Black Salt Games' Dredge is an exploration game, with an emphasis on narrative, and gameplay based on survival and crafting mechanics.

We take on the role of the captain of a fishing boat who decides to respond to a job advertisement in a small archipelago that has a food shortage and needs fishermen. On the journey to the main island, something goes wrong, and although the local lighthouse guides us, the boat hits rocks and we are shipwrecked. Luckily we are close to the harbour, and manage to swim to the port.

Idyllic fishing village...

This is where the Dredge actually begins. Our unorthodox way of arriving doesn't seem to bother the mayor, who immediately arranges for us to get a new boat and assigns us to find food at sea... during the day though. You don't want the night to find you out in the open. At night, the thick fog brings visibility down to zero - at least yours, because you feel something in the darkness watching you. At night, strange auras and mysterious sounds churn in your mind. At night, sometimes the fish are looking for you. Maybe it's not so strange after all that an island complex is short of fishermen.

Very quickly the player realizes that something is wrong in the area. And the player who is privy to tales of cosmic horror and Cthulhu mythology immediately understands what kind of trouble he is in. The only question that remains is whether he will manage to escape with both his life and his sanity intact. Dredge features two different story closings, both perfectly in line with the cosmic horror philosophy.

Without the map we are lost.

Dredge is a small indie production, and the technical aspect cannot and does not try to impress with state-of-the-art graphics. But it does offer an atmospheric environment, using a stylized art style reminiscent of a painting, which proves capable of successfully conveying both the calm of the day and the menace of the night.

I mentioned at the beginning that we are taking on the role of a captain. This is true in terms of the scenario, but in terms of gameplay it is more accurate to say that we take on the role of a small fishing boat. That's what we control directly, that's our character in the game.

Our main activity at Dredge is fishing. The spots where the fish are gathered are easy to find, at least as long as we are near to islands. Once we get close to one, we can start fishing, which is accomplished by a simple mini-game, which we practically can't even fail, just delay fishing a bit if we don't do well. Then we can sell our catch, and with the money we can slowly start upgrading our float, so we can go further out to sea, and explore the game world - maybe even venture out on night-time excursions, which despite the dangers, have their own lures.

The best customer.

Apart from money, the resources we need are materials such as wood and sails, and research parts to upgrade our equipment. All of these are mostly found near shipwrecks. With these we unlock necessary upgrades, such as fishing rods for deeper and more exotic ecosystems, stronger crab and lobster traps, more powerful lights and stronger engines, essential to be able to develop speeds greater than a sea snail.

While the above is quite common in survival and crafting games, in Dredge the general requirements are simple, to the point of being excessively simple. There's a difference between simple and simplistic, and Dredge's gameplay leans on the wrong side of that difference. The fishing minigame can't even be difficult for a six-year-old child - and there's an option from the options to make it even easier, though I couldn't tell any difference when I tried it. Most of the other activities make fundraising need even less engagement - traps are by far a more efficient way to treasure our captain than the fishing rod.

Seductive night, beautiful night.

Also absent are other aspects of resource management that a survival-focused game would likely include, such as the need for fuel for the ship, as well as a certain time limit, the absence of which makes abusing mechanics such as crab traps an easy task.

It is clear that Dredge chooses to focus on telling the story it wants to tell. That's not a bad thing, but it greatly reduces the replayability of the game. The story can be completed in 10 hours. On the plus side, fans of thorough exploration will find several side quests and optional content that can even double that length. If this is done though, there is no replay value, which I think is a shame for the game genre, and which I think can be fixed by adding a hard mode, maybe even ironman, as an option.

Any port in a storm…

Dredge is a game that sucked me in for a few hours with its atmosphere, and the exploration of a world where something is not going well at all. But at the same time, the gameplay, especially the fishing, which is the mainstay of the game for many hours, left me feeling like I was dealing with something not exactly boring, but simplistic to the point of wondering why it existed and not automatically picking up fish. Overall, engaging with Dredge is a positive experience, but uneven in the way it offers entertainment.

Go to discussion...

RATING - 75%


Wherever the fish are, that's where we go.

Dredge will delight fans of cosmic horror and exploration of a strange world. Fans of survival and crafting games will not find what they want, even though the gameplay is based on such mechanics.

Νικόλαος Δανιηλίδης

Great Old One, hardware enthusiast, game collector, man of culture.

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