Dredge is an incredibly interesting title that combines two elements that go together perfectly, Cthulhu mythos and fishing. Well, okay, those two things don’t seem to have very much in common, but Dredge makes it work in a really charming title where the gameplay waffles between a peaceful economic and business type simulation, and one of abject terror when the sun sets and horrible things begin to roam the seas alongside your little fishing boat.
Like most good horror stories, Dredge starts out innocently enough. You play a fisherman heading to a small island community that apparently advertised a job opening when their previous fisherman mysteriously disappeared. Of course, you crash your boat on some mysterious rocks that seem to pop up from nowhere out of the dark night on the way into town, but the mayor is more than happy to provide you with a brand new boat – you just need to pay it off by sharing some of the profits from your fishing hauls. The town fisherman is responsible for helping to feed the town, although they also get paid for whatever they bring in, so it does not take long to pay off the new boat. This keeps you close to the home island for a bit while you learn how the game works and the various fishing mechanics.
Fishing in Dredge is relatively easy. You simply move your boat overtop a bubbling school of fish in the water and then press a key to cast your line. This opens up a minigame where you need to click an action key whenever an indicator line crosses a highlighted area. If you do it right, the fish will quickly move closer to your boat, and if you miss, progress towards catching the fish momentarily stops. If you do nothing at all, the fish will still eventually get hauled into your boat, but it takes longer. Time is important in Dredge because while the sea is relatively safe during the day, things get dangerous when the sun sets. Learning how to quickly bring in valuable hauls of fish will help you make the most of the safer daylight hours.
As you continue to play, you will start to find some disturbing things about the local fish. Many of them are mutated and grotesque, having extra eyes, human-like teeth, armored scales, glowing eyes and bloated or slimy appearances. Some of the fish are really gross, almost like undead zombie fish or something that would look more at home on an alien planet. Surprisingly, those ugly creatures that might have once been fish actually sell for more money at the market than normal ones, as the locals seem particularly interested in them. So, you do get some clues that all may not be as it seems in the idyllic fishing hamlet.
Eventually, you will be able to add more attachments to your boat which grants access to more kinds of fish. For example, you will need an oceanic-capable rod in order to catch fish out in the deep ocean and a different pole and line to catch creatures hidden in mangrove swamps or shallow waters.
You will also be able to eventually use a dredging tool that brings up treasures from the deep using a similar minigame mechanic to fishing. Dredging is mostly used to mine shipwrecks for crafting materials in the form of things like wooden planks, metal scraps and sailcloth, which are used in drydock to upgrade your boat. You need to collect a certain amount of different materials in order to add more cargo space to your boat, improve the lighting for safer night operations, upgrade the engines for more speed and build platforms that can handle advanced fishing rigs. Dredging can also be used to haul up treasures from shipwrecks which can be sold to a collector for cash, and you will also occasionally find some other interesting things hiding in the deep.
Dredging also plays a big role in the main storyline of the title. Not too long after you have begun your career as an island fisherman, you will be approached by an enigmatic individual who wants help finding artifacts that went down in shipwrecks. Every time you find one for him, he will teach you a magic spell, which might give you a bit of a clue that something is really strange in this chain of desolate islands. The spells are incredibly helpful too. For example, one gives your boat a limited turbo boost which is perfect for getting away from monsters or simply decreasing your travel time to faraway islands, while another puts up a protective shield that can temporarily ward off many of the evil creatures that you might encounter.
There are also lots of other NPCs in the title who will offer side quests, generally asking you to collect something like a set amount of crafting materials or a certain kind of fish. Some will even need a ride on your boat, and it was always interesting helping out the various NPCs with their sometimes odd requests for help.
Back to the main quest, the man searching for the artifacts helpfully points you in the right direction of the one he wants collected next, which serves to help show players how to explore the world of Dredge. There are five main groups of islands on the moderately-sized, open-world game map. And they generally correspond to difficulty levels, so the collector tasks you with finding each artifact in order of the increasing difficulty of the location where it is hidden.
The island chain in the middle of the map where you start is generally pretty safe, with a protected inlet area nestled between two settlements (which you can quickly sail into if you somehow run into trouble). There is actually plenty of fishing (and crabbing if you buy pots) in the starting area or right outside of it too, so new captains can make a good deal of coin early in the game in relative safety and make it back to a safe port by nightfall. So long as your boat is docked, it will be safe for the night and you can pass the time by selecting the Sleep Until Morning option. You will also need to stop into friendly ports from time to time to rest up because your character will become fatigued if they don’t rest often enough.
The other four island chains are more dangerous with fewer safe havens and more deadly creatures and environmental hazards. And that does not even count the large open sea between them or the smaller islands that dot the watery horizon. Generally, Dredge ramps up its difficulty slowly enough that if you are keeping pace with boat upgrades, it won’t feel overly difficult to play as you follow the main questline. However, even a fully tricked out boat is not going to be invincible, so you always need to keep an eye out for trouble, especially at night. But Dredge does a good job of balancing an increasing amount of challenge with player experience and boat upgrades so that it never feels unfair unless you skip ahead to more difficult waters than you are ready to handle, which being an open-world game, is certainly an option for the brave or foolhardy.
The controls for Dredge are smooth. It feels like you are piloting a boat where your vessel is pretty responsive, but it won’t stop on a dime like a land-based vehicle. Playing on Steam using a controller felt more natural than trying to use a mouse and keyboard too, but both control methods are supported.
For me, there was about 12 hours of gameplay in Dredge, although I tend to go very slowly in these kinds of exploration-heavy games. I had my boat fully built up across the entire upgrade tree before I even started to explore the second chain of islands on the difficulty scale, and had completed every single side quest that I came across up to that point. People who tend to push through titles more quickly will probably conquer Dredge in far less time, but I for one enjoyed the slower pace that it offered.
Dredge is a surprising find and is especially polished for an indie title. And with it being offered for $25 on Steam, the price makes it a very good value as well. Dredge easily catches 4.5 GiN Gems out of 5.
Developers: Black Salt Games
Platforms: GoG, Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4, Steam, Xbox One