Dredge review: finding love in a hopeless plaice
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Featured Image Credit: Team17
If Bloodborne had a fishing minigame, I imagine it’d be something like Dredge. And I mean that as the highest compliment. This nautical nightmare isn’t just one of the best games I’ve played this year, it’s one of the most refreshingly original and unexpected titles I’ve ever experienced.
Developed by Black Salt Games, Dredge is a fisherman simulator with an Eldritch twist. On the surface you spend your days puttering across a tranquil ocean, catching fish to sell to the local fishmonger so that you can upgrade your boat, bring back increasingly bigger hauls, and complete requests for townsfolk.
This in itself is a pleasingly simple gameplay loop, and one that would have kept me engaged for hours on end if that’s all there was to Dredge. But before long it becomes apparent that there’s a much more sinister presence lurking under the depths - and it's oh so keen for you to join it down in the darkness.
Dredge dares you to take risks while searching out its mysteries. You can absolutely play it safe, if you’re just after a relaxing fishing sim. Stick to daylight hours and you can bring home modest catches and return with your boat (and life) in one piece. There’s plenty of fun to be had in sticking to this routine, in large part thanks to Dredge’s gorgeous visuals and tranquil sound design. But eventually, inevitably, you’ll find yourself wondering what secrets lie beyond the safety of the daylight hours and across the distant ocean as you begin to haul up horribly mutated fish and see strange shapes on the horizon as the sun goes down.
It’s this urge to discover more that will drive you to upgrade your boat so that you can travel further and, more importantly, keep yourself protected against the various threats that emerge as you enter uncharted waters. See, as soon as the sun goes down in Dredge you find yourself at the mercy of the horrors of the deep. What was a jolly fishing trip just moments ago transforms into a heart-stopping trial of nerves as you attempt to navigate to a safe port in the pitch black night while a shrieking abomination barrels towards you through the gloom.
Upgrading things like your lighting rig and travel speed allow you to travel much more safely through the night, which becomes increasingly important as you progress. Searching for research parts and dredging for flotsam and jetsam so that you can customise your boat becomes just as valuable as selling fish, but limited space on your ship means you’ll have to plan your trips carefully - and ensure you’re never too far from a port when night falls.
This is the real genius of Dredge - the way it uses its core loop to get to the heart of the twisted story while forcing you ever further out of your comfort zone to make new discoveries. The speed at which you can go from fishing up a belt buckle for a kindly old man to hunting down abyssal ruins to win the favour of an ancient god is dizzying, but Dredge strikes the balance beautifully.
Taken purely as a fishing game, Dredge is good fun for a few hours - if nothing new. But when that already engaging loop of upgrades and new discoveries is expertly woven into an atmospheric Lovecraftian tale of unfathomable horrors, it suddenly becomes one of the best video games of 2023. A must-play for those who find themselves wondering why more fishing games don’t have your character desperately clinging to their sanity.
Pros: Beautiful to look at, engaging core gameplay loop, a twisted story that slowly reveals itself
Cons: A little slow to start, upgrade materials can be hard to find
For fans of: Bloodborne, Sunless Sea, Steamworld Dig
Dredge is available now for PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5 (version tested), Xbox One, Xbox Series X/S, Nintendo Switch, and PC. Code for review was supplied by the publisher. Find a complete guide to GAMINGbible's review scores here
Topics: Indie Games