Team17 and Black Salt Games were kind enough to grant me a review code for DREDGE, weeks ahead of release. Since my podcast process takes a while to schedule a guest, record and edit, I've decided to try my hand at writing up a short review to whet your appetite for the upcoming podcast episode. Enjoy!
Developer- Black Salt Games
Release Date- March 30th, 2023
Available Platforms- Switch, PS4/5, Xbox, Steam, GOG
Play time- 10-15 hours
Game of Thrones taught us that the night is dark and full of terrors. Deep Blue Sea taught us that the sea is also dark and full of terrors. When those two landmark pieces of media meet, you get something like DREDGE. DREDGE, developed by Black Salt Games and published by Team17, is a Lovecraftian horror fishing game where you assume the role of a nameless sea captain. At the beginning of the game, your fishing boat is dashed against the rocks near the settlement of Greater Marrow. The kindly mayor of the town sets you up with a replacement boat so that you can continue fishing and pay off your debt. It's a real Tom Nook situation, but this time you need to catch and sell fish, done via a timing-based QTE minigame, to pay off your boat. You will also pull up salvage materials that you can use to upgrade your boat to catch and hold more fish and salvage to upgrade your boat to catch and hold more fish and salvage to- sounds familiar, right?
It's all what you expect for a little while. You'll go out fishing, you'll catch some salmon, maybe a squid, and you're reminded of how relaxing and satisfying fishing can be. That is, until you pull up the next squid and it has one giant, all-knowing eye. Suddenly the local fishmonger is taking a keen interest, the lighthouse keeper is shouting cryptic warnings at you, and what the hell are those lights and sounds coming from the sea at night? This is when DREDGE moves from the compulsion-based crafting game just like any other to something more unique. You start to have the feeling that you need to go fish at night to find a specific type of eel, but you don't want to fish at night because it is scary out there. It's super dark and you can't afford the good lights yet. Things pop in and out of your periphery, teasing you while you try to dredge up one more sunken bolt of cloth like the trash goblin you are. I found myself frantically racing back to port when the sun started to set, and I won't spoil anything in this review, but my fears were not baseless. The night is dark and full of terrors, after all.
The story of DREDGE takes big inspiration from H.P. Lovecraft and the idea that there are things out there, all around us, that cannot and should not be perceived. Ever since I read the first paragraph of The Call of Cthulhu, I've been enamored by the idea that it is a blessing that we can't perceive what's behind the veil, and in that respect, DREDGE does a decent job with its own Lovecraftian story. The story of DREDGE unfolds slowly as you progress from zone to zone, and I can say that it takes a satisfying turn before the credits roll. I will also say that I appreciate a Lovecraftian story that places the majority of its focus on the forbidden knowledge side of things, and I'm happy to say that DREDGE has more in the way of shady figures, strange lights in the distance and dusty old tomes than relying on throwing monsters in your face. Despite it not really living up to some other Lovecraftian stories in games I've played, like Bloodborne and The Last Door, it's a story that adds a lot of flavor while you're working through the upgrade trees and moving from location to location.
In 2023, the video game landscape is chock full of crafting, whether it be AAA action-adventure games with crafting systems or games that are totally built around it. All in all, DREDGE is a fun take on the genre, taking the usual gather-craft-upgrade-gather-repeat loop and giving it a few new twists, like the focus on fishing and Lovecraftian ideas. If you like any of the things I just mentioned, it's safe to say you'll find something to like in DREDGE, even if the game is not likely to blow you away. And you'll have something to look forward to, as there will be a full episode of Tales from the Backlog about Dredge in the coming months! So get out there, captain, and prepare to discuss what lurks beneath.