by Jordan Helsley
reviewed on PC
Fishing in games usually appears in one of two forms: a simulation or an afterthought. You're either looking for the experience of fishing, or playing a mini-game in a much larger world. Dredge splits that difference by giving you a gameplay loop focused on catching fish while making the act of fishing the least important aspect.
Marrow was a port town in need of an angler, and you, having just crashed there, were a fisherman in need of work to pay off the boat they leased you. The mayor greets you with open but ominous arms: sell to the fishmonger, but make sure you’re back before sundown. It's a familiar mystery, but it's not finished unfolding.
The people of Marrow, and Dredge's world at large, are an enigmatic bunch. You're often given snippets of information, foreboding stories, or the ramblings of madmen. You needn't look further than the port's lighthouse keeper and fishmonger to appreciate the Lovecraftian nature of the world you now inhabit. It may look like a semi-serene diorama of your little boat on the water catching some fish, but the horrors beneath the surface show themselves almost immediately.
Shapes In The Deep
Dredge's sea exists as you might expect. A fairly large map features a significant number of islands clearly grouped in ways that signal progression, while being just far enough away that you can tell you're going to be testing those night-time waters eventually. Missions come as pursuits: tasks many characters would like you to perform for rewards, and the breadth of them is signalled elegantly.
You're sent out to the waters to find something basic. You motor on over to a spot of bubbles rising from the water and begin a fairly basic timing-based mini game. Once you've hooked a few fish, you've gotten the idea. Shortly into your tutorial missions you'll come across your first aberration: a mutated version of a fish you're familiar with. The normal faithful picture of your latest catch will turn up as a genuine horror from the deep, and when the fishmonger takes a peculiar interest in them, you know you're in for plenty more.
A lot of what Dredge does to guide you to areas of interest is delightful. Whether it's the bubbles, with silhouettes of familiar and strange creatures below, or a sparkle on the shore showing something to inspect, once you're on the water, it's hard to keep from chasing every new lead. Cargo space is an incentive here. Your boat is only so big, and you must manage fishing rods, your engine, an all-important light, and your conquests, which vary in size and shape. Tough decisions will have to be made on the water as you fit the pieces together in your cargo space, similar to Resident Evil 4 or Tetris. Sometimes the catches are important, sometimes some found scrap metal takes priority.
Your boat will grow with you, but so will the demand. Working to unlock more space is a requirement, but finding out you need a different type (and size) of rod to tackle some of the game’s many aquatic life forms keeps you on your toes.
Lost At Sea
Exploration is the biggest draw here. Whether it's actually trying to solve one of the game's (occasionally tough, usually fair) puzzles to uncover more of the mystery, or just seeing what the heck is at that unmarked island in the distance, open water becomes your best friend and worst nightmare. When night rolls around, the tension becomes palpable. A sanity meter builds, and you question whether what you're seeing is danger or an apparition. There're clever tricks here, but even as you get stronger and more capable, night fishing is best reserved for when it's absolutely necessary.
The danger is real (you have no offensive capabilities) but the punishments aren't so severe as to become frustrating. It's quite the opposite, in fact. The allure of the mystery is too much to suppress, and even the most dangerous waters beg to be conquered in search of answers.
King Of The Sea
There's a lot of nuance to Dredge. Simple things can be complex, and mysterious things come into focus the closer you get to them. Those mysteries are the core of the experience, and most of those answers would spoil the experience. While the main story progression will lead you to the biggest portion of the overall world, there's no shortage of side quests and curiosities to dive into. It's a world that's easy to get lost in as you slowly make your way along, managing your boat and your courage.
Anyone with a passing knowledge of H. P. Lovecraft and adjacent works will immediately get the idea, but the vastness of the sea alone paints an adequate picture. You are a small fisherman, doing what he knows how to do to answer a litany of questions, and the world is big, dark, scary, and fascinating. It's a mystery worth seeing and an experience worth having, because every satisfying game mechanic shines bright even in the blackest of fog drenched seas.
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Addictive gameplay loop with continual satisfying payoffs wrapped in an engaging story.
Some tough puzzles and areas that can feel unfair until it "clicks"