Dredge Review (PS5)
Take the angler job they said. It’ll be calming they said.
Ah fishing. Boring as hell in real life, but in games there is just something about it. Something that makes it addicting no matter what kind of minigame a game utilizes. When I saw Dredge, a game focused around fishing (but not aiming to be realistic) with some Eldritch horror I was sold. I was even more sold when I played the demo and I couldn’t wait until I was able to play the full game myself.
In Dredge, you are just a simple fisherman that sadly was caught up in something that no one could have seen coming. As he was sailing to take up an angler job, a thick blanket of fog suddenly rolls in and causes you to wreck on some rocks. Of course, the lighthouse’s lights tear through the fog when you’re already shipwrecked. Luckily, or unluckily, you wake up on a dock seemingly unharmed at a little town named Great Marrow. Your boat sadly couldn’t be saved, but the Mayor has given you a new one…that you have to pay off. It doesn’t take long for you to repay him, don’t worry, but it gives you a nice way to get your bearings in with fishing and introducing aspects that you’ll be interacting with for the rest of the game.
As you work through the main quest, or pursuits as this game calls them, a mysterious figure talks to you and tells you to go to Blackstone Isle. Once you do, he tasks you with finding five relics. Five relics, five distinct areas, one in each where you get it once you complete the main pursuit associated with it. The Collector does give you a recommended order to get these relics and while I’m not sure if you can go out of order, I do recommend it. However, you might want to be careful sailing at night. The fog that rolls in once the sun’s light is no more isn’t regular fog and there are strange monster fish that won’t hesitate in attacking you.
Dredge’s story has the overarching goal of getting all the relics, but it is filled it character stories. Each area’s main pursuit will have you engage in a mini-story where you learn about the characters and help them out. Not to mention that there are a good amount of optional side pursuits that you can come across so you can get even more insight on how this fog affected everyone. I really liked how Dredge was written and I liked finding out about everyone’s lives and the place that they live in.
The story is also one that you’ll have to piece together. You’ll get a general sense of what’s going on, but taking into account character dialog and the lore you can find can help you piece together a more complete picture. Not a full one, but enough to keep the mystery alive. I also recommend going for both endings as well.
Finally going onto the gameplay, it’s pretty easy and quick to get the hang of. Sailing out into the open sea with your boat, which handles pretty well even when you have high speed in the later half, you’ll be on the look out for fishing spots characterized by some splashing and visible fish by the water’s surface. Moving over it will give you the obtain to fish there and with a silhoutte of the fish in the spot, you’ll be given a minigame to do. While the line on the side is auto-reeled, it is so slow. There are a couple variants, but basically you’ll be timing your presses to hit the green bars and if you do it’ll make the reel jump a fair bit. However, if you miss it not only will it drop you down, but you’ll be on a quick cooldown. Once caught, you’ll then have to put it in your ship’s inventory, which you’ll have to manage and organize. Shown through a grid, each item and fish takes up certain grid spaces, with some being weirdly shaped. Once you get to a place you can sell fish, you can make some money on what you were able to bring back.
This is just the basics as Dredge has more under the surface. Whatever has taken route in this area has caused some nasty mutations in the local fish. The majority you’ll be fishing up are seemingly fine, but every so often you’ll get a weird or creepy looking ones. These are called Aberrations and these actually bring in more money for you (plus it comes with a cool blurb). All spots do have a chance at giving you aberrations, but if you notice a slight glow coming off of a fishing spot that means there is a guaranteed aberration drop.
There is also a day and night cycle which you really should keep an eye on. Day is fine, but once night comes along? That weird fog rolls back in and you start to accumulate panic. If you end up panicking too much, this will cause your vision to go all weird, make you see eyes and hear whispers, and have hazards to pop up and ruin your night like crows that will steal a fish or a moving geyser to damage your ship. Not to mention that you’ll find out that there are monster fish that patrol each area (though they’re not exactly bound to the night) that will damage your ship as well. Each area has their own unique monster, for example the first area has an anglerfish that tricks you in thinking it’s another ship and the second area with a giant eel that patrols. No wonder there’s not a lot of people still lingering. Each do have an indicator for when they’re coming for you, which having the PS controller’s vibration definitely helps in this aspect, but you can easily tell by the screen turning red. Even so, it’s still easy to get caught off guard and it’s hard to shake these guys off.
