Genre: Action, Adventure, RPG. Simulation
System: Nintendo Switch (Also on Steam (Windows & Linux) Xbox and PS4)
Developer|Publisher: Black Salt Games | Team 17
Age Rating: EU 12+ | US Everyone
Price: UK £21.99 | US $24.99 | EU € 24,99
Release Date: March 30th, 2023
Review code provided with many thanks to Press Engine.
Sinister but Soothing
DREDGE is a 3D adventure game whose gameplay focuses on fishing and sailing exploration. DREDGE sails into waters unknown regarding the genre with a relaxing gameplay design but adds a light touch of horror to the narrative, a mixture that seems odd but works. Before some of you stop reading, I will say early the horror leans more into an eerie territory and less into jump scares and hide-under-the-sheets horror.
DREDGE creates something wholesome and original that allows the player to take the game to their own space, and I highly recommend it. For the rest of the review, I’ll attempt to explain why.
The game’s premise is that you are a humble fisherman shipwrecked in a new town. It’s back to square one for your career, but the local mayor helps you out with a new boat and resources to get back to fishing. This comes with a debt to pay, leading me to falsely assume this would turn into a game about paying off debt. To my surprise, the debt is paid off pretty quickly, and the narrative focuses more on finding relics for suspicious gentlemen.
Additionally, you can perform side quests for various townsfolk you come across on your travels, most of which are some form of a fetch quest. Dialogue is interestingly presented, almost like a fairy tale, with detailed descriptions of each NPC you meet woven into the narrative. You soon learn something sinister lingers in the background of the game. There’s something lurking in the ocean, but what? The townsfolk act weirdly in places, and some of the fish you catch are oddly mutated. I initially got Call of Cthulhu vibes from experience, but the horror never really strays too far from just being eerie, making it more of a horror experience suited to most audiences.
The game’s narrative is not as deep as the ocean, but I felt a personal warmth to the plot. As the fisherman, you are alone, dealing with various stresses from the demands of townsfolk whilst dealing with a mysterious horror lurking in the background. A horror that I ended up connecting to my own mental health. The horrors, which worsened at night, felt like a bad day of depression, making progress slow and difficult. But with a good night’s sleep, something you must do in the game to keep the horrors at bay, you awake to a new sunny morning.
The Life of a Fisherman
The game has an overall goal, but you’re not forced into it. Quests can be tracked in the menu, with the main being clearly marked on your trusty map. The main focus for me was fishing and exploration. As you set out on your boat, you’ll notice clearly marked spots in the ocean where you can cast your rod. From there, a basic timed mini-game will activate. It’s pretty easygoing, but should it not suit, you can opt for relaxation mode, which auto-catches the fish at a small cost.
Once you catch your fish, you indulge in another mini-game of inventory management, trying to squeeze the various-sized fish into your ship’s hull. It’s a lot more fun than it sounds. There are hundreds of fish to discover; all logged into your codex. The fish can be exchanged back at the fishmongers for some coin; the fresher, the better. Leave the fish too long on your hull, and they’ll rot.
Shipwrecks and Points of Interest
As well as fish, you can dredge up shipwrecks and points of interest. This could include treasure and crafting materials. These materials can then be used to upgrade your ship, bolstering the hull from damage and providing more inventory space. For me, it was a nice gameplay loop of fishing and occasionally deciding to focus on the main campaign. This may sound repetitive, but I never found myself bored. More hooked on the loop of fishing and upgrading. I was perfectly content just taking my time and exploring new areas of the map at my own pace.
The Night Come For Us
During the day, everything feels serene and calm with the relaxed atmosphere of the ocean waves, but as night creeps in, things start to get eerie. Hallucinations will appear like ships trying to kamikaze your ship, only to see them change to a horrifying ship at the last second. Rocks will also materialize out of nowhere. These little horrors will actually harm your ship, making the trek at night a risk-taking endeavour.
The graphics nicely capture the contrast of the night and day shifts and look beautiful for it. The night may be risky, but there are delightful moments in the game’s design, such as neon fish swimming below the surface. There’s even a curious appeal to the aura coming from the darkness, only adding to the mystery of the lurking horror.
Gameplay is kept fresh, with new elements gradually added as you progress. Controls are easy to use with easy tutorials to follow. You can even have them pop up again to remind you if you forget. You can gain nets to auto-catch fish. Cages can be dropped into the ocean to catch crabs, and there are new rods you can acquire, which will enable you to catch fish in specific areas. There are also those mysterious relics you gain from the main mission. Each relic you obtain grants you a new ability for your ship, like a speed boost or teleportation, but it can come at a cost if overused, adding a further touch of light horror to the game’s design.
Difficulty of DREDGE
The overall difficulty of the game varies. During the day, things are mostly chilled, though you will encounter odd surprises like tornadoes and other fishy and land problems I won’t spoil. When you take damage, you can lose items in your hull and possibly lose the ability to use certain equipment. This can all be repaired back at the shipyard at a cost, so save some pennies.
Nighttime is when things can ramp up, and some missions require you to take the risk. It’s not too punishing, but sometimes it’s irritating. In the early game, it felt like my boat became too easily damaged with so much as a tiny tap as I pulled out of the docks. It never went to the extreme of stressing me out, though.
Conclusion – The Freshest of Catches
My favourite aspect of DREDGE is this is just a great game to chill to. After a long hard day at my real-life job, taking on the life of a fisherman proved to be quite cathartic. I had just as much fun spending sessions fishing, turning in my catches, and gradually upgrading my ship, as opposed to making progress in the game’s narrative.
I didn’t feel rushed and was happy to take in the experience wherever my mood took me. Of course, it’s only fair this design won’t appeal to every gamer. Some might find the pacing slow or the gameplay repetitive. For me, the tackle reeled me in and never let go. DREDGE is the most fun I have had in a fishing game to date, and it gets my highest recommendation.
If you want to try it for yourself, download the free demo on the eShop.
Final Verdict: Two Thumbs Up
Great review. Always looking for chill games to relax with…
Thank you for the kind words
Tried the demo today. I’m hooked, but the way the camera rotates around the boat keeps screwing me up and I crash. I wish the camera would stay where I put it until I move it! 😛