I really enjoyed DREDGE earlier this year. It was a near-perfect indie experience that felt smartly designed to get the most out of a limited budget without wasting my time. I’ve been looking for an excuse to go back and wrap up a few achievements – but playing through The Pale Reach expansion was both satisfying and disappointing. It is more DREDGE – which is a good thing – but it also left me concerned about future expansions if they don’t (or can’t) shake up the mechanics and gameplay structure significantly.
In brief, The Pale Reach expansion exists to provide more of what DREDGE already did well. It couples simple but satisfying fishing and dredging mini-games with a rewarding progression system – ensuring you’ll rarely play for more than an hour without improving your ship, fishing equipment, or passive skills in some way. You sail out at the break of dawn to maximise your exploration and fishing time, then dash back to shelter once the sun sets in order to avoid cosmic horrors that plague the open seas after dark. Despite the stylised, cartoonish visuals and soothing soundtrack, there’s a constant sense of lingering dread in what is typically a relaxed genre.
The Pale Reach provides a new icy biome to explore, with a substantial secondary quest, new equipment to craft or purchase, and new sea life – with several gruesome abhorrent species, of course. A visiting photographer provides an incentive to sail south, but she only serves to reveal an angry Narwhal that roams the frigid waters. The meat of the story involves discovering the fate of an old expedition – a task that’ll force you to dredge up parts for an ice breaker – and prevent the awakening of yet another slumbering monstrosity.
Mechanically and structurally, the expansion plays out exactly like any of the existing island biomes you visit in the base game – albeit a suitably low-risk option that you can tackle early with only a hull upgrade or two recommended. NPCs will ask you to catch fish or dredge old parts to craft new gear; tattered journals will recount the fate of the prior expedition and update your goals; ancient shrines will hint at the true nature of the threat; and the aforementioned Narwhal will alternate between chasing you and conveniently destroying ice barriers if tempted with enough fish.
There are some useful rewards that have application outside of the icy biome – like the ability to create ice blocks that keep your haul fresh for longer or a mysterious anchor that creates a two-way portal to Blackstone Isle – but if I had been playing DREDGE for the first time and someone installed the expansion without me knowing, I doubt I’d have realised it was post-launch content.
As a consequence, I’m torn on how to rate The Pale Reach expansion. If you skipped DREDGE at launch and wanted to play it; or if you wanted to return to complete fishing challenges, boat upgrades, and check other free post-launch content; DREDGE: The Pale Reach is a well-priced excuse that slightly bulks up an already excellent game. If, on the other hand, you’ve 100%-ed DREDGE and were hoping to see what else could be done to shake up the gameplay formula, getting more of the same might disappoint.
DREDGE: The Pale Reach was reviewed on Xbox Series S|X using a code provided to gameblur by the publisher. It is also available on PC, Xbox One, PS4/5, and Nintendo Switch.
DREDGE: The Pale Reach (Xbox Series) ReviewDREDGE: The Pale Reach (Xbox Series) Review
- The same great mix of fishing mini-games, progression systems, and an unsettling atmosphere
- New equipment to craft or purchase, and new sea life to fish
- A well-priced addition for new players and those looking to return and 100% the game
- It offers little if you're looking for novel structural or mechanical changes to the gameplay loop
- Brief playtime and low overall difficulty