Dredge — Darkness beneath the surface

Dredge has simple mechanics that make reeling in fish and catching crustaceans an addictive chore. Exploration with your boat is fun and engaging, and searching for your next big catch or treasure from the depths gives purpose to your nautical tasks. However, what begins as a seemingly innocent fishing game quickly turns into horrors as unfathomable as the depths you’re dredging. 

As the captain of your ship, there are a lot of tasks to tend to ensure it’s not only seaworthy but performing optimally to maximize your haul. There’s a core gameplay loop that keeps Dredge addictive as fishing leads to money from the fishmonger for your efforts, which goes back into improving your boat to then increase the types or amounts of fish you’ll be reeling in. Repairs of your boat due to navigational mishaps need to be repaired and crab traps refurnished for longevity. These are all things you can take care of at the dock of the humble town of Great Marrow, which serves as your primary hub in the game.

Discovering the next school of fish to descend upon is as easy as steering your boat to a spot in the disturbed waters that seem to be frothing from fish activity. You can also pull out your telescope and spot your next target as fish that you’ve already caught will display above the circles, which is handy when you’re looking for something new to catch. 

Fishing in a spot brings up a mini-game that has you hitting triggers as they spin on a wheel or move back and forth on a line, but the biggest challenge in fishing is where to store your fish, as each one takes up a specific shape of space in your cargo. Placing them within the confines of this limited area often feels like Tetris or the inventory system from the Resident Evil games, but it works well as a somewhat annoying but fair mechanic.

Within every port you dock at you will discover new money-making opportunities or side quests to tackle. Whether it’s a quest to help you upgrade your ship or simply helping others out, the townsfolk will task you with retrieving specific items and by fulfilling their goals will offer some insight into the unsettling feeling surrounding the mysterious islands and their wreck-littered shores.

There’s more than fish in these waters, as salvage from shipwrecks and trinkets lost to the depths are about, bearing their wonders to intrepid entrepreneurs. Searching out these spots is the same as finding fishing spots out in the sea, and each type can be seen with your telescope as well. All of these options are available regardless of what time of day it is, but it’s when the sun goes down that all manner of unexplainable phenomena show themselves.

Panic is a factor in Dredge as both a game mechanic and a literal sense as it increases the longer you navigate the unlit waters. Going without sleep and deciding to navigate the seas unabated unfurls a whole manner of horrid creatures from the skies and the cold, black depths below. Seagulls lit with blazing red eyes descend upon your vessel to steal your hard-earned fish, ghastly dark creatures rise to the surface with creepy, piercing eyes to crash into your boat, damaging precious cargo, and rocky formations you are sure weren’t there before seem to materialize from thin air in the water before you.

It’s this balance between the light and the dark that keeps you on your toes and ensures that you try to keep your fishing activities to daylight only, sleeping when docked, but with enough upgrades, even the most traumatizing eldritch horrors can be kept at bay. Once you get the option to upgrade your motor, you can explore further and cover more ground before the sun sets, and upgrading your lights will also let you see further, albeit limited compared to the day, to avoid any outcroppings in your way. Upgrading also sets your sights further on the horizon, and traveling to new areas on the map serves to not only further the story but give you additional places to cast your nets and even more characters with side quests for you to assist them with.

There’s plenty to keep you busy whether dropping nets, traps, or dredging the depths, and the game always ensures there’s a task waiting for you complete in the background. Upgrading to bring in larger hauls is exciting, and while most of the time the money you gain from your efforts seems piddly in the end, it’s what drives you to the next expedition, and the pick-up-and-play nature of Dredge keeps you coming back for more. 

Dredge is an easy recommendation for anyone looking for something new to keep them busy, especially fans of resource management sims such as Animal Crossing or Stardew Valley. There are some lulls while you’re moving from one area to the next, but the constant worry of danger lurking from the seas that surround you keeps every moment engaging. I never felt like I exhausted my options at any particular archipelago when there was always a task to push me further away from the safety of home. Dredge manages to get the core gameplay loop tight and entertaining, and while the horror elements may seem overwhelming to players that might turn their nose up at traditional horror games, it serves its purpose here without overwhelming the senses.

Dredge is available now on Steam, Xbox, Nintendo Switch, and PlayStation.

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