I’m the kind of person that likes nice, laid back games. Simulators, RPGS, life sims. I like sitting down with a game and letting my stress melt away while I dive into the complex stories that are reliant on my choices. DREDGE does not care about my stress. DREDGE revels in taking my stress level and twisting it around, curling it into an abominable knot of anxiety. And yet, somehow, I liked this game.
Let me be clear: this isn’t my usual type of game. I’m biased against it. I do love me some progression trees and world exploration, but the core of this game, an overbearing ominousness, a timer warning you not to stay out too late, not to delve too greedily, is the antithesis of what I like. And yet I have to say I enjoyed my time with it.
There is nothing beautiful, nothing uplifting about this game. And that’s the point. The music, the characters, the graphics, the gameplay, it all works together perfectly to serve up the most nihilistic cocktail of Eldritch horrors. It makes you feel small. It makes you feel vulnerable. And it does it perfectly, somehow.
DREDGE is available on Steam, GOG, Xbox One / Series X/S, Switch, and PS5 for $24.99
Story – Dredging Up Mysteries
DREDGE makes a point of never giving you too much story at once. The whole point of the game is the uneasy tension, the constant worry that something is just behind you. You learn enough to get started: you’re a fisherman that doesn’t remember how he got there. If you want to survive, you better catch fish, but don’t fish at night. Why? Creepy fog, unnatural and filled with death, rolls across the waters. Eventually you start to piece things together. Talk to myriad of unsettling characters and learn that everything is just… not right.
Fish occasionally get pulled up with two heads, perhaps undead, perhaps burning with unholy fire. Phantom ships echo your calls in the middle of the night. Strange lights dance just beyond your reach. But with the assistance of a strange man alone on an island, you begin your quest to unlock answers, and, perhaps, to undo the terrible wrongs that plague this world.
I won’t get deep into the story beats themselves, this is definitely a story you need to unravel yourself, but rest assured it is gripping. There’s always a good reason to keep moving to the next island. Even beyond the core story, there are people you meet that need your assistance, bottles with journal entries, and wreckage strewn about that tell of a dozen other stories. Just remember one thing: Lovecraft wasn’t known for happy stories.
Gameplay – Evil Eldritch Exploration
The gameplay in DREDGE is broken into a general cycle of fishing, selling, upgrading, repeat. You have to keep an eye on your time, your Panic meter, the local disturbances, and still get the fish you need to complete whatever quest, or as DREDGE calls them, Pursuits, you’re on. Inventory management that reminds me of Resident Evil 4, part upgrades, progression trees, multiple occult powers, it’s all a bit to handle, so let’s break it down.
Fishing – Hooked on That Gameplay
Fishing would seem to be straight forward at the beginning of the game. You have a basic rod that lets you fish in certain areas for certain types of fish. Beyond the ominous warning to not stay out past dark, you’re more or less given free reign. The more you explore, however, the more you realize just how complex this little fishing game gets. Different rod types are better in different waters. Sure, your rod is good for coastal fishing, but what about mangroves? Oh, and you’re going to need a special winch for fishing those deep water fish. Crabs? You need crab pots! And why aren’t you trawling a net behind you while exploring? You’re missing out on passive fishing.
There are a ton of different equipment to help you pull up monstrosities (and normal fish) from the briny depths, all with better variants and all suitable for special tasks. But you only have so much room on your ship, which leads me to…
Inventory Management – A Puzzle in Itself
Normally how one manages their inventory is barely worth a mention, but with DREDGE, it’s practically half the game. You only have so much room on the deck of your ship to store fish, treasure, and upgrades. At a port you can move stuff to your “storage,” but that only kicks the can down the road a little. Every fish, every goblet, every plank of wood has a distinct shape and takes up a set number of squares. Your boat’s space is limited and part of that is taken up by rods, nets, engines, and lights. You may theoretically have enough space to plop a blackfin shark onto your deck, but can you Tetris it into position? If not, you gotta throw it back.
