Fishing is inherently boring. It might have once been a necessary part of daily life to hunt for food, but for most people it’s now a pastime in which you spend hours waiting around for a fish that may just not want to be caught. Dredge remedies this by giving you plenty of fish, cargo management, upgrades, side quests, and a good dollop of Lovecraftian spookiness.
The game begins with you, an unnamed fisherman, crashing your boat near the island of Greater Marrow. Upon waking you find the locals are very much in a fisherman and they just happen to have a spare boat you can borrow because, for some reason, they are not keen to go out on the water. How very convenient for you!
As the sun rises you set off, piloting the boat itself, and head out to areas of the sea where the surface churns with fish. One simple mini-game later and you land your first catch and have to stow it in your hold. The fish, and indeed all your equipment, must fit within a grid inventory without any items overlapping. Certain items, such as motors and fishing rods, can only be stored in certain sections of the grid, while fish can be placed anywhere. You know the item management screens from Resident Evil? It’s like that, but will a little bit of Tetris because some fish are oddly shaped.
You will spend a lot of time on this screen optimising your boat’s load, but the video game logic where a fishing rod takes up more space than a Mackerel, is a little annoying.
Fish caught and it’s time to head back to the shore to sell you catch, upgrade, buy new rods, nets, and motors, and sleep. Sleep is important because if you don’t make it back before nightfall, things start to go bump in the night – or splash in the night, to be more specific. All is not what it seems on this archipelago with mysterious lights, blinking eyes, and slithering things jumping on board to try and destroy your catch.
The first few hours of the game are rather sedate, and it takes a while to get your boat kitted out with new equipment. Certain fish can only be caught with certain rods, and your boat is very slow, pootling around the sea without any urgency. However, it’s still a lovely experience and just the sort of thing you want to play after a long day at work.
As you continue to play and venture further and further from your home island then then things start to get rather more spooky. Side quests offer hints at what lurks in the deep and characters you meet seem to be constantly nervous, wary of something out in the mists. The outlying islands all have their own graphical style including a rather gorgeous lava filled landscape with a mysterious temple and accompanying priest. Each location and character deepens the story and draws you further in to the game.
Dredge contrasts the normal with the freakishly disturbed. The characters you meet are all drawn in a very specific style and reminded me of the Quentin Blake art that accompanies Roald Dahl books – still recognisably human but with a twisted, almost grotesque look. The same applies to the fish. By day they are normal fish, but by night you may haul out deformed creatures with three heads and six eyes.
While some of the text is quite graphic, including some quite disgusting descriptions of a character eating raw fish, the game as a whole remains family friendly. You will experience brief moments of panic, racing for a port as the sun set rather than jump scares and gory imagery.
My main quibble would be the map. It’s rather sparse and mission destinations are not shown, so you have to rely on your knowledge of the area and remember exactly where an NPC or quest destination is. Yes, there’s often too much handholding in video games, but this strays just a bit too far in the other direction for my liking.