A lone fishing boat sails towards an isolated island. Bobbing on the waves that gently crash against the shore, the tiny craft docks beside some rocks, atop which is perched a mysterious grey-skinned figure, bedecked in a purple robe that obscures its visage. The haggard fisherman emerges onto the deck of his battered vessel and offers something to the hooded being. It’s a horseshoe crab, freshly caught in a submerged pot earlier that day, one of the many rewards of a week spent deploying pots and casting rods into the murky depths of a swamp.
The figure takes the helpless creature, exposes its soft underbelly and then mercilessly begins to rake out its innards with long-white fingernails, ravenously devouring them as it does so. Having finished its meal, it utters three words to the fisherman.
“Consume. The Sky.”
Then it points to a diagram showing another deep sea specimen. The fisherman understands, just as he did when shown a carving of the crab after watching the figure place the heart of a Tarpon upon its tongue and calmly swallow. Perhaps this is what he thinks about as he departs the isle underneath a beautiful sunset, turning on his defenceless craft’s lights and praying that he’ll make it back to civilisation before the whispers lead him to start seeing things that aren’t really there.
Sailing into the sunrise
Dredge is a game that thrives on isolation. From the moment you, a faceless fisherman behind the controls of a puny vessel that, no matter how many times you upgrade it, never ceases to be dwarfed by its surroundings, depart the dock you’ve been moored at while you sleep, you are completely alone.
The modest cast of characters that bring the game’s world to life are all landlubbers. So, having left the comfort of social interactions behind in your port of choice, you emerge from the shallows and begin your daily conquest of the high seas, the solitary explorer of an untamed unknown.
The waters surrounding the five archipelagos that form this world are where you’ll spend the overwhelming majority of your time playing it. At first, they’ll only glitter with the prospect of discovery, as you stick to the area sheltered by the friendly shadow of Greater Marrow’s lighthouse and creep back to its harbour before night falls. As things progress and you travel further afield, towards uniquely themed areas with names like Stellar Basin, Twisted Strand, and Devil’s Spine, you’ll come to view them differently.
You’ll discover that there are chilling horrors and threats hiding in the depths beyond their picturesque surface.
Hook, line and sinker
This duality is what defines the Dredge experience. By day, you’re free to find fishing spots where shoals of quarry await to be hoisted aboard your ship for you to sell upon your return to society, assuming you’ve invested in the right rod, net, or crab pot to catch them. Or, if you’re keen to upgrade your craft, you can hunt for shipwrecks along coastlines and dredge up raw materials and valuables.
While you engage in these activities, some of which are based around mini-games that offer just enough variety and challenge not to feel too tedious, you can chill and enjoy an enchanting soundscape of environmental splishes and splashes occasionally underpinned by tender piano sequences. That said, don’t get too relaxed, as whenever you interact with the environment or even move your boat, time begins to pass pretty rapidly.
The idea behind this is to encourage those who don’t want to risk being out on the water after dark, when things get a lot less tranquil, to prioritise and plan out their exploration, or invest in more efficient engines and rods for their craft.
While this system does a good job of ensuring that you can’t burn through exploring too much of the world too quickly, it can sometimes leave you feeling frustrated when you end up slinking back to shore having barely managed to get anything done. That said, until you’ve invested in hull upgrades, your boat’s storage capacity, illustrated by squares that you have to fit all of the things you pick up into like aquatic Tetris, simply won’t be large enough to hold a huge amount of fish in one go.
Thankfully, you’ve got an unlimited number of days to visit all of the different ecosystems Dredge has to offer and fill out your encyclopaedia by reeling in the impressive variety of marine wildlife dwelling in their depths. Whether you’re calmly trawling coastal mackerel, dropping off some pots into a swamp to snare some giant crabs, or casting down into an abyssal volcanic trench to wrench an ugly anglerfish to the surface, there’s always fresh quarry to chase.
