Fishing minigames have been a staple of adventure and survival games for decades. Whether fishing in Stardew Valley or Final Fantasy XIV, I love casting my line into the unknown because I never know what I will find.
In a way, fishing presses the same buttons in my brain as gatcha games, where every cast is like spinning the roulette wheel, but even I had doubts that this mechanic could carry an entire game.
After 12+ hours, I’m pleased to report that my doubts were misplaced.
In the indie title featured in this Dredge review, you play as a fisherman suddenly lost in a thick fog at sea. You crash into jagged rocks underneath a lighthouse, losing your boat in the process. Fortunately, you wash ashore at the seaside town of Greater Marrow.
The Mayor generously loans you a vessel if you provide fish for the town. Curiously, they are reluctant to divulge what happened to the last fisherman.
An odd sense of dread permeates the world of Dredge, thanks to the bizarre alien-like variations of some fish (called aberrations) or how many NPCs seem to be deliberately hiding things from you. Many of the locals seem to be on the brink of madness, and it doesn’t take long to figure out why.
A Picturesque Journey Across the Waves
Despite the horrors lurking under the surface, Dredge is a pretty game and uses a vibrant color palette to make each of its five regions feel unique.
The graphics are simple, but this feels like an artistic choice rather than a limitation. You won’t find anything that’ll make your new console break a sweat, but it’s clear Black Salt Games weren’t going for photorealism here.
The ambient sound of the world fits perfectly, from the waves crashing against the rocks to the comforting hum of your engines.
The soundtrack comes in waves and is unique to each area on the map. I love how the music tails off when the night rolls in, leaving you feeling completely isolated. Even the orchestra doesn’t want to be around when the fog rolls in, but more on that later.
Fishing is All About Timing and Taking Risks
The early game loop teaches the basics, accompanied by a decent tutorial that does a great job explaining how life in the Marrows works.
My first trips across the ocean’s glassy surface are spent catching small fish in the bay, but it doesn’t take long before I yearn to hunt bigger fry in more treacherous waters.
Fishing itself is wonderfully simple. To reel in your catch, you press a button in time with the prompts. This minigame has a few variations, but they all play much the same.
If you’re expecting a complex, hardcore fishing experience, you won’t find it here. Instead, bringing your catch home is the part you should be worried about.
The deck of your ship has a grid layout like your inventory in Escape from Tarkov or Resident Evil. I think everyone draws an odd satisfaction from these Tetris-like mechanics.
With Dredge’s robust upgrade system, you can increase the size of your ship and thus carry a larger haul of fish.
To upgrade your vessel, you need to go out and ‘Dredge’ for materials. Once you’ve found the necessary parts, you can add new features at the Dry Dock.
You can purchase better lights, a larger deck, trawling nets, and so on. My favorite part of this system is they alter the appearance of your vessel. I wish Black Salt Games went a little further with this, as I’d love to adorn my trusty vessel with a lick of paint, but this is a minor nitpick.
Thlassophobia and Fear of the Unknown
The hardest part of bringing your catches home is the passage of time. Time is always ticking in Dredge. At least, it is when you’re moving. The clock is very important as you’re relatively safe during the day. As dusk draws nearer, so does the fog, and that’s something a wise captain stays away from.
Time moves fast in Dredge, maybe even a little too fast. An entire day can be over in a few short minutes if you’re speeding around the map, and I found this annoying at times, even though I know it’s to force you to face your fears in the dark.
One thing I never expected from Dredge is how it builds up ‘Panic’ as the biggest enemy you’ll encounter on the waves. Your ‘Panic’ level is displayed as an eye on your hud.
The eye calmly looks around at night but frantically darts around and glows red when events take an unexpected turn. In many ways, this eye depicts your sanity, and things only get worse the longer you stay out.
Dredge doesn’t lower itself to cheap jump scares because it doesn’t have to. Instead, when the fog rolls in, you’ll see strange phenomena like your lights flickering and ghostly vessels patrolling the seas just out of reach.
If you hang around too long, you’ll be attacked by supernatural forces. Is it in your head, or just how things are around here? It’s never fully explained, and it’s genuinely unnerving.
Even during the day, you’re never completely safe. I physically jumped when I came across a gargantuan sea monster skulking around Gale Cliffs, and I was always hit with a sense of uneasiness whenever I reached a new area.
These events made Dredge much tenser than I expected and made exploring faraway islands more of an adventure than a mundane trip.
If the fear of the unknown won’t get you, the fear of losing your possessions will. Your vessel can be overflowing with rare fish and trinkets, but they can be snatched by the ocean at any point until you deliver them to a port.
