Dredge isn't shy about the horrors that lie mere feet under my fisherman's dinky boat. Sure, my bright day hours are filled with peaceful fishing to gentle piano tracks, in a quaint loop of sailing around for catches and then selling them for money towards upgrades and tools. Then dusk sets, my paranoia kicks in and Dredge bears its monstrous, mutated teeth.
Life in Dredge is Lovecraftian as hell, wonderfully ominous and effortlessly moreish all at once. Things start off simple enough: My poor unnamed fisherman has KO'd his vessel near the small island town of Greater Marrow. After being offered a replacement and a small debt for the pleasure, I'm quickly set on my way to get to grips with fishing.
The actual act of fishing is relatively simple: Hit the button to fish when the moving target hits a green zone across Dredge's various minigames. They vary in complexity, like a ball simply going round in circles or one that alternates swinging between two curved bars. The real challenge comes from what to do once I've landed my catch. Fish in Dredge come in all shapes and sizes, which I have to efficiently slot in my vessel's tiled inventory.
A two-tiled bass will go almost anywhere, but an L-shaped cod or erratically pronged hammerhead shark means I have to think a little harder about where everything needs to go. I loved this puzzling element of Dredge's gameplay loop, forcing me to strategise how much I wanted to deplete each fishing spot before moving on to the next. There are also materials to be fished up to upgrade the boat, which have their own odd shapes to contend with.
Not only that, but tiles are shared by designated slots for my equipment and engine—did I want to kit out my vessel to be a lean, mean fishing machine, or save some precious tiles for more fish and more money? Playing around with maximising my efficiency kept me surprisingly busy during my playthrough.
Fish also have a freshness meter that determines how much money they can sell for. Fresher the fish, the more coin in your pocket. The freshness rating comes into play for a single side quest, but outside of it, I felt it was a rather pointless addition. I was ferrying back and forth to sell my catches so often that I rarely slipped into the 'stale' or 'rotten' ratings, only having the issue when making larger treks across the map.
Before I know it, I've paid off my debt to Greater Marrow's slightly shady mayor and even helped out a few residents with Dredge's various side quests. An island not far from me has been calling my name, and it's where the true story and all its dangers begin.
Relics strewn across four surrounding islands are waiting for me, and the goal is to dredge them up and return them to a mysterious collector residing on an island I've been awfully curious about. Each island has its own quirks—Gale Cliffs features a giant monster that lurks between the rock faces, while Stellar Basin has vicious tentacles that dare to destroy my vessel unless I find a way to placate them.
Visiting each island gives new fish to catch, new quests to complete and new dangers to compete with. For the most part, I thoroughly enjoyed the challenges each one had to offer. My biggest frustration came from Gale Cliffs, the first area outside of Greater Marrow that you journey to. It's easily the most annoying, with no clear method for dealing with the snaking monster that is a lot faster than you and makes an appearance every single time you try and venture between the cliff's narrow waters. I had a much better time with Dredge's other islands, and I worry Gale Cliffs will serve as a roadblock for frustrated players.
There are a few ways to deal with pesky problems like these: Handing in a relic to the collector grants you some rather odd and mystical abilities. Before I head off to Gale Cliffs I'm given a haste ability, allowing me to speed along the waters even when my engine is still old and rickety. But these come at a cost. As the days and nights ticked by, an eye at the top of my screen occasionally opens and looks around increasingly erratically. Dredge is home to a panic meter, one that rears its ugly head when the sun sets and these mysterious powers are utilised.
The more my panic meter increases, the more terrifying things become. I begin to hallucinate red-eyed crows swarming my boat. Shadow ships come barreling towards my own, and giant monsters emerge from the waters to rip my vessel to shreds. I can offset the nighttime panic somewhat by reading certain skill books and plastering more lights to my boat, but the paranoia still sets in regardless.
With some fish only appearing at night, it means I have to take risks and push myself to venture out even when I don't want to. I appreciate this a lot about Dredge, but it could go further. The day-night cycles are too short and push me in the other direction of playing too safe. I venture out as the sun rises, and within mere minutes I'm already battling the nighttime horrors. Things get a little easier through ship upgrades—using money, materials and research parts dredged from the sea lets me get faster engines that speed me through the water.
Research parts in particular are few and far between, and with a lot of equipment to research, it can be a lengthy venture. For the most part, progression felt well-paced though and I had around 90% of the upgrades in my 20 hours with the game. But considering it takes around half that time to complete the story, even a minor increase in the rate of research parts would have made a huge difference.
Don't ship yourself
Anxiety isn't the only horror my poor fisherman has to deal with. Some of my catches aren't quite like the others. Every fish in Dredge has some twisted, aberrated variation that varies from a tame multi-eyed fish to awful, gouged skates with corroded skin and unhinged jaws. The art direction in Dredge is gorgeous anyway, but the horrific moments make it strangely even more gorgeous to look at. I loved fishing around for these warped forms, keeping me playing long after I'd rolled credits on the game's short-but-sweet story.
What a story it is, too. The selfish part of me wants more story time to pick things apart, and there are predictable portions I saw coming from a mile off. But instead of being in your face, Dredge tells its story through what NPCs have to say, message bottles floating in the sea and strange side quests tucked away on tiny islands. I really enjoyed putting the pieces together through all these different avenues, and some time-sensitive side quests in particular massively caught my attention.
None of the quests are tracked on the map, either, leaving me to rely on my fisherman's instincts and wits to remember where everything was. I could jog my memory with some vague descriptors on the Pursuits board, but most of it was left up to me. I'm directionally challenged at the best of times and was regularly forgetting where quests were located, but it also led me to keep a closer eye on my surroundings and pick out landmarks to get my bearings.
For a game that can be completed in a tidy 10 to 15 hours, Dredge is well worth sailing out with. If you love horror and fun fishing minigames, this is definitely the game for you. It's not perfect, and the frustrating moments are glaringly obvious through its mostly excellent bite-sized experience. But that won't stop me from returning to fill out its twisted encyclopedia and right some of the wrongs I committed in certain side quests.