Docking at the jetty
Once you’ve caught as many beasts as you can carry or are in need of somewhere to rest, you’ll want to head for one of the game’s ports and docks, which are just sparse enough to maintain the lonely atmosphere. All of them are home to something worth investigating, even if it’s just a deserted camp rich in environmental storytelling or part of a shipwreck hiding some goodies that aren’t quite submerged.
In larger towns and settlements, you can usually chat to a few local characters, all of whom possess either unique quirks or a weathered, down-to-earth charm that makes their brief conversations interesting and helps convince you to take on the quests, dubbed ‘pursuits’, that many of them offer. From catching a rotting eel for a woman whose dog keeps eating her fresh ones to fishing a belt buckle from a wreck for a grieving father, even the most minor and straightforward of these missions help bring Dredge’s world to life.
The larger quest chains you’ll discover while following the main story, such as the tale of a downed military pilot trying to avenge his fallen comrades by enlisting your help to fight swamp monsters, offer even more personality and intrigue. Some of these people will also be able to offer you services, such as buying whatever you’ve dredged up or being able to sell you a wide range of gear and upgrades for your boat.
While the array of vessel improvements and fishing equipment on offer, unlocked by finding research parts during your travels, do serve as something to concentrate on once your pursuit log is getting thin, many of them aren’t really necessary to progress through the game’s main areas without sinking. So, unless you’ve challenged yourself to build the finest ship on the high seas, you might end up feeling like you’ve wasted your time if you decide to do a bunch of upgrade grinding before heading to one of the game’s more dangerous-sounding locales.
Here there be monsters
Speaking of danger, despite all of the calm vibes it packs into its daytime periods, by night, Dredge definitely lives up to its billing as a Lovecraftian horror title. As soon as the sun sets, you’ll find the serene seas become enveloped by a thick fog that obscures your surroundings. You’re no longer alone to enjoy the ambience of nature. You’re alone in a hostile environment full of mysterious whispers and threatening forces disguised by eerie illusions.
The key to surviving until you can dock or dawn breaks is to stop your boatman from panicking, with an eye-based gauge at the top of the screen indicating where you’re at on the spooked scale. Avoiding floating whispers and investing in a powerful spotlight will help keep your peeper blue and everything calm, but if it gets red, you’ll start being plagued with visions of phantom boats and islands, as well as being chased down by a range of fearsome terrors that can ruin your catch or drag you to the depths.
This survival horror-style night time gameplay fits perfectly with Dredge’s main quest, which, like any good Lovecraftian tale, begins with the subtle, unnerving event of catching your first ghastly mutated fish variant and gradually turns up the hair-raising heat as you get deeper into the game. Navigating archipelagos that each boast their own unique monsters for you to avoid or find a clever way to deal with, you’ll slowly unfurl the story behind the forgotten events that link your fisherman to the mysterious collector who’s tasked you with hunting down an artefact from each zone.
While this task may seem simple, it serves as an effective gateway to the rest of the game’s stories and secrets, in addition to packing plenty of understated hints that lead towards the pretty cunning twist that can offer an alternative ending to the obvious choice of going along with the collector’s orders. That said, you’ll need to employ some detective instincts to work out how to achieve this, giving investigative players plenty of reason to explore every inch of the ocean.
Calm seas at last
The lone fishing boat sails back towards the isolated island. Bobbing on the waves that gently crash against the shore, the tiny craft docks beside some rocks, atop which is still perched the mysterious robed figure. The haggard fisherman emerges onto the deck of his battered vessel and offers it another rare creature from the deep.
The figure does nothing. Instead, it sits there, silent and lifeless. The fisherman disappointedly concludes that whatever force had animated it must have passed on during his absence. Maybe he took too long to catch this latest specimen. Maybe the figure knew its time was limited and tricked him into running a fool’s errand. Regardless, maybe the lesson to be learned here is that he can’t change anything now, so it’s best just to move on.
Perhaps this is what he thinks about as he departs the isle underneath a beautiful sunset, turning on his fully-upgraded craft’s lights and preparing to endure countless nocturnal horrors as he hunts the last few marine life forms that have thus far evaded the inescapable hook of his rod.
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