Early on, I’d saved up for a rod that let me fish deeper than I could before and went hunting for new species. I caught the biggest fish I’d ever seen and triumphantly sped back to port.
In my haste, I clipped a rock, and my prized catch fell overboard, lost to the briny deep. I was horrified at that moment, but penalties like this keep Dredge exciting.
Even on Cursed Waters, Everyone Needs a Friend
Although the trailer makes Dredge seem like the primary focus is catching the biggest fish you can, it’s so much more than that. The Archipelago is teaming with life, and many NPCs will have jobs (Pursuits) for you to do.
Fishing plays an integral part in most Pursuits, and they often have you traveling across the map exploring new areas, each with its own ecosystem and threats. Discovery and learning how each location works is so much fun because each has its own story to tell.
From the tangled vines of Twisted Strand to the blistering hot waters of Devil’s Spine, each area presents new challenges.
Most of these stories reward you with new abilities, supernatural or otherwise, and they always feel like they are worth the trouble.
The enigmatic Collector is definitely the most interesting character you’ll work for in Dredge, as he bestows powerful unnatural abilities on your boat.
At first, I wasn’t a fan of this, as the powers seemed less grounded in reality than anything I’d seen so far. Fortunately, they never crossed a line I felt was ‘silly’ and enhanced the mystery of the world instead of taking from it.
Perilous but Plain Sailin’
My issues with Dredge are minor, and aside from one glaring problem, I can write off most as nitpicks, which speaks volumes about the game’s quality.
The UI became a constant issue for me. Towards the end of the game, I had so many different engines and rods, but swapping between them was a chore.
The simple task of moving items from my Storage and equipping them on deck always felt like it had a few too many steps. Some menus have quick sorting options, but many don’t, and navigating these screens felt clumsy with a controller.
You’re free to explore the neighboring areas in whatever order you please, but some Pursuits require you to have specific gear, and there’s no way you can know this ahead of time. I never felt truly stuck, but there was a ton of unnecessary backtracking.
The biggest offender in Dredge, for me, is the timed objectives. There are several mysterious hooded figures dotted around the map that request specific fish to eat.
I encountered these strange individuals before I could access the appropriate fishing rods. By the time I fulfilled their requests, they had succumbed to starvation. I didn’t even know these Pursuits were timed until it was too late.
Fortunately, these types of quests are rare and, although annoying, don’t take away from an otherwise enjoyable adventure.
Once you’ve beaten Dredge’s main story, you can revisit the map from a save point just before the final cutscene. You’ll likely only have your Encyclopedia of fish to fill out at this point, so this will only interest completionists.
You’ll see most of what Dredge offers on your first playthrough, so many will see this as a one-and-done title. If you failed the timed objectives as I did, you may want to restart from the beginning to try those again.
Unless I go way back to the PS1 era and 1997’s Overboard, there’s nothing quite like Dredge on the market right now. Still, if you’re hungry for a life of adventure on the waves, I do have a couple of suggestions:
- Sea of Thieves – PvPvE pirate sandbox adventure featuring brutal combat, deep story ‘Tall Tales’, and an entire faction dedicated to fishing.
- Raft – An epic seabound adventure exploring the origins of a world lost to the waves. Raft can be enjoyed with friends or as a strictly solo experience.
Dredge surprised me with its captivating world, beautiful soundtrack, and sense of wonder I’ve not experienced in a long while.
There’s so much to see, and upgrading your boat is as addictive as the waves are perilous. I thoroughly enjoyed my time in this mysterious Archipelago, and my few gripes with the title are a drop in the ocean compared to so many things Dredge does right. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have some fish to catch.
Pros & Cons
- Beautiful visuals and soundtrack
- Satisfying upgrade system
- 5 Dramatically different areas to explore
- Some unclear objectives
- Clunky UI
Frequently Asked Questions
Question: Is Dredge an RPG?
Answer: Not really, but it does have RPG elements. There are multiple side quests, and even though there isn’t a traditional numbered leveling system, upgrading your boat is very similar.
Question: Is Dredge a horror game?
Answer: Dredge has creepy elements rather than being a fully-fledged horror game. There are a few scares lurking in the fog, but not enough to dissuade any players who actively avoid horror games.
Question: How does Dredge perform on last-gen hardware?
Answer: I played through the entire game on my PlayStation 4, and aside from the initial lengthy load screen, Dredge runs flawlessly.
It took me 12-15 hours to complete Dredge on PS4, and during that time, I unlocked every fishing rod and ship upgrade. I caught most of the fish in the game and completed every Pursuit I came across. My Encyclopedia of catches still has plenty of gaps thanks to the rare ‘aberrations’ of many species.
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