Dredge is an upcoming fishing RPG like Moonglow Bay containing mystery elements that surround its narrative, similar to A Place For The Unwilling. Developed by Black Salt Games and published by Team 17, it tells the story of an unnamed fisherman who, after being capsized, finds himself in an idyllic New England town. The locals are welcoming and have helped him get back on his feet, but there’s always an uneasy feeling with the place…
As he gets back into his fishing livelihood in his newfound home, he finds strange occurrences including an inexplicable fog and encounters with curious denizens. After one too many aberrant fish, there is something underneath this peaceful locale. Will you get to the bottom of this mystery or live your life oblivious of the strangeness that is Dredge?
An Idyllic Town…
Dredge excels in its atmospheric storytelling, creating an immersive experience right off the bat. As soon as you wake up in Greater Morrow, one of the cities in the archipelago that you’ve crashed in, you’re welcomed by friendly but somewhat strange locals of the area. They draw you in, a little too friendly, and a little too welcoming. But that’s good because they got you back up on your feet. Not fishy at all…
Strapped with debt for your boat repairs, you get back into your livelihood, which is fishing. The bulk of the gameplay in Dredge revolves around fishing. As you catch different species of fish, they are then collected in your codex (encyclopedia) where you could get your stats on its different record of size and location. Catching fish will depend on your equipment and the different necessary tools needed depending on the location of fishing whether it’s coastal, shallow waters, volcanic, and abysmal.
Fishing in Greater Morrow will differ from more perilous places in the archipelago. As you improve your equipment from regular fishing tackle to leaving behind crab pots to catch crustaceans, selling off catch will allow you to improve your boat and equipment in the process. While the game starts out slow, it keeps you busy with these activities, allowing you to learn the gameplay loop until it’s part of your routine.
The addictive gameplay loop in Dredge involves a day and night cycle where you’re expected to fish during the day while you sleep at night. Daytime fishing and sailing are quite light, almost to the point of being cozy! But nighttime is a different story, where the more you get restless, panic starts to build and your mind plays tricks on you – there are rocks that were not there before, and other fishing boats seem to materialize and turn into shadows that attack and damage your ship.
Game time doesn’t move until you actually move your boat. As you progress, the wear and tear in your equipment will prompt you to spend money on repairs, while completing pursuits unlocks special equipment that you can use to research better equipment for your ship, allowing you to explore further into stranger and more perilous areas in the archipelago.
As you meet more residents and do more favors for them, many of these pursuits require you to venture out at night. Fortune favors the brave, I guess, so to move the story along and solve many of these mysteries or even complete these favors, you’re pushed to, and even encouraged to seek out danger.
That Which Lurks Below…
Dredge starts to circumvent expectations the moment you meet the Collector. You’re given access to dredging equipment that’ll allow you to collect salvage from the deep, expanding your repertoire to collect raw materials to help you equip better fishing tools and improve your hull. It also allows you to collect other curiosities from the deep to help find specific salvage for the Collector.
Eventually, you’ll get to learn ship techniques like haste, allowing you to speed up traversal at the cost of greater stress on your engine and panic with your fisherman. Progressing beyond a specific story threshold in Dredge, you’ll slowly make a lot of choices that ask you to choose between greater resource spend or escaping with your life and maybe your sanity.
While you can improve your boat with greater research, reading books to learn new passive skills, and improving your income, the horror seems to catch up with you one way or another. The false sense of security built up over the first few hours of the game really blurs the line, and without giving too much away, Dredge will slowly take that away and whittle at your sanity.
Dredge really boasts that immersive storytelling I described earlier. It doesn’t point out what kind of horror it is referencing, and for me, that’s a breath of fresh air. Much of video game horror storytelling wears its influence on its sleeve and even gives away the actual horror from the get-go. Dredge teases this and holds out as long as it can, keeping the mystery alive and succeeding where many indie horror games fail to sustain attention.
It’s not all just horror and mystery with Dredge, as the range of curious and memorable characters that you meet add to the lore and culture of the setting. While set on different islands, the place really becomes alive with these characters. In fact, it adds to its unique charm as you learn more about the archipelago and the culture of its people. It actually is motivating to help them to find out more about their backstory at the risk of the strange nighttime adventures.
Playing on the Nintendo Switch, I find that the load times are slower, but that’s really to be expected. The visuals are highly stylized and add to the mystery of the game. The sounds add to the atmospheric storytelling adding to the horror with the slow heartbeat in the dead of night, that unsuspecting ringing of the lighthouse bell, and the dread of what slithers between the gentle waves. Dredge really uses all the tools at its disposal to create that specific sinking feeling.
What We Liked
- A fresh mystery that combines atmospheric horror with a cozy fishing game.
- The lore and build-up of suspense are maximized by how different the day and night interfaces are.
- Addictive gameplay loop that balances out stressful elements with exploration.
What We Didn’t Like
- Loading times on the Nintendo Switch are quite long.
- A little slow starting out.
Verdict: Buy It!
Dredge is a fishing RPG, but don’t let that lull you into a false sense of security thinking that it is a cozy game. It is a slowly creeping horror title that lets its mystery engage you until it has caught you in its slimy tendrils and doesn’t let go. While it might be a little slow starting out, once the momentum kicks in, it takes you for a ride.
It is a triumph in atmospheric and immersive storytelling. The addictive fishing elements lure you into an addictive game loop and you stick around for its mystery. You can also just keep fishing and ignore all the strangeness if the fishing loop is what you’re in for, but heed the call of the deep as its creeping chaos is definitely worth exploring.
Dredge is a treat for indie game fans and horror enthusiasts everywhere. It combines aspects of RPGs such as exploration and character building with its simple yet addictive gameplay. It is such a breath of fresh air and a damn good surprise for 2023. Take the plunge!
*Dredge was reviewed on a Nintendo Switch OLED with a review code from the publisher.