Now, I am sure there are plenty of reviews out there for DREDGE with fishing puns. Here, it is a safe zone from such painful writing practises, and for mine and hopefully your sanity, I will do my very best to catc… (nearly!) stop myself from writing them.
With that out of the way, let’s get onto the main topic. DREDGE is a fishing adventure game containing some metroidvania mechanics. A game brought to life by Black Salt Games and published by Team 17.
I was a tad apprehensive about starting up DREDGE, as me and fishing games don’t usually mix very well. But after just a few minutes of playing, I was totally hoo.. (got it!) in. The basic outline of the plot of DREDGE is a straightforward one. You have applied to be the new fisherman of Greater Marrow, a town situated on an island in the middle of the ocean. You are offered the job and happily accept it, and on arriving at your new home, you are greeted by the mayor and the lighthouse keeper.
It’s from here that your fishing career starts, and you set out to grab some of your first catches. Throughout the game, you are governed by the day/night cycle, and at this early stage of the game, you do not want to be out at night. So with the slow speed of your boat, you are not going to get very far, and you also won’t be able to catch everything you see as the rod you hold can only fish in certain parts of the ocean.
To improve on these, DREDGE contains a plethora of upgrades you can make to your boat and equipment. From more powerful engines, rods, nets, and crab pots, you can, over time, improve your boat no end. To afford this, you need to sell your catches to the fish markets. All the fish earn different amounts depending on size and rarity, but do not hang on to them for too long as they will rot and be worthless. Other ways to earn cash is to sell the treasures you find on your adventure. You’ll find coins, earrings, goblets, and other valuable items lost to the sea through shipwrecks scattered across the land. Sell these to the trader for more cash.
You also have access to a skill tree, which gives you the ability to carry more rods, hold bigger engines, and increase your hull size. Here the goal is to find planks of wood, nails, cloth, and metal that you dredge up from the sea and then use to upgrade these areas, with, of course, a price that you are expected to pay.
I spoke of new rods and engines earlier, and the way to gain access to these is through research parts you find. Each item needs a certain amount of these parts before they are available in the shop for you to buy and install. As always, when a game holds these kinds of mechanics, it becomes very rewarding and exciting when you finally have that new item you’ve been craving for, and DREDGE is no different. That feeling when I finally had the fastest engine installed and I could finally reach a different area of the map within half a day was fantastic.
So all of these mechanics help you, as a player, to invest in exploring the ocean to try and find these rare fish and materials you need. It also creates a favourite problem, namely from the Resident Evil games, and that is inventory management. As you know, over time, your hull and the area where you can stash things can become rather sizable, but at the beginning, it’s pretty small. It doesn’t help that all your equipment takes up space there too, so you really have to manage your space efficiently. Helpfully, when docked, you can access a storage area to transfer your stash to, which can be accessed no matter where you are docked in the world.
Speaking of the world, it is a pretty sizable area with five distinct regions for you to explore. Your starting point, Great Marrow, is a typical fishing town with homely, quaint buildings with green fields and trees surrounding it. But as you explore, you will find yourself in a tropical paradise, a mangrove maze, a windy area surrounded by cliffs, and a fiery volcanic zone. All these come with different dangers to avoid, but the lur… (nearly!) need to complete tasks set to you to find the items that The Collector has requested you find plus the different fish will spur you on to overcome these dangers.
But, I hear you say, “The Collector”? Well, he is the one who kind of kickstarts the plot of the story in Dredge and ultimately brings the game to a close through the two different endings. Every item you bring back to him earns you a reward. These rewards are, as some would say, “out of this world,” and it is here that DREDGE really sets itself apart from other games of this ilk.
There’s something not quite right in this world, with strange sightings of strange creatures and other unexplainable situations reported. If you do find yourself out at night, you will be enveloped in a mysterious fog, and you will have encounters that no one would believe, not even the most drunken seaman in the pub, and you will learn more of these mysteries the deeper you get into the game. It really is a wonderful idea to incorporate something like this into a fishing game, even though I am still unsure about the powers you gain from The Collector. I would have been quite happy to not gain them, as they didn’t seem like they completely fit, and I only used a couple throughout my time, one being fast travel, which got me out of a few sticky situations that I found myself in.
There’s plenty more to say about DREDGE that I haven’t mentioned, like the wonderful way in which you gain perks by reading books that are given to you as you sail the ocean, the messages in bottles you will find that tell it’s own story, the gorgeous visuals, especially when a whale comes out of the sea or you see a school of dolphins pass you by, and the great writing and atmospheric soundtrack—the list goes on and on.
DREDGE will draw you in with its wonderful mechanics and intriguing stories, with a joy in discovering new species of fish and upgrading the many parts of your boat and equipment. But it also contains a darker side from the more mysterious, spooky aspects of the game, giving it this likeable balance between the two sides. Don’t come expecting a feature-rich fishing simulator or a deep, disturbing horror plotline. But, if you want to experience something that’s off the scale fresh, with plenty that will hook you in and won’t let go, and give you a reel good time, then DREDGE is the game for you.
*Nailed it on the fishing puns – you’re welcome!
DREDGE is out now on all major platforms.
Reviewed on Nintendo Switch
Many thanks to Team 17 for the review code and their continued support.