Monster Mania: The Dark Depths of Dredge’s Bestiary
Monster Mania is a weekly column celebrating the unique and varied monster designs in horror gaming.
While last week’s UFO Congressional hearing had many continuing to look towards the stars for signs of alien life, I returned to Dredge’s calming but equally ominous waters.
Now, Some of you might be thinking:
“But, Jay, ocean life hardly qualifies as monsters.”
Sorry, to be the bearer of bad news; I must emphatically remind everyone that you need to stop worrying about little grey men and start worrying about the true horrors which reside within the darkest depths of our uncharted oceans here on Earth.
This year’s Dredge made a massive splash thanks to Black Salt Games’ striking a masterful balance of relaxing routine and risk assessment. For those unfamiliar, Dredge is a game about exploring, fishing, dredging shipwrecks, and avoiding Cthulhu happenings that go bump in the night. It’s the kind of game that if my father were to watch me play it, his only comment would be, “This is why your mother and I have don’t grandkids?”
And while retirees may not understand the appeal, Dredge’s calming ebb and flow of gameplay has resonated with fans of all genres, who have gravitated towards its soothing gameplay and deep dark mysteries. The early hours of Dredge are spent becoming accustomed to the local ecology and the dangers of the vast waters of The Marrows. During the day, sailing is as carefree as can be as the player’s boat will be undisturbed by wildlife. This allows them to casually fill their deck with their catch of the day before heading back to the fishmonger to sell them in hopes of upgrading their ship.
Fish are classified into seven types, each requiring a different kind of rod, reel, pot, or net to catch them. The types of fish the player encounters will depend upon the time of day they set sail and the body of water types they are exploring. When the sun is up, the player will encounter relatively normal fish that fetch a meager price, such as blue mackerel, cod, squid, eels, etc. There is a slight chance that the player will occasionally come across a trophy fish, which boasts a larger size than their typical counterparts and fetches a higher price at the monger.
Where Dredge’s aquatic life takes a darker, more monstrous turn are its aberrations. Aberrations are mutant fish variants that have some semblance of a real-world basis. Over the centuries, fishermen have reported and documented instances of fish with anomalies, an extra eye here, a spare finn there; these aberrations often stem from birth defects or pollution. In Dredge, this takes on a bit more of a Cthulhu influence in both aberrations found and the larger scaly foes faced in the far reaches of the archipelago. The fishmonger themselves even go so far as to describe these mutant fish as “corrupted,” while the in-game text refers to them simply as “grotesque.”
Rude but fair.
Aberrations in Dredge take more liberties than their real-world counterparts, which makes for one of my favorite bestiaries in recent years. Something as simple as a codfish has several aberrations, such as the “All-Seeing Cod” (featuring bulbous eyes), “Fanged Cod” (Big fanged boi), and the three-headed cod (screw you, Cerberus). Dredge rewards exploration in that the further out players dare to venture, the potential for finding rarer and, let’s be honest, more screwed-up-looking Cthulhu monsters. Whether that’s green glowing voltaic grouper, mouths for tentacles medius octopus, or the xenomorph-mouthed bursting anglerfish, there is no lack of creativity in The Marrows’ 125 denizens that the player can stumble upon.
Aberrations are the earliest indication that there is more to Dredge’s ecology than initially presents itself. And that’s before the sun sets on your current voyage. Once the sun has set, Dredge’s calming vibes shift into the true horror of deep sea exploration, as the player must manage their stress and maneuver from the deep residing denizens of the ocean. Aimlessly cruising at night is made more difficult by decreased visibility (avoid recreating the Titanic). Still, massive-sized predators will pursue, attack, and inevitably sink your ship if you dilly-dally. These aren’t so much aberrations but hellish Cthulhu-type tentacles and gnashing megalodon-sized mouthed creatures that can sink your boat in seconds.
Death is easily avoided in Dredge by simply sleeping and waiting for the warm embrace of the sunrise. But the threat of the horrors that reside within The Marrows at night allows the game to have its excellent risk reward associated with exploration. And it stands as yet another firm reminder that the denizens of the deep are the masters of their watery domain and are not, under any circumstances, to be fucked with.
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