Fishing in real life is never something that has excited me, ever, but there’s something about fishing in video games that has me sitting there for hours trying to catch them all, whether that was in Animal Crossing: New Horizons, Final Fantasy XV, or any Pokémon title. New Zealand developers Black Salt Games take what I love about these fishing mini-games and transform them into a fully-realised and immersive fishing adventure-horror game called DREDGE.
DREDGE – STORY
You step into the boots of a fisherman who has crashed near a coastal town called Greater Marrow, situated in an archipelago. After accepting a job as the local angler, you start to realise things are not as they seem with strange phenomena occurring on the vast ocean after dusk.
I’m not going to go in-depth (pun intended) with the story, as it’s quite a short one. The less you know, the better. The story overall was such a minimal part of the game, but was still captivating, and assists you in upgrading your equipment and understanding the archipelago you’re working in. If I had to criticise anything about DREDGE, it would be that the story is a bit shallow. The world that Black Salt Games built is so exciting to explore, but I wanted the narrative to be expanded upon a touch more.
DREDGE – GAMEPLAY
Fishing is the core gameplay mechanic in DREDGE and is the most fun I’ve had fishing in a video game. Each fishing spot is met with a mini-game, which differs depending on the type of fish, with each successful QTE allowing you to reel the fish in faster. There are a variety of rods used for the 7 different environments throughout the archipelago, such as volcanic, mangroves, and the depths of the abyss. There are a whopping 128 species of fish to add to your encyclopedia, plus aberrations of those fish.
Inventory and Time Management
Inventory management is a mechanic that adds a level of depth to the gameplay. Each fish is shaped differently and usually needs to be rotated and moved around in a Resident Evil-like fashion to fit in your cargo. Upgrading your boat will add inventory space and upgrading your engines will allow you to move faster which will allow you to cover long distances in a short amount of time.
On the topic of time, the days fly by very quickly during your time exploring the archipelago. Each day begins at 6am sharp with movement, fishing, and dredging prompting the time to move forward. As soon as dusk arrives at 6pm, a mysterious fog will start to appear which will increase your panic state and cause very real hallucinations in the form of rocks appearing out of nowhere, ghost ships, and other Lovecraftian monsters appearing. Unfortunately for you, certain fish will only appear at night time, so a balanced and well-upgraded ship is required to survive the terrors of the night.
DREDGE’s map is not that large but with the constraints of time and the panic meter, it feels a lot more expansive than it is. It is so easy to get distracted, I would be sailing in one direction with a personal goal to reach an island in the distance but often found myself taking detours due to a shipwreck nearby or discovering a fish I haven’t caught yet.
During exploration, you will meet some NPCs that require your help, these are called, ‘Pursuits’. Pursuits are all ‘fetch quests’, which require you to bring the NPC certain fish or locate treasure. Fetch quests can get tedious after a while, but in DREDGE it honestly didn’t feel this way. There aren’t a lot of Pursuits in the game to complete, and you usually end up discovering something else while completing it.
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MUSIC AND AUDIO
This monstrous soundtrack is composed by New Zealand composer David Mason and does an outstanding job of balancing the soundtrack and the ambiance of the isolated open seas. The music is never overbearing even when tension is built during nightfall.
One of my favourite tracks from the game is ‘The Path to the Door’ which enhances the mystery of the archipelago you spend the whole game in and adds to the lovecraftian aesthetic the game provides.
Black Salt Games have ‘dredged’ up a surprise Game of the Year contender through the use of engaging mechanics, an atmospherically-rich world, and some of the most rewarding progression you’ll find in a game. While the main story is compact, the amount of side content available to sail through makes it well worth the price tag.