As always, never trust the game to auto place anything into your storage as it will only lead to heartbreak when you realize you have enough room for that prized, mutated squid, but the game didn’t optimize your space and there’s nothing you can do about it. There is often a side space to temporarily store stuff while organizing your inventory, but because you can only swap an item for another singular item, there is the potential to get stuck in a situation (like I did) where you wasted money on a new part but the game won’t let you swap the old one out because of their weird shape.
Exploring – The Call of the Unknown
With just a compass and a map, you are tasked to sail across the isles in search of answers, treasures, and of course, lots of fish. I found the locations throughout DREDGE to all be pretty unique, despite there only being five sections. You start with your home base, calm with just a few rocks to get you used to sailing, but quickly you’re dodging giant squid monsters nestled in huge caverns, navigating an overgrown forest with mind suckers, avoiding a giant eel as you maneuver around rocky cliffs, and, of course, there’s a volcano.
Each new area presents a new challenge, usually requiring the latest upgrade of Eldritch super powers granted to you by your benevolent benefactor. One power makes your engines burn hot and pump out twice as much speed at the risk of making them explode. Another teleports you back to his creepy manor. Yet another is your “get out of the Black Prison free” card, allowing you repel creatures and dispel effects temporarily. Much like a classic Legend of Zelda dungeon, when you get a new power, you’ll probably need it in the next place you’re sent.
But it’s not just your soul-rending abilities that get you from A to B; you’ll need good ol’ fashion boat upgrades, too. Make sure you have the best engine (and room for it) you can get, not only to escape the insane creatures, but to avoid the tedium of puttering across open waters for hours. You might not think much about having a good source of light, but when the sinister fog rolls in, you’ll be glad you have the proper lamp. After all, if you’re caught out in the darkness, you’ll be subjected to assaults on your Panic meter. Speaking of…
The Madness – The Abyss Gazes Back at You
What’s a good Lovecraftian tale without a heavy dollop of insanity, right? DREDGE holds nothing back here. You have a Panic meter, represented by an eye at the top of your screen that gets jittery and nervous the longer you go without sleeping. Panic manifests in a whole host of ways, my favorite of which is seeing and hearing things that may not be there. Sure, you’ve run between the Marrow islands a hundred times. Wait… was there always a huge rock there? Why is my lamp turning off? Oh look! A thousand eyes watching me from the darkness. That’s… that’s just great.
But even without being panicked, the game still has a thousand ways to drive you mad. From the unseen horrors just under the waters, to giant freakin’ hermit crabs using shipwrecks as their shells, there’s always something surprising, something hidden, something maddening just around the corner. Obviously I was on my guard anytime I decided to fish at night, I was ready for all the hallucinations and illusions, but I was not ready for the simple bait and switch traps that were waiting in broad daylight. Remember, you are never safe in DREDGE.
But it’s not just about your character’s Panic meter. DREDGE wants you, personally, to feel scared. My initial few hours of gameplay, I refused to venture out in the dark. The sounds and sights that threated me from the periphery of darkness convinced me to stay at port when the sun went down. How? By telling me almost nothing. I didn’t know what was out there, I didn’t know why I needed to stay away. And that racked up the tension in my gut, leaving me legitimately spooked.
Graphics & Audio – A Sensory Experience
Like a lot of the games I review, this one isn’t setting your processor on fire. It doesn’t need to. The rough, sharp angles on all the characters. The fog that limits your view. The shadows that creep underwater and the eyes that watch you from the distance. The way even the fish look unnatural, it all comes together to set the scene on this disturbing story. I usually use this space to tell you guys how beautiful the game is, how engaging and enrapturing it is. DREDGE is ugly. It’s off-putting. It’s disturbing. And that’s the whole point.
The music and sounds do their fair share of lifting, too. They leave you unsettled with phantom sounds echoing in the distance. The music works up slowly, invisibly, twisting the anxiety in your gut, perfectly complimenting the visuals. I can’t say I’ll be shelling out money to buy the soundtrack, but it most certainly does it’s job in-game.
DREDGE was reviewed on PC.