Dredge dark fishing with depth and imagination from Black Salt Games and Team17

Dredge Is a Fishing Game with Unexpected Depth (and Darkness)

I’ve been hooked on fishing games since the early 2000s, when you could often catch me trying to set new records in Funky’s Fishing on the Game Boy Advance version of Donkey Kong Country. Since then, I’ve enjoyed everything from stocking up on Sushifish via the simplistic “press A to cast and press A again to reel in the line” mechanic in Monster Hunter Rise to the painstaking endeavor of snagging all of Stardew Valley’s legendary fish. It’s no surprise that Dredge, Black Salt Games’ upcoming “single-player fishing adventure with a sinister undercurrent,” has been sitting at the top of my Steam wishlist since the moment I first heard about it.

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I like to think of games involving fishing as being divided roughly into three categories: those in which fishing is an optional or otherwise trivial minigame (e.g., The Legend of Zelda series and Fire Emblem: Three Houses), farming or life simulation games that treat fishing as a major component (e.g., the Animal Crossing and Story of Seasons series), and full-blown fishing simulators (e.g., Fishing Planet and Ultimate Fishing Simulator). Dredge, however, is a bit of an anomaly, as it falls somewhere between the latter two groups.

Although fishing is the dominant activity by a massive margin, there’s a multitude of other facets contributing to the game’s identity — Lovecraftian horror, open-world adventure, mystery, and more. One can imagine how this formula might go awry, leaving players feeling like there’s just too much going on or wishing the game didn’t rely on its fishing aspect so heavily, but Dredge manages to weave all of these elements together in a smart, satisfying way, creating an RPG in which fishing is both a means to an end and an end in its own right.

Dredge dark fishing with depth and imagination from Black Salt Games and Team17

Fishing in Dredge is a simple but engaging pastime. After moving your boat to a spot where ripples can be seen on the surface of the water, you’re presented with a classic minigame format where succeeding at skill checks increases the speed at which you reel in the fish. This mechanic is easier and more accessible than in a great deal of other fishing games, since there doesn’t appear to be a way to lose a fish you have hooked — the line is reeled in automatically at a steady rate, so you’ll get the catch even if you make no attempt to hit the skill checks. The advantage of nailing every skill check (aside from being more fun) is that this maximizes your efficiency, often saving 40 minutes or more of in-game time per fish.

Once you’ve made a catch, you’re tasked with finding an optimal space for it in your cargo hold. Each species occupies a specific array of blocks in the inventory grid, so storing your fish is like a small-scale game of Tetris. With over 125 aquatic creatures to discover, collect, and sell for profit, it’s easy to become invested in Dredge’s fishing loop before you’ve even dipped your toes into the game’s more sinister side.

There are more management / RPG aspects that go hand in hand with fishing in Dredge — you can harvest valuable trinkets and building materials from shipwrecks around the map, purchase more effective gear (rods, trawl nets, engines, lights, and crab pots), and make some much-needed upgrades and repairs to your boat — but what really makes the game special is its grim atmosphere and cleverly indirect way of storytelling. From the start of the game, it’s clear that something ominous is happening.

Dredge dark fishing with depth and imagination from Black Salt Games and Team17

You often reel in grotesque “aberrations” of local fish species (e.g., the “Blood Snapper,” “All-Seeing Cod,” and “Host Eel”), and you’re occasionally ambushed by nightmarish leviathans that can damage your boat beyond repair, forcing you to reload your last save. While exploring islands, you may encounter traces of occult influence such as cryptic markings, stones that seem imbued with otherworldly energy, and people wearing hooded robes and preparing for mysterious rituals. At night, a strange fog blankets the water, and red pillars of light glow eerily in the distance. None of the characters you interact with are willing or able to provide a straightforward explanation for the phenomena you experience, so it’s up to you to piece together the information you manage to glean from conversations, messages in bottles, and other clues.

It’s entirely possible to reach the end of the game with only the haziest sense of what went down in The Marrows before your arrival, but for me, investigating the dark story at Dredge’s core was half the fun. Although cruising around archipelagos, cliffs, mangroves, coral reefs, and ruins while catching fish is entertaining enough, uncovering eldritch secrets at the same time makes for a maritime experience that’s deeper than you might have anticipated.

Dredge will be released on PC, Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Xbox One, and Xbox Series X | S on March 30, 2023.


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Author
Jessica Hoops
Jess Hoops is an editor and hobbyist video game journalist who works as a freelance contributor for The Escapist. She holds a Bachelor of Arts degree with English Language & Literature and Philosophy majors, and she has done content and copy editing in the literary, academic, and medical spheres. She writes primarily about games that are thematically and aesthetically dark (horror, mystery, tragedy, etc.) and especially enjoys showcasing titles by independent developers. She speaks softly and carries a Great Scythe.