Review | Dredge

Originally published at: Review | Dredge - XboxEra

Dredge is excellent.  I just needed to get that out of the way first, because the moment I say it’s a “Fishing focused horror game” I know many will turn away.  Don’t, because the “fishing” is just a series of damned fun minigames as a backdrop for uncovering the tragic past and present horrors of a local community of islands.  Dredge came out of nowhere, and I only checked it out on the recommendation of NoClip’s Danny O’dwyer who raved about it online.  It is a smart, intriguing game with a satisfying gameplay loop and just the right length.  There’s a fair amount to explain for this unique title, so let’s get into it.

Salt-Filled Lungs

Dredge begins with your character charting course to the Marrow Islands in search of a job. A thick, unearthly fog quickly moves in and you wreck hard into some rocks.  Morning arrives and you awaken to find yourself saved by the locals. The town’s mayor greets you warmly and offers you a deal.  You can have a new, smaller boat as long as you fish for them to pay it off.  You’ll quickly agree and get to work. The game takes place from a 3rd boat-son perspective behind your little ship. Immediately I felt at home with the controls of my tiny Trawler, with its weak engine. 

Fishing is the game’s main mechanic, at least early on, and you’ll catch your lot through a series of timing-based minigames. At first, you’ll work between two islands and catch fish and dredge up items in a small area.  Spots you can cast a line in are marked with a small whirlpool of bubbles, and you’ll press A to activate the minigame.  Most of the games feature circular motion that you’ll need to press X in at certain points. Dredging up items is unlocked in short order and has a slightly different take than fishing.  Instead of timing button presses, you’ll need to jump between two rotating rings to avoid hitting certain spots. The minigames are simple and fun, which is key because you’ll be doing them hundreds of times throughout your 9 or so hours of gameplay.

The main loop of Dredge is you going out and finding specific fish, salvage, or bespoke quest items to satisfy quest objectives given to you or upgrade your boat. The boat upgrades are massively important as the layout of your deck is a constant puzzle to solve that we’ll get into in the next section. You will need to find planks of wood, scrap metal, and more to add extra spots for fishing rods, trawling nets, fog lights, and more powerful engines. The difference in speed and hold size for your catches is massive between each of the three main hull upgrade stages, and the power ramp felt perfectly balanced as I moved between each of the five main islands.

Ship Hold Tetris

To move in Dredge you’ll use the left stick, while the right stick controls the camera. Various abilities are unlocked throughout the course of the story, such as crab pots that you’ll need to keep a close eye on as the extremely fast day/night cycle does its thing. Whenever you move in dredge time passes at a rapid pace, and you do not want to be left out in the cold, terrifying dark of night any longer than you must. Madness is a constant problem, and the terrors of the deep will bombard you from all angles once the sun goes down. Finding the closest port to offload your catch, paying for any repairs you may need, and resting up is key to survival.  If your ship is destroyed or you succumb to madness you’ll be forced back to your most recent checkpoint which is triggered every time you dock.

Most of the game’s docks do not offer services for selling your catch or repairing it and instead are tied to the game’s many side quests. These quests tend to offer up upgrade modules and salvage items you desperately need. Upgrade modules allow you to unlock different versions of your fishing lines, nets, engines, and more. Once unlocked you can use the money you earned to buy and install these better or more specialized items.  To do this you’ll need the right space available on your ship. Early on your inventory space is extremely limited and you only have a few dedicated spots for your equipment. As you upgrade your ship with the salvage you collect you gain more inventory and more dedicated spots for bigger engines, fishing lines, etc.

This constant juggling of inventory slots is the main mechanic of the game, and each item has a different shape and number of squares it takes up. You can rotate items with the bumpers to fit them in, and you will want to focus on getting salvage and the money needed for upgrades asap. Each pool you come across, salvage or fish, has a set amount of times you can use it before it disappears. Once they say “low” in their stock you’ll want to leave them be if possible so that they can replenish over time. As you upgrade your hull and engines traveling around each island becomes a breeze. Running into an object or taking a hit from an unfriendly creature can render tools useless and enough hull damage will send you to a watery game over. The shipwright can fix you up but for a hefty price if you’ve taken a beating.

The never-ending day/night cycle means that many creatures can only be found during a certain time of day. This goes for many of your mission items as well, including the five main relics you’ll be in pursuit of to reach the end. I wouldn’t be surprised if there are multiple endings in this game, my few days of review time kept me from trying to get a different outcome after beating the game the day before this embargoed review had to go up.

The Lighthouse

The world of Dredge is a sad, salty-filled land trapped in a feeling of loss and misery. Beneath the shiny exterior of the Mayor lies a community broken, fractured, and terrified. Finding out what has been going on, and why, then choosing what part you’ll play in it added so much to the context of the gameplay. The writing is excellent with a small mix of dark humor on top of a society driven to the brink. So many lost, and terrors all around when the sun goes down have driven community members mad. Character interactions are a mix of well-drawn hand-painted looking character portraits and text.

Outside of an initial grunt, there is no voice acting. Thankfully the music does an excellent job of setting the mood. There is great beauty here, with fantastic-looking golden hours and a brilliantly simplistic art style. Beneath the depths lies a dark, angry heart. The soundtrack constantly reminds you that no matter how much fun you’re having in the game that danger is ever present. Huge storms roll in out of nowhere with lightning and tornado-like waterspouts attempting to sink you or knock your precious cargo overboard. Still, hope lingers. Reuniting lost family members brings a feeble but real spark of hope that things can be better. If you make the right decisions and don’t give in to temptation maybe you can make a real difference.

The amount of pain and occasional joy I could read in the faces of the characters helped carry me through what could have become repetitive gameplay-wise. I got my ending at just over nine hours of gameplay, and I want to dive back in when I have the time to see if it is possible to get a different one. The gameplay and upgrade loop is served brilliantly by a narrative and aesthetic that mixes hope in at just enough amounts to keep things from being too melancholy.

Graphically the game doesn’t aim too high technically and makes up for it with a commitment to a particular style. The waves, wind, and backdrops look painted and it all runs at a stable framerate and clean resolution. Technically the game is rock solid. My only gripe is one that isn’t major, and that’s the heavy use of chromatic aberration. The madness system in the game utilizes CA a lot and it can be headache-inducing for me at times. I believe you can turn it off in the options as well as be able to lessen screen shake. I had one crash where it force closed on me after using Quick Resume.  I used QR the entire time while playing and only had that issue once. My last point has to be about the lighthouse. Its always-present beam of light helped ground where I was at all times. It was an ever-illuminating presence that worked, even in video game form, to keep me from ever feeling overwhelmed by the darkness of the sea at night.

Wrapping Things Up

Dredge is an absolute gem. It features a rich, compelling narrative alongside an excellent gameplay and upgrade loop. It doesn’t overstay its welcome and has an excellent narrative. It is a game that you should not miss.





Awesome was slightly interested in this but with this review will bump it up my purchase queue.

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I hope it does well, sadly the review video isn’t generating much interest so far.

This looks awesome.

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This might end up being my first -1 on the backlog challenge.

I’ve been waiting for a good fishing game ever since Scary Fish back in the DOS days.

Might bite the bullet and buy a game for a change.

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Fantastic game! More people should play it.

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