As long as humanity has sailed the seas there has been a fear of what lies beneath the waves. Tales have been woven about monstrous creatures that lurk in the depths alongside stories of great treasures to be found for those willing to take the risk in unknown seas. What if those tales had more than a grain of saltwater to them? Black Salt Games’ Dredge seeks to deliver such an experience where fishing during the day can be a seemingly peaceful and serene experience only for nightfall to bring about eldritch horror. Does this fishing game manage to succeed or has their ambition sunk it beneath the waves?
Players take on the role of a nameless fisherman responding to a help wanted ad only to find himself suddenly losing himself in the fog and crashing upon the rocks near his destination. After being rescued, the mayor provides the fisherman with a new-used boat barely capable of handling the waves and reeling in the smallest of fish and, after the player tries their hand at catching some fish, introduces them to the local fish market and shipyard before letting players roam the open seas. What appears to be a serene fishing village where players fish during the day quickly grows strange as darkness brings an unknown terror at night with strange visions and threats appearing upon the waves. With horrifically twisted creatures somehow surviving the seas, shady figures, and many mysteries surrounding the area this fishing tale is far from a peaceful life.
The storyline in Dredge is handled quite well with players uncovering hints about the strange happenings around the islands as they interact with its inhabitants, uncover strange ruins with even stranger visions, locate messages left behind by others, and more. Even the flavor text for normal catches as well as aberrations offers a bit of insight and makes every new catch a treat. The core storyline is fairly simple but quite effective in its mystery and players will meet a wide array of characters with their own short stories to tell and tasks for players to complete, or even fail should the worst happen. Dredge’s approach to horror is handled with a light touch that is all the more successful when paired with its eldritch flavoring, making this tale one that will drive players back to the depths as they search for their next catch.
As a fisherman, players will be spending almost their entire time in Dredge navigating the ocean looking for patches of fish to catch. Navigating along the ocean is simple enough and catching fish is handled through a variety of timing based mini-games with various levels of difficulty depending on the type of fish and how large it might be. There is even a “relaxed” option that allows players to always catch a fish that they have hooked though it may take a bit longer. Ironically, this can be a bit of a detriment to players as the only time that time passes is when players are moving, catching fish, or dredging the depths. As such players will need to manage their time wisely as daylight only lasts from 6AM to 6PM with the game taking on a far darker tone once night falls.
Once the sun falls below the horizon players will find themselves entered into a far more dangerous sea as the fog rolls in and blankets everything around them. This lack of sight would already be dangerous on the open sea but what hides within the fog is far more dangerous and the panicked mind can make these visions a reality on this cursed sea. As players stay out past nightfall they will begin to slowly panic, represented by an eyeball that grows more frantic as time passes and their condition worsens. As players travel through the night rocks will appear in brand new locations threatening to rip through their hull, twisted flocks of birds may appear to feast on their catch, and far worse as supernatural hazards begin to take offense at the player’s very presence on the ocean as they openly attack the players ship in all manner of ways.
Fishing at night is a dangerous task but also one that players must endeavor to complete as not only will various story missions require players to catch fish that only appear at night but other elements, such as the eldritch aberrations of familiar species, appear more frequently once the sun has set. This plays off a significant risk and reward as players can seek out these far more expensive fish in an effort to sell them and turn their cash into upgrades for their boat, creating a satisfying gameplay loop of relaxed fishing followed by danger and reward only to be repeated once the sun has risen again.
Dredge offers some elements that can help mitigate panic as well as surviving the night itself such as books obtained as rewards from completed pursuits though many of them simply involve upgrading the tiny tugboat players were given at the start. Through the use of dredging equipment players can salvage timber, junk metal, cloth, as well as treasure and far more important trinkets from the ocean floor and these upgrade materials can then be applied to not only increase the amount of items the boat can carry, but also outfit it with more equipment slots as well as increase the amount of damage it can withstand, from rocks or other elements. These upgrades feel quite worthwhile even if they take some time to earn as players will immediately notice their ship growing more capable once they can install an extra set of engines, brighter lights to pierce through the fog, and of course fancier fishing equipment to catch the over one hundred and twenty different species of creatures available in the title.
An interesting element in Dredge is inventory management and while some may find it a bit frustrating, it quickly becomes a fun experience as players try their best to cram as much of a catch they can into their ship while also trying to make sure it can outrun the dangers in the night. Fish come in all shapes and sizes, so twisting them around to perfectly fit is a satisfying experience. That being said, damage to the ship is a very real threat and one that is incredibly annoying at times as damage will not only diminish the ship’s cargo space but also cause the loss of whatever item may have been in that slot. While this can mean simply the loss of an expensive fish, it can also cause the loss of a quest item and although quests can still be completed with no reward, it feels like a major loss should this happen. It also means players may find themselves nearly dead in the water should they unluckily damage an engine when hit, leaving them puttering around as easy prey for the night or a potentially long journey back for repairs at the nearest port or merchant.
It is also worth noting that while Dredge is by no means a difficult game, it does have its fair share of challenges, with two of the five locales being notably harder to manage than others as they have monstrous presences all times of the day and will actively hunt the player if they aren’t careful. This can lead to a far more challenging fishing experience especially if players happen to head to one of these areas early or haven’t availed themselves of a certain mysterious man’s abilities to increase their own capabilities though what that involves will be up to the player to find out.
Visuals & Audio
Dredge features a lovely looking art style that looks great during the daylight and fittingly spooky at night. The players’ boat stays relatively small even as players upgrade it to the maximum, making the tiny boat a zippy little thing but also one that is dwarfed by the threats that appear beneath the waves in their own great monstrous design. There is something to be said about the artistic stylings taken towards the NPCs players come across as their character portraits feel perfectly fitting for the setting and theme of the game but also a bit samey. The real stars design wise are the aberrations of the various species that players can catch as the artists have let their imaginations run wild with how the seas’ effects have twisted them.
There is unfortunately no voice work to accompany any of the game’s text but the game does feature some great background music that fits the more dangerous seas as well as some fittingly uplifting music during standard exploration and fishing.
Dredge can feel like a calming fishing game one minute with players happily managing their inventory and heading back to port to sell their catch only to be in a tense struggle for survival once night falls. This creates a highly enjoyable gameplay loop wrapped up in a satisfying storyline with plenty of mystery and touches of horror. With over a hundred and twenty fish to catch, numerous strange events to witness that can appear at any time of day, and a large ocean to explore, Dredge has not only founded fishing horror, it has excelled at it.
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