts of the waters around Greater Marrow.
Dredge avoids having repetitive controls with different mini-rhythm games for certain types and sizes of fish. It all serves to ensure you’re engaged with some areas allowing you to catch cosmic variants of fish to add to your encyclopedia and others giving you crafting materials for upgrades. You’ve got to manage the space in your hull like the inventory system in Resident Evil 4. Everything has a shape, and you’ve only got so much space. This gets a little annoying over time, but you adapt to manage your inventory with frequent stops that are necessary to avoid the night anyway.
Another point that might irk some players is the amount of repetition and lack of efficiency in using crab pots and selling items or fish. It’s something you’ll do a lot and takes a long time by design. I can see some gamers not getting on with this system and wanting something more streamlined, but it felt acceptable to me, and I couldn’t ask for anything better.
Soon after you feel like you’ve got to grips with the basics, Dredge throws you a cosmic curveball in the form of a mysterious stranger. They ask you to find six relics in the waters surrounding Greater Marrow. This is the core story in Dredge that will see you travel to every corner in search of strange items that hold a pulsing power that feels not of this world.
There is no peace at sea
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Dredge doesn’t pull any punches once you’re into the game properly. If you travel at night, you’ll lose your sanity, and that makes insane aberrations appear around you. Some, like the swarm of red eyes, are benign, while others, such as the giant tentacles, the swarm of crows, or the huge shark, can destroy your boat. Each relic earns you the ability to mitigate these dangers, but they’re more akin to a plaster temporarily holding gallons of water into a bottle over a hole. They help in the moment, but you need to get to safety fast if you want to survive.
When you’re not traveling at night, which is sometimes required to find certain fish for pursuits. Dredge’s sea is gorgeous and inviting. Sailing the open sea brings with it a melancholic melody that you can’t help but resonate with. It’s lovely and sad, and that kind of sums up the feel of the game. It’s far from slow-paced, with every new location holding an NPC with a quest that will ultimately help you get a new relic and understand that region better. You’re always under pressure, but the actual movement of your boat, no matter how much you upgrade the engines, brings with it a sense that slow and steady is the only way to be. Indeed, some of the aberrations you come across can only be avoided by stopping altogether.
Describing every location would spoil much of the story, but I enjoyed the side stories told around the scientific outpost and the mangrove jungles the most. The NPCs there felt rich and real, even though all dialogue is text on the screen, and the pursuits you pick up in these areas are ones that will occupy your mind for the rest of your time with Dredge. The varied environments are a highlight and one of the things I loved most in my eight or so hours pushing through the main story.
Playing into this dark, large-scale fishing community’s pockets of civilization are open-ended activities for you to partake in. These might see you collecting dog tags for an NPC, sailing around speaking to every NPC you can to find a home for a dog, or delivering an aberrant fish to the fishmonger because he wants to see what they taste like. Often, these tasks reward you with research parts to ultimately upgrade your ship, but some things are just so out of this world that they draw your attention in a way that few games manage to achieve.
For example, there’s a stone tablet that will reward you with gear if you deliver an aberrant fish to it. I found one of these early on in the game and got the best crab pot possible before I’d really experimented with them, helping me earn a living for the rest of my playthrough. Dredge is full of little encounters like this that don’t necessarily mean much at the time but have a significant impact when you finally understand how the rewards they give you work.
A cohesive world built for something much greater
I really do have no complaints about Dredge. The game starts deliberately slowly, so you can appreciate the upgrades you get, the plethora of pursuits to complete, and a range of varied locations you can explore that’s packed with things to do. On the surface, the game looks simple and boring, but there’s a terrible truth beneath that surface, one that will grab hold of your head with its tentacles and hold you under for as long as it needs to if you allow it.
Much like the communities in and around Greater Marrow, the story, and even the player character, everything seems to be barreling towards an inevitable end that brings some sort of horrific peace to the waters you explore. You can’t quite pinpoint why everything feels so horrible and dire, but you’re happy to be lulled into a false sense of security by the waves as they rock your boat.
Dredge is a game that is clearly inspired by the works of HP Lovecraft but doesn’t push those ideas to make them too obvious. Instead, it uses a slow-building dread to keep the tension high and impose a sense of urgency, as if the world is about to end and you need to complete every quest you have on the go immediately. The gameplay is solid, with just the right amount of micro-management to make it feel like a fishing game while retaining your interest through a gripping narrative that’s carefully woven throughout the whole world. If you like fishing, cosmic horror, and everything in between, then this is a game you’re going to love.
|+||A fantastic story that envelops you from the first second.|
|+||Solid controls and mechanics that are easy to learn and master.|
|+||Plenty of side activities to keep you busy outside of the already meaty main story and side quests.|
|–||The fishing mechanics might be too cumbersome or repetitive for some players.|
|–||No voice acting.|