Dredge Review – Trawling in the Deep

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Photo Credit: Team17
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I’ve always enjoyed fishing mini-games when they’re part of larger games. In university, I spent hours fishing in Animal Crossing on the Nintendo DS (a normal thing that students do), and I’ve whiled away many hours fishing in Zelda games and Stardew Valley.

This is why when I heard about Dredge, a fishing game tinged with the otherworldly Eldritch horrors of H.P. Lovecraft, I thought it was my kind of thing. So I was thrilled to try it out on the Nintendo Switch.

Gone Fishin’

A trawlerman by trade, you answer an ad in the paper looking for a fisherman in Greater Marrow. So you set sail only to encounter something in the deep waters at night as you approach the town. However, you end up with your boat dashed on the rocks, somehow leaving you alive but unconscious on the docks.

Dredge normal thoughts about a lighthouse
Photo Credit: Team17

No one in the town felt it necessary to bring you in or check on you until the mayor wakes you. Then, they inform you of your boat’s destruction, promptly give you one of the town’s terrible rust-bucket boats, and put you to work.

It’s alright; I’m fine, actually. Your ship smashed to bits is normal and always survivable. I’m not injured or vaguely hypothermic at all.

It’s clear that your new job won’t be smooth sailing from the beginning. Your boat is essentially rust, held together with sheer willpower. Sadly, your basic fishing equipment isn’t much better. And the mayor also mentioned something about returning to the dock before night falls and the fog rolls in, but that’s probably fine.

Dredge Mayor's warning (1)
Photo Credit: Team17

It is not fine, but I’ll get to that. It’s time to set sail and catch all the fish that the town could ever need. You navigate using the analog sticks. The left stick reverses, turns, and goes forward, while the right stick controls the camera view. When you reach an area of disturbed water, you are prompted to hit the A button. It will show you a silhouette of the type of fish you can catch in this spot.

This will come in handy later on down the line. For now, it’s all about those sweet, sweet scales. Once you’re settled over a spot, press Y to start the mini-game. Depending on the fish you are trying to hook, there will be different variations of this, but they all amount to the same basic mechanics. Press Y when the arrow is in the green area to speed up reeling in your catch.

Dredge Is More Than Just Fishing

When your cargo hold is full, return to the dock and sell your catch to the local fishmonger for money so that you can pay off your boat loan and begin upgrading it, which you can do at the local Dry Dock while the Shipwright will sell you any parts and make any repairs that you might need. Beware when you are filling up your cargo hold, though. You only have so much space available. Fishing equipment, lights, and engines take up some space. In addition, each fish is a different size and shape, so you will have to perform fish-based Tetris to maximize your yield.

Dredge fish tetris
Photo Credit: Team17

Of course, there’s much more to Dredge than simply having a peaceful time fishing on the ocean and making your boat fancy. There are many things you won’t be able to do and many places you won’t be able to go until your boat is faster, stronger, or bigger. You also have to dredge the depths for supplies like wood, cloth, and metal that you can use to upgrade your boat. Occasionally, islanders will give you books you can read that will give you different buffs like panic reduction and engine efficiency.

Oh, and there’s also horribly mutated fish that will be snagged sometimes. These aberrations will show up as hot pink in your cargo hold. Their information is then added to your handy encyclopedia. These mutants are only the tip of the iceberg; something much more sinister stalks the depths and poisons the islanders’ lives in the area.

A strange man on a neighboring island asks you to dredge the areas around shipwrecks to find relics. When you do, he will reward you by muttering words you can’t understand from a strange book and powering up your boat—completely normal fisherman things. There are also other characters and requests to fill out for various islanders near and far and plenty of uncharted places to dredge for strange and useful things.

Dredge aberrations
Photo Credit: Team17

Also, there’s the matter of staying out at night. Stay on the water too long after sunset, and panic will begin to set in. At the top of the screen is a clock showing you your day’s progress. When it ticks over to night, a frantic eye appears at the bottom to signify your panic levels. Yes, there is cause to panic. The peaceful and tranquil ocean waters seemingly become a stalking ground for something that would very much like to use your boat as a toothpick. There’s also a strange red light in the distance, shimmering and extending to the heavens. Surely it’s just some kind of warning system for sailors, right?

Wrapping Up

There’s a slow, almost dreamy pace to the game. The days on the water sometimes make it easy to forget that something else is happening in Dredge. That is until you reel in a 10-eyed squid with skin that glows with ethereal light. It pulsates like the ever-increasing reach of whatever is below the surface, poisoning the area. Ick.

Dredge gets the creeping existential dread of Lovecraftian-type horror right. The pacing may put off some. For those who enjoy mounting horror, it’s a perfectly creepy and oppressive experience.

Dredge comes out for Nintendo Switch, Xbox, Playstation, and PC on March 30

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Dredge Review – Trawling in the Deep
Dredge offers an outstanding balance between tranquil gameplay and the uneasiness of Lovecraftian horrors. It's not for everyone, but those who enjoy the premise will find a lot to love.
A strong and faithful Lovecraftian narrative.
Variety of discoverable creatures, areas, and treasures.
Gross mutant fish.
Oddly peaceful at times.
The dredging mini-game can occasionally be too fiddly and frustrating for the reward.
The slow pacing and long slog to be able to travel further won't be for everyone.
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Written by Emma Oakman

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