Dredge Review - Shallow Ocean Fishing
Updated: Jul 7
Dredge is a game that sounds almost tailor-made for me specifically. I love both fishing minigames and creeping paranormal horror. When I had the time to play something so determinedly slow paced in college, Sunless Sea was one of my favorite games. At a glance, this looks like it checks all the same boxes and is even made for people who don't have time to spend six hours going back and forth between the same two islands to build up resources.
In the early game, Dredge delivers wonderfully on that promise. You'll spend the first chapter of the game cautiously exploring a very small bay and gradually discovering both aberrant fish and the weird horrors that come out at night. The villagers in the towns on either side of the bay are clearly up to... something, but you can never quite tell what. There's a weird mayor and an even weirder lighthouse keeper who seem to imply goings on before your character arrived. It's a great setup that would've been right at home in Sunless Sea's brilliant worldbuilding.
Alas, it hardly goes anywhere from there. The whole game is great setups to plots that are not delivered. Each zone in the game has its own unique monsters to make your experience more difficult, but where other games would tie those monsters into the story and side quests, Dredge mostly just forgets about them after they're done being in your way. The game's deeply underwhelming approach to storytelling is best summed up by the normal ending, which just cuts to credits and a largely static scene of the main town as soon as you do the last task. It just ends. The writing honestly feels like an Early Access product a lot of the time, with abrupt endings to promising stories that are somehow missing the "ending coming soon!" banner.
I could be more forgiving of the half finished writing if the rest of the game felt more fully designed, but it's a similar story everywhere. Fishing never really feels all that different from the first few sections and there's no depth to it at all beyond buying the right rods and finding the right spawn points for what you're trying to catch. It's hardly more fleshed out that the fishing games in some RPGs, which is not a good sign when fishing is all this has. Some early dialogue implies that there might be something resembling goods trading or different prices between different ports, but that's barely present if at all, and even the night terrors become easily ignored once you've upgraded your ship a few times. None of these systems are fundamentally broken, but they're just not anywhere near fleshed out enough to support an entire game.
At the end of the day, Dredge is neither particularly good nor particularly bad. If it had been a distracting minigame in a 60 hour JRPG, I might even praise it. But as a standalone $25 title, it just isn't enough. It's fitting that most of the game's spooky sea is no more than 5 meters deep, because the systems on display are equally shallow. I hope that future updates or sequels will be able to fully deliver on Dredge's promise, but until then it's not something I can recommend without a very significant sale.
Time to beat: 10 hours to do everything, maybe 5-7 for a quick playthrough.
You can follow my Steam Curator page for more reviews in the future.