Oh and did I mention that hull damage affects your inventory and if something is on the space it disables you’ll lose it? The Gale Cliffs were particularly annoying with that patrolling giant eel.
However, as much as you’d want to stay in the light, you’ll have to go out into the night eventually as some fish are nocturnal.
As you progress through and visit more areas, you’ll unlock new equipment for you to fish different kinds of fish as well as abilities for you to use. You start out with being able to toggle your light (helps delay panic), use your horn, and use your spyglass (helps you see what fish/material is in a spot). You quickly do unlock the ability to dredge, which allows you to bring up treasure or debris (aka materials) from shipwrecks. The minigame is a bit different here, having you time your presses to avoid gaps, but it’s not that hard. You’ll also be able to unlock crab pots and trawl nets to give you a passive way of getting fish as well as a specific rod. You do get actions added to your wheel based on items you need to deplot, but you do get actual abilities as you turn in relics which can be helpful. They do have drawbacks, mainly increasing panic, but they’re worth it in the right circumstance.
Of course, you can’t stick with this dingy old boat and dingy equipment as you have two avenues for upgrading. The materials you dredge up and the resource parts can be put into upgrades. The former is to improve your ship (like more inventory and more equipment installation spots) and the latter to give you better equipment (like better rods or nets). You can’t exactly ignore this as it’s always nice to have a better ship and fish live in different habitats and thus require rods/nets that are compatible. And considering it takes time to install equipment, it’s best to be prepared before sailing out.
What Dredge does really well is the atmosphere and the sense of time slipping away and suddenly being dark. During the day, it’s almost like you’re playing a cozy fishing game. It’s calm with little hazards. But as night comes along it turns into a horror game, barely being able to see what’s in front of you as you slowly start to panic, hearing strange noises, rocks that you’re pretty sure weren’t there pop up, winds full of whispers drawn to your lights showing that it isn’t safe all the time, and the monsters that seem to be more active. The sense of discover that comes with coming across a new pursuit, or collectible, finding ancient shrines and solving them, and when you figure out how to get those slabs to activate. I also do think it does well in establishing a game loop, you catch fish to sell and you use the money to repair your boat, equipment, and to put into upgrades so you can get more fish. It seems boring, but I swear I was captivated all the way through my playthrough.
Dredge isn’t without it’s faults though. There are a handful of timed pursuits and you’re not really clearly told when one is timed. There are at least two that say it vaguely, but the others I wouldn’t have known they were timed if I didn’t look up where to catch a specific fish. It doesn’t help that the ones involving hooded figures are accepted just by talking to them and they ask for fish that will require fish from an area you may not have the equipment for (like the one located right at the beginning asking for a fish located in a late-game area). I will also say that the shrine rewards can be disappointing, which mainly is because you may already have better equipment by the time you discover them.
By the time I was at the end of the game, I did have a feeling that maybe this was intended to be played in a way that you flowed with the story. Doing the main pursuits, and side pursuits as you come across them, catching and selling fish as you’re there, and then leaving to continue; rather than staying to catch all fish in the area, get more money before you move on, or to dredge up the rest of materials you need for that upgrade. Nonetheless, I do appreciate how there isn’t that much grinding here. The most grindy part is finding research parts and fishing for all fish, which most probably won’t go for as I did find that I was perfectly happy with how far I was able to get to before I got to the end.
As you can probably tell, I absolutely loved Dredge. While it does have some faults to it, Dredge also does a lot of things right. Heck, I’d say the most important aspects of Dredge were done wonderfully. The atmosphere was on point, easily being able to slip between calm cozy-like feel to a horror feel; I loved how this was written as it has a unique voice that really ties together the mysteriousness and creepy feeling of this region; the minigame and game loop was surprisingly engaging with enough challenge to it to not make it boring; and the character stories and overall mystery are interesting. I was engaged all the way through my playthrough and I found it really interesting learning about this region and how everyone was affected and finding lore pieces.
Honestly, it’s a good indicator of a great game when you end the game wanting more of the world that was crafted.