Much like Neon White from last year, DREDGE is emerging early in the year as a contender for game of the year talks in 2023.
The Core of DREDGE
Dredge combines fishing, inventory management, and Lovecraftian horror together in a cocktail that’s easily one of the most refreshing of the last year. In DREDGE, you step into the shoes of a fisherman whose boat is damaged just outside of a small seaside town named Greater Marrow. In order to pay off the debts that you have accumulated in damages, you’re asked to catch and sell fish. Over the course of the next several hours, you’ll catch many fishes and upgrade your vessel, but also get looped into a mystery that envelopes Greater Marrow and its surrounding islands.
The core of this game is focused largely on fishing and exploration, which is super fun to do. Even the most basic version of your ship feels great to whip around the open seas and the core fishing mechanic is easy to wrap your head around. There are a few different permutations to learn but all of them are some variation on the spinning meter that you’re used to in fishing games. Once the fish have been caught, you’ll be asked to fit the fish in your boat, which is a puzzle in itself. At times, you’ll be on the open seas and have to make a call between keeping a small treasure and a new rare fish because you didn’t leave yourself enough room in your hull. Beyond managing the room in your inventory, fish are also living cargo, so the longer you stay out on the open sea before bringing in your catches, the less money you will receive in exchange for them.
There’s tons of other stuff to do in the game besides just hunting for fish. There’s a good amount of exploration required to find some rarer catches, there are nets and crab pots that passively fish and there are non-living things to dredge out of the water as well ranging from rings and earrings to materials that help you upgrade your ship.
On the progression front, you have a few lanes for improving your ship. You can add new rods, engines, crab pots, and fish nets through the collection of research parts that you can find in the world and collect as mission (called “pursuits”) rewards. You can also increase the size of your ship as well as the footprint of your rods, engines, and nets within your ship by collecting the right type of resources in the world. Even though you receive research parts as a part of some of the game’s pursuits there’s a small part of me that wishes that a portion of the progression wasn’t tied to picking up research parts in seemingly random locations.
Gotta Fish ‘Em All
Speaking of pursuits, the core story of the game requires you to collect a series of trinkets that are scattered across the game’s sizeable map. As you gather these objects for The Collector, you’ll be given access to special abilities. Without going into depth, some of these powers are very useful. Outside of the game’s core pursuits, you’ll also get to perform some non-core pursuits for some of the inhabitants of the island communities around Greater Marrow. None of these pursuits are terribly memorable but can provide a distraction from the core mission and collecting fish that you’ll need to catch to fill out your encyclopedia.
Much like your Pokedex in a Pokemon game, this game also has an encyclopedia of fish that you need to collect in order to unlock every achievement in the game. There are a total of 128 fish to collect with some being quite rare. Much like the real world, some fish hide at specific depths (like the hadal and abyssal zones) and require specialized rods. Some fish will only come out at night, which requires you to risk it and fish at night, which depending on how you play, can become a very risky thing.
Get Stay Out Too Late
The Lovecraftian horror angle comes out through some of the fishy foes that you’ll face on the open seas. As you spend more time night fishing, the more you will begin to see things and face additional huddles in your quest. These range from seeing red eyes surround your vessel at sea to having your vision get a little less clear at distances (with rocks seemingly popping out of nowhere), to ghost ships and seagulls attacking your vessel (and more which I won’t spoil here).
Even fully rested, there’s a little bit of play that’s required before you fully figure out the intricacies of this system, so prepare yourself for a few moments when your ship becomes damaged in a way that makes it very tough to get back to shore. This hull-altering damage can come from scary creatures during the day as well. Some of these creatures are impossible to beat/catch. This led to a few occasions where I was on the edge of my seat navigating away from gruesome foes as quickly as possible.
Music and Graphics
The whole presentation of DREDGE is a mix of cute and twisted. Your vessel and the world itself feel like it’s an evolution of the bathtub adventures that we would have as kids playing with our toys in shallow water. The graphics feature pastel colors that oscillate between light and dark depending on the location and time of day punctuated by a soundtrack from David Mason that also has that same light and dark side. Prepare yourself for some sea shanty-esque accordion on this one – it’s sublime.
For a treat, go check some of David’s accordion sessions on YouTube.
DREDGE never deviates from being a fun experience and is easily one of 2023’s best games so far. Whether you’re sailing out of a small seaside town to seek out fish for your encyclopedia, chasing after rare relics, or running for your life from some of the sea’s scariest foes, DREDGE is worth the price of admission and your time.
Final Score: 9/10
A code of the game was provided by the game’s publisher for the purposes of this review.
Jacob is a creator marketing professional, and a fan of video games. He produces the Left Behind Game Club and Cutscenes podcasts as well as Video Game Trivia on YouTube.