Review – Dredge
There is something so alluring about the Lovecraftian Eldritch horror themes in video games. The blend of insanity and the manifestation of crazy cosmic horror is such a great theme to play with in games. Mostly due to the freedom a developer has to really play with the players minds themselves. The slow slip into madness and horror is something I love, and Black Salt Games does a great job at it in Dredge.
Dredge at its core is a fairly simple fishing adventure game, but its slow transformation into horror is fantastic. You start off in a storm, with the only thing visible being a lighthouse. The storm ends up crashing you into the lighthouse’s island where you are greeted by the mayor of a small town. Immediately, you’re introduced to some characters that will give you that stranger danger feeling, without it being outwardly sinister. One of them being the new mayor of the town, who is nice enough to loan you a ship. Of course, this comes with a price. You’ll need to work for him until you pay off the boat, plus a little extra for the town.
Now you begin your fishing expedition. When you first start out you will only be able to catch small shallow fish, since you don’t have access to larger rods or other equipment. As you explore the area, you will stop at various docks and speak to the people at the towns or camps. You’ll eventually complete enough quests and sell enough fish to pay off the mayor and collect dredging equipment. Dredging equipment lets you scavenge sunken items like metals, wood, and fabrics to upgrade your ship, as well as treasures to sell to the merchant. Once you scavenge enough items, you can bring it to the Shipwright to upgrade your ship.
There are two different main upgrades you can do for your ship: Material upgrades and Research Parts. Material upgrades, as you would expect, uses the various materials listed above to unlock additional ship expansions. Upgrading your storage space, increase Rod size, increase motorized crank size, Lights, and Engines. Essentially Dredge is all about inventory management, and you can’t equip better gear if you don’t expand your ship size. Research Parts allow you to unlock better gear which allows you to catch specific fish, which is of course the main gameplay loop.
Once you get your first basic upgrades, this is where Dredge really begins to open up. Coming across an island close to the beginning you run into an ominous figure who tasks you with collecting ancient relics from the four main regions. Clearly he wants these relics for something eerie, but his mystery becomes clear as you proceed. He then marks your map with the location of the first relic, and you’re off to start your adventure.
There are four main regions in Dredge, and all of them come with their own set of inhabitants, quests, and fish types. The first area you will come across is guarded by a massive fish that is digging sink holes underneath the town. As you’re exploring, you’ll need to be careful of it attacking you. Eventually, you’re giving the ability to use bombs to clear pathways where you’ll find your relic. The bombs will need to be used in the other regions as well, since those closed off areas typically hold refined metal and specialty fish.
After collecting a relic you’ll be able to return to the ominous figure on the island and trade the relic for some dark magic. Each relic will grant you a new ability, some very effective for general gameplay, others for convenience. The first one you unlock is a boost that allows you to burn up your engine for extra speed. If you hold it for too long you can blow your engine, and you’ll need to repair it at the shipwright. Second, is the ability to warp back to the ominous man. This is convenient because he is near the only merchant that will buy treasures. Third, is the ability to banish monsters for a short period. Fourth, is the ability to immediate kill the fish at a location so you can just pick them up instead of reeling them in.
Since upgrading is essential for progression, you’ll be exploring a lot. Each main region has a lot to find, but in between the regions there is plenty to discover. Smaller islands between the regions still hold big quests, and crazy characters. Some range from strange people who require fish sacrifices, stranded fisherman who were attacked, and even an adorable dog that I rescued. There was always something to uncover and explore, and I was hooked even if Dredge does rely heavily on fetch quests.
While each main region will have its own theme and set of missions, Dredge does end up falling back on the same quest structure. Luckily, they’re still varied in location, types of fish, and times of day. Certain fish types will only come out at night, but that is when Dredge becomes more of a horror game. As you continue to stay awake at night fishing, you start to build an insanity meter. This is indicated by the eyeball located by the clock. It ranges from blue, green, yellow, orange, red, and then it begins to shake. Each level of insanity brings out different obstacles and monsters.
As your insanity builds, it may start off small like hearing a boat horn in the distance. Perhaps you see an island with a light in the distance only for it to disappear as you approach. Next your lights may flicker and turn off, building the insanity faster. Next a ship starts to approach, but as it gets closer it turns out the light from the ship was actually an Angler Fish’s lure. As you flee with full insanity, kraken tentacles breach the surface trying to swipe at you.
That was just one example of some of the things that happened to me during my night time expeditions. However, not all dangers happen at night. There are still plenty of things that will attack you during your day time travel. One minute you may have a pod of dolphins swimming next to you, the next minute there is a giant megalodon looking for its next snack.
Visually, I love the art style of Dredge. It’s simple and clean with its no texture art design, but there is still plenty of great art work. Each area has its own visual charm. From the volcanic look of Devil’s Shrine to the murky swamps of Twisted Strand, there is a good variety of artwork here. There is also the hand drawn characters that come up from conversation that are well done and match the off feeling of the game.
Sound design is fairly basic here, with no voice acting besides various guffaws when interacting. The general sound effects and sound design is well done from the fishing boat engines to the reeling of the mechanical rods. For the most part the sound design and soundtrack stay pretty mellow which while sailing. It helps provide that feeling of being out at sea, and just hearing the water and waves hitting the boat. The soundtrack really only kicks in during certain segments, or when things start to get intense at night.
Dredge is a fantastic game that offers some laid back exploration, but enough depth and tense moments to not become boring in its simplistic at times design. The slow build of horror is perfectly balanced as you start to uncover the truth about what is going on, and who this ominous collector is. There were times I was taken aback as a revelation happened, and I understood certain characters. If you’re looking for something easy to sink your teeth in and like horror, but not jumpscare or gory horror, I highly recommend Dredge.
A simple but clean stylized art style alongside hand drawn art is perfectly paired. The world can be inviting and scary at the same time.
Mechanics are fairly simple, but there is depth in the upgrade system. The insanity meter adds to the tension of fishing at night.
No voice acting, but the general sound effects of the boat, fishing, and waves lapping are well done.
Fun Factor: 8.5
I loved every minute of Dredge from its inviting beginning to uncovering its dark secrets. However, it does rely too heavily on simple fetch quests.
Final Verdict: 9.0
Dredge is available now on PC, Nintendo Switch, PS4, PS5, Xbox One, and Xbox Series S/X.
Reviewed on PS5.
A copy of Dredge was provided by the publisher.