When I think of laid back activities in gaming, one of the first thing that jumps to mind is fishing. Whether it’s to gather ingredients in a JRPG or fill out the museum in Animal Crossing, if you want to relax with a video game then catching some fish is a lovely way to spend a quiet afternoon. Well that’s what I thought before playing DREDGE anyway, when I experienced Lovecraftian horror at sea.
When your lovely little boat is smashed on the rocks surrounding Greater Marrow island, the mayor of this small fishing community offers to give you his boat as long as you pay him back. Equipped with a basic rod and a battered old vessel it’s time to repay your debt, so warm up the engine and get ready to bob along the ocean waves.
Catching fish involves finding a bubbling patch of water, playing one of a selection of fairly simple timing based mini games, and finally arranging the fish carefully so they’ll fit into your hull Resident Evil 4 inventory style. The fishing itself is great – whether it’s waiting for your reticule to line up with a marker on a circle or hitting a button when shapes overlap, it’s a nice way to make the art of reeling in a big one slightly more involved than just sitting and waiting for a bite.
Sailing around the gorgeous colourful world of DREDGE and catching a few mackerel is all well and good, but this fisherman’s life isn’t so simple. Before long you’ll be asked to go out at night to catch some different varieties of fish, and that’s when the real fun begins. Once you leave the dock after dark your sanity meter will slowly build, and if you don’t rush home and have a nap sharpish you’re in for a world of trouble.
All sorts of horrendous things can happen when your mental wellbeing isn’t so hot in DREDGE. Swirling vortexes might reveal a huge creature that charges and damages the boat, crows with blood red eyes might start dive bombing the ship and destroying your cargo, or sinister floating eyeballs might appear in every direction. You never truly know what’s going to happen when you go out for a spot of night fishing, but if you’re not careful it could cost you dearly.
The best way to deal with this is to start upgrading your ship, which is done by gathering the relevant materials and paying the shipwright to pimp your ride. I immediately decided to add extra slots for lights to my boat so I wouldn’t get so jumpy on those spooky evenings, but you can also increase the room in your hull, add engine slots so you can escape faster, or add extra room for rods and nets.
Getting the materials to improve the boat requires a special tool though, and that’s where the titular dredging comes in. Thanks to a mysterious stranger who needs help locating some relics, your little trawler is equipped with a handy water crane you can use to pick up bits of boats that weren’t so lucky. This works similarly to the fishing (albeit with a mini game that involves dodging nodes instead of hitting them) but provides you with trinkets and scrap instead of salmon and carp.
Now you know how to improve the boat and make bank it’s time to deal with the main quest, collecting the aforementioned relics. It’s never really explained why the slightly sinister man wants these curios, but every time you locate one he’ll provide you with some sort of dark magic you can use while out on the waves. From the ability to boost your speed by sacrificing your sanity to actual teleportation, these powers are essential if you want to explore further into the blue.
Although it’s intimidating going outside of your comfort zone in DREDGE, it’s absolutely worth it. Every corner of this game is hiding a secret or two, whether it’s a sinister altar that wants you to sacrifice specific fish for new gear or an explodable rock wall with precious metal hiding on the other side. The five distinct areas you’ll need to traverse all have plenty of interesting elements to set them apart too, like the winding maze of mangroves in the Twisted Strand or the massive tentacled beast lurking below the Stellar Basin. Each of these places has a variety of requests to complete involving a whole lot of fishing and exploring, but with a load of ominous reasons to do so.
Even though pretty much every aspect of DREDGE involves fishing, that doesn’t mean there isn’t variety in how you do it. Fairly early on you’ll gain access to crab traps you can place in different depths to gather different crustaceans. Then you’ll unlock nets you can equip to passively fish as you travel, and bait to spawn fishing spots wherever you are. Any time you feel like you’ve seen everything this game has to offer, it throws something new at you.
Even without the fancy new toys though, the gameplay loop is just really compelling. Searching the sea for every possible type of fish and their sinister variants never got old for me, and when combined with all the upgrades I wanted to purchase it always felt worth it to come back with a big haul.
If I had to come up with one complaint about my time with DREDGE, it’d have to be regarding the final area you’re required to explore. This particular zone is just packed full of different hazards, and simply made fishing too frustrating for the duration of my time there. I understand that it makes sense to ramp up the difficulty towards the end of the game, but catching even a single fish there felt like a chore.
DREDGE is a fishing game that breaks all the rules, and is all the better for it. The combination of relaxing fishing and Lovecraftian horror is a match made in heaven (or maybe hell) and the loop of catching sea creatures and selling them for upgrades is consistently compelling. If you think you can handle the horrors that lie beneath, you’ll find a fantastic game that’s unlike anything else.
A fantastic blend of fishing and horror
Loads of compelling upgrades
Exploring always feels dangerous but worth it
The actual fishing is very engaging
The final area has too many frustrating hazards