Dredge, developed by Black Salt Games and published by Team 17, is an eldritch fishing adventure.
You play as a fisherman whose boat breaks down in a dilapidated seaside town with equally generous and secretive residents. You can fish off the coast and sell your catch in the Marrows to pay off your debt, repair your ship, and upgrade your gear, but it won’t be long before you’re drawn into the mystery of the sea out of curiosity to unearth secrets, ambition for better gear, or the madness that everyone succumbs to in these dark waters. The writing is simple but balances the fine line between mystery and macabre.
The gameplay is fairly straightforward. Drive your boat around the waters looking for disturbances on the surface to reel in fish with a minigame. The shape of the minigame can change depending on the type of fish you’re trying to catch, but they’re all essentially the same skill check, where clicking at the right time reels your prize in faster. Your cargo space is a limited grid and the sea creatures come in different shapes, so you’ll need to manage your inventory carefully to make sure you have the proper gear and can sell your catch in time before it rots. Be wary of taking damage while you’re out at sea because a hit in the right spot can make you lose cargo or disable your fishing poles, engines, and lights. Honestly, if the game was only this it would be perfectly serviceable, as the core gameplay loop is a lovely balance of cozy and engaging and there are over 100 different species of fish to come across.
The first twist to the gameplay is that time doesn’t move unless you are sleeping, fishing, or driving your boat on the water. The second twist is you have a panic meter to manage that gets set off by being in the dark too long, not sleeping, or witnessing stressful events like whispers in the night. Too many stressful events will cause madness to set in, so you’re incentivized to get better at the minigames and manage your time carefully to maintain your sanity. If your sanity drops too low, you’ll experience a variety of strange phenomena. You’ll see and hear boats approaching before disappearing once within range of your headlights. Rocks will start to appear that you swore weren’t there before. Crows will steal whatever’s in your inventory. Monsters will attack your boat. It may all be in your head, but the damage to your boat is definitely real. I love the tension and atmosphere these mechanics provide, but more so I admire how the developers coax you to confront the madness on your own terms.
Everything leads back to madness. The main storyline sends you through five major areas to fish at night, explore dangerous waters, or unlock special abilities, like teleportation, at the cost of your precious sanity. Getting better upgrades will mean you need to go out of your comfort zone to dredge for wood, cloth, or metal scrap while trying to not fall to pieces yourself. Even if you choose to mind your own business and live a carefree sailor’s life, the mutated aberrations you catch at night can fetch two or three times more than the price of a normal fish. If simple economics don’t make you embrace madness, then perhaps curiosity will. The entire map is dripping with secrets. There are shipwrecks, mysterious inhabitants on desolate islands, strange structures that unlock unique gear, and extra sidequests that disappear if not done in a timely manner.
Its game length is what you make it, as speeding through the storyline with a barebones boat will only take about 6 hours, but a thorough exploration can easily double or triple that amount when it comes to finding every secret and species on the map. It’s a beautifully crafted nautical playground that’s easy to get into and fun to master at your own pace. Its thrilling atmosphere relies on sinister music, natural sounds, a well-crafted map, and player agency instead of in-your-face spectacle and mass horror — even though there’s plenty of that by the water’s edge. Dredge, in my opinion, is a humble superstar for those who want a small-scale thrill in dark waters for a weekend.
Dredge releases March 30 for $24.99 on PC, Xbox One, Xbox Series X | S, Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4, and PlayStation 5.
Watch the Review in 3 Minutes for Dredge.