Dredge is a smart synergy of premise and gameplay. On one hand, it’s a fishing game with RPG elements and a brisk, satisfying grind. On the other, it’s an unsettling Cthulian horror game that gets a lot out of its minimalist storytelling.
Descent into madness
Dredge opens as a weather-beaten fisherman, seemingly desperate for work, pushes recklessly through the dense fog surrounding the town of Greater Marrow. After his vessel is dashed on the rocks below a looming lighthouse, the new and distrusted mayor of the town offers him another fishing boat that he can upgrade and pay off by delivering fish for the townsfolk. He directs the fishermen toward the most important contacts in town, the fishmonger and shipwright, and warns them not to stay out after dark. With that, you’re free to explore a sprawling and sinister archipelago.
Dredge has a narrative and quest structure that reminded me of The Falconeer – only you’re limited to sailing the sea between island docks, rather than soaring through the skies between perches in a flooded world. As in that game, the story unfolds as you interact with key NPCs in settlements – engaging in lightly animated, expressive but unvoiced conversations that occasionally give you a degree of player choice. When it comes to resolving quests or upgrading your ship, you’ll drag and drop the required fish or materials using the inventory system.
Impressively, and despite Dredge lacking many complex or cinematic storytelling elements, the story is still compelling, well-written, and incredibly atmospheric. There are plenty of outright paranormal elements – think robed cultists, supernatural powers, and literal monsters from the deep – but the most unsettling moments are spent talking to the secretive and unhinged locals. They’re reluctant to talk about themselves, the former mayor, or the previous fisherman. Most claim to know little about the archipelago they inhabit, yet their fascination with aberrant fish species and ancient relics is obvious.
Before long, you’ll find yourself hunting a peculiar selection of relics for a mysterious collector, all lost to the depths. It provides the perfect excuse to explore the outlying islands and interact with an expanding cast, while each relic you return grants a new spell from an ancient book. It’s a formulaic structure but it works well, supported by a simple but effective quest log and map markers for the main quests that’ll keep you focussed on unravelling the central mystery.
For fans of Lovecraft’s written work, the Chtulian elements and a few narrative twists should entertain or, at the very least, amuse.
Grind with purpose
Now, all that said, the storytelling isn’t perfect. Dredge features a compelling but potentially grindy gameplay loop that can derail pacing if you don’t consciously keep on top of upgrades and plan your outings.
Mechanically, Dredge is wonderfully simple, intuitive, and strangely serene for 80% of the experience. You guide your boat between fishing and dredging spots while avoiding hazards; engage in timing-based mini-games to fish or dredge up materials and relics; sort your haul using a Tetris-like inventory screen; and return to town to make profit and repairs. Time only moves when you do and night falls swiftly, so optimising your route and improving your fishing vessel is key to getting more done with each passing day.
At first, just chugging across the bay between Greater and Little Marrow, maybe stopping to fish at a few spots along the way, will see you scrambling back after dusk. Visibility decreases as the fog rolls in, the panic meter increases, distant sounds and visual distortions unsettle you, while rocks can suddenly emerge from the gloom as you push towards the comforting glow of civilisation and the chance to rest until dawn.
It’s infuriatingly slow going at first and Dredge constantly highlights the stark contrast between relaxed daytime fishing and avoiding otherworldly threats during nighttime excursions – excursions that are inevitable if you want to discover all species and complete quests. Threats include damaging your hull against rocks and sending cargo into the depths, glowing red swarms that rot your fish cargo, and other “fishing vessels” emerge from the gloom with their fog horns blaring (tip: stay the hell away).
If you stick with it and complete some early quests, you’ll soon find yourself with excess currency to purchase new gear, research parts to invest in new technologies that are added to stores, and some scrap material in storage for upgrades at the dry dock. You can improve your hull strength; expand inventory space for cargo; add slots for bigger engines, lights, and complex fishing gear for different water conditions; and invest in new technology for passive income, like a trawling net or fishing pots. Completing quests or chatting with locals will often reward books that are read over time, eventually granting useful passive bonuses.
It’s an all too common loop of grinding to enable more efficient grinding – but the brisking pacing, narrative elements, world design, and atmosphere are what make Dredge special.
The archipelago is wonderfully diverse, with five distinctive biomes to explore and fish in. Each offers a distinct visual style, soundscape, and atmosphere, along with a unique roster of aquatic species, water conditions, environmental hazards, and otherworldly threats that’ll complicate your hunt for the key relics.
Each biome functions as a mini-adventure, offering a few hours of questing, fishing, and of course, components toward new upgrades that are sometimes mandatory to progress. You’ll flee a massive fish that stalks the flooded ravines of a fractured island, subdue a monstrous Kraken in a tropical atoll, destroy mind-altering creatures in a maze-like mangrove swamp, and explore the cyclopean ruins around an active volcano.
The world is brought to life by simple but stylised visuals that make excellent use of striking angular designs, weather effects, vibrant lighting, and fantastic reflections. The visuals are backed up by great ambience and a varied soundtrack that often feels understated but ramps up when needed – providing much of the atmosphere during exploration and setting the mood for conversations.
Dredging up the deep ones
Wrapping up, Dredge has brisk pacing, a rewarding grind that doesn’t make the high-tier upgrades a chore to acquire, and an intensely atmospheric presentation that immerses you in its world. However, what impressed me most was the smart fusion of a grind-heavy gameplay loop – something I’m typically not a fan of – with a compelling narrative element and horror atmosphere – something I always enjoy.
The more I played, the more I could upgrade, the more confident I felt, and the more risks I took. I would head out before sunrise and push far into the evening, learning to handle the fog, the panic-induced hallucinations, and sometimes forgo sleep entirely. The more I explored and the more relics I dredged up for the mysterious collector, the more it felt like I was making a terrible mistake. Dredge exploited my gamer brain and, without conscious effort, I found my behaviour starting to mirror that of the prior fisherman before he disappeared.
That makes Dredge an incredible example of what you can achieve with smart designs rather than bloated budgets and cinematic aspirations.
A review code for Dredge was provided to gameblur by the publisher.
Dredge is also available on PC, PS4/PS5, Xbox One, and Nintendo Switch.
Dredge (Xbox Series) ReviewDredge (Xbox Series) Review
- A compelling, briskly-paced, horror narrative
- A weird, secretive, and unsettling supporting cast
- A grind-focussed gameplay loop that actually feels rewarding
- Striking visuals, immersive ambience, and great soundtrack
- Your boat is infuriatingly slow at first
- Several side quests are tedious and to the detriment of the narrative pacing