They don’t make fishing games like this. While Dredge certainly leans on angling as its veneer, it evokes some lite RPG elements and more arcade-y sensibilities as well, rather than leaning on some of the mechanics that you would find in the sort of fishing games that get more frequent releases.
But, with a story that is as atypical in this sort of release as the gameplay, it could serve as a notion that a clever and well-executed subversion of expectations can go a long way.
But Dredge must prove that it can weather the waves and the maddening storm. Amongst all its ambition, does this game manage to hold water?
When it comes to the story, Dredge battens down the hatches and sails directly into the storm. Rather than play it safe with a cozy story, Black Salt Games opts for a deep, and moody tale that feels right at home on the sea.
When you arrive at the Marrows, a fisherman with a lack of understanding of where you’ve come from, you’re already treated to a few hints that nothing is quite as it seems amidst the archipelagos in this dark and moody part of the world. During the daylight hours, things seem pleasant enough—if you can keep yourself from dashing your ship against the rocks that are present here and there amidst the waves. But it’s when the darkness swells that you realize that there are greater mysteries all around. It comes to a head when you venture to the mysterious manor not far away from the introductory town, and from there, you’re sent on your quest to haul five important artifacts from the depths of the sea.
While there is an overarching story that follows you from the very first island you find yourself on, there are individual stories that you can explore at each of the four archipelagos at the corners of this stretch of sea. They’re also sad and moody stories, showing you that no one truly makes it out of this place unscathed.
Lending to the story is all manner of interesting fish that you can find beyond the fresh and salty things you might find at sea. Aberrations of healthy fish exist and highlight the madness of the world of Dredge.
Both the game’s breath of fresh air, and where it might suffer the most, the gameplay is atypical from the games you might see. The mechanics of the game are very simple, and to that end, it might not present enough of a challenge for certain players. Because it has more of an arcade sensibility than something that leans more in the simulation boat, the challenge doesn’t quite level up the farther you get in the game. The fishing and dredging minigames are novel, but they lose some oomph later on. Luckily, there are tiny twists on the mechanics here and there. The other big requirement to a player’s skill is navigating the dangerous waters, which don’t become much more treacherous as you move along—with some caveats, which I’ll explain soon.
The game also relies on the player having a bit of a Tetris brain in order to make the best use of the room that you have on your boat. Once you start getting tons of fish and materials from shipwrecks, it can be hard to make the most of trips to scary areas.
However, you can make everything a bit better than when you first start the game, as you can research better equipment, and upgrade your boat with those supplies that you’ve pulled from the depths. That includes things like increasing your hull size, giving yourself more room for more complex fishing gear, speeding forth across the sea, and lighting the way in the darkness.
The game also implements some sanity effects that reminded me of an old classic: Eternal Darkness. As you spend time upon the dark and dreary sea, your mind begins to deteriorate, allowing all manner of things to jump out at you, from rocks that you would swear weren’t there in the daylight, to monstrous creatures that emerge from the deep to shatter your ship to bits.
Dredge benefits from having very attractive hand-drawn graphics for its dialog scenes. It gives its characters a lot more personality and lends itself to the world that Black Salt Games is crafting.
The game assets aren’t anything to scoff at either. They don’t reinvent the wheel or anything, but the game drips a style that again evokes a strange sensation upon the maddened seas.
Scouring the ocean has enough visual cues to help players identify what sort of school of fish they might be trying to pull up from the deep without having to guess. Materials can be found floating in the water as well, and though you might have a slightly harder time differentiating them, most of those materials are found so far and few between that you’ll be working to clear space in your hull or cargo for them anyway.
Sound and music are integral in a game like this, and it leans halfway on ambient sound upon first setting out into the shallows and coasts around the archipelagos. The other half of the time, it is sending chills up your spine with sound cues and musical accompaniment that can make you as the player as uneasy as the poor fisherman you control.
While you can race your way through the game, there are plenty of fish in the sea. It will certainly scratch the itch for players who like to fill out a collection. The game presents that collectathon with a handy encyclopedia, which gives you some visual representation of the kind of fish you can expect to find. It’s also helpful in that it tells you where to look, at what time of day, and with what equipment you’ll need to collect your haul.
There are a few different secrets to be found in the game as well. Mutated fish aside, there are a few places on the map where you can meet up with strange beings, finish some side quests for the citizens, and find ancient altars where you can trade special arrangements of fish for powerful relics.
The upgrade system is also something that allows for some level of flexibility, as you can, in theory, complete the game without any upgrades, though it would by no doubt be quite an arduous task to pull that off. Arranging your equipment and performing research helps to speed up the process of the game, and gives you more opportunities to collect fish without arranging them in your hull to insane levels.
For what it tries to do, Dredge does it very well. It’s no mere fishing game, but an exploration of psyche and what a job like fishing can do to someone, especially in the case where eldritch horrors might exist beneath the sea.
If nothing else, Dredge is an immersive experience that explores parts of the untapped potential of the gaming world, and it should be something you experience, even if you don’t think a fishing game would call to you quite like this.
That’s Entertainment awards Dredge a score of 8.5 out of 10.
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