Fishing with a Cthulhu Twist: Dredge Preview

There are very few ideas that the mere mention of the melding of genres that makes you scratch your head, wondering if it could really work. Until the 2020s fishing horror jam over at Itch.io, I didn’t think it could be done. Of course, I was wrong, but how can you make a fully fleshed-out game around this idea? Well, thankfully, Dredge is here to answer that question.

Recently, I was able to go hands-on with roughly the first half of Dredge, developers Black Salt Games’ first release. It’s worth diving into more about how it melds some fascinating genres together and how the pace of the story presented plays out.

So, the general story setup of Dredge is you are sailing your ship when it becomes dashed on some rocks, and you wake up in the port of the Greater Morrow. The mayor sets you up with a boat as you pay him back with each catch; some of its sale price is set to pay him off. After repaying the minimal debt, you are given crumbs of a story to go check out some other locations on the map. This, sprinkled with hearing inklings about previous fishermen, is intriguing. Still, the way the gameplay comes across as the main driving force here, I’ll be interested to see ultimately where the story leads us, but it’s apparent that gameplay is king here. 

The gameplay in Dredge is incredibly addictive and weirdly satisfying. At the same time, your main goals will evolve to a small degree. It always will be centered around fishing and boating around the globe. You will do a range of objectives within this wheelhouse, though. There will be times when the world’s residents will request you deliver certain fish, dredge up some treasure, or just ask you for some transport. There is enough mix-up in the gameplay that it kept feeling fresh. From the minute you start fishing to the end of the preview, it never felt like the fishing focus was getting old. 

The other half of Dredge‘s gameplay is upgrading your boat. Early on, your ship is brutally slow, but very quickly, you can buy new engines to help rectify this. In addition, you’ll be able to buy new rods that let you fish in specific settings ranging from shallow, oceanic, and more. On top of being able to buy new equipment while you are out at sea, there will be these small pools that, once dredged, you can gain planks, metal scrap, etc…

 These are used to upgrade your storage space, add more fishing line slots to carry more rods, expand your engine space, and flood light positions in your inventory. 

Floodlights are where the Cthulhu nature of things comes out. If you happen to boat around at night, you’ll notice there is an eye that appears at the top of the screen. This is your stress. The faster the eye shifts, the worse it is, and the worse it is, the more manifestation of your stress will come for you. If your ship is equipped with floodlights, you can use these to fend off the darkness a little bit, but I found them mostly useless and traveled only during the day. This is because when you get hit once, your engines will die out, and the slow slog of trying to get back to a town to repair your ship is just brutal. 

 While being mostly a really fun experience, I did have one major hiccup while playing. Around 5 hours in, I became lost, not in the world, but in the sense of what to do next. In your journal, your quests are laid out, but as I went to each location, it was locked behind something that required a certain piece of equipment that I could not find anywhere. So I know the preview went further, but as I became lost, I started to get frustrated and lose interest. After visiting each town, getting new quests, and finishing the ones I was able to, I was still left stranded with no answer to continue forth. Unfortunately, because of that, I am left with some tentative negatively towards the overall feeling of the game.

 I really hope things are laid out a little more clearly in the final release, but before I came across the halt of my progress, I was having a very good time. It’s just unfortunate that the questing doesn’t give you a more focused pinpoint of what to do next.

Dredge releases on March 29th, 2023, for PS4/5, Xbox, PC, and Nintendo Switch.
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