When I was a kid, my family would always take trips up to the northwoods. My grandpa and uncle both fished, which could mean heading out on the boat early in the morning, perhaps even if it was raining lightly. Being out on the water at such odd hours, on a large, isolated lake in the woods, could be equal parts peaceful and unnerving. Dredge is a horror game that leans heavily into that, with elements that encourages repetitively scouring fishing spots and shipwrecks for resources, while also hinting at the unsettling nature of being alone, or not so alone, in the watery wilderness.
Dredge begins with a fisherman in a boat and an advertisement saying Greater Marrow is looking for people to come and fish in the area. However, something happens. You awake on the docks of Greater Marrow, with the Mayor noting you hit the rocks and crashed. After getting a boat and a bill, you head out to start your new task of fishing, casting out nets, collecting from crab pots, and dredging shipwrecks to make money and improve your boat and capabilities, all while learning more about the area and assisting inhabitants on different islands.
However, the actual story of Dredge is told as you explore the ocean and your fishing travels take you to different ports and regions in the game. You may hear about a missing mayor from one town. A strange individual in a solitary mansion will bid you to recover missing items from shipwrecks. You’ll learn about a family crest taken by a creature of the depths. Sometimes the fish you catch will be wrong. A lot is happening here, with some of the horror stories in the game being isolated incidents and others tying into larger concerns.
The basics of Dredge are simple, though the things you need to do in the game change based on the time of day. During typical daylight hours, let’s say 5am to 6pm, things are peaceful. The sun will be out. You’ll see areas in the water where you can fish or dredge for materials. Fishing involves pressing in time with indicators to catch creatures, while dredging involves pressing a button to switch between rows and avoid gaps. You want to fill up the space on your boat efficiently enough to bring back your catches and treasures to sell and materials to use to unlock improvements for your boat or research new equipment to buy. You can also use nets or crab pots to get more items. When you stop at various ports, you might also see people around to talk to and assist with additional side quests. For example, a grieving father may ask for a belt buckle from his son who drowned when a ship crashed. A person might ask you to deliver materials to a new homestead.
However, when night falls, Dredge becomes a game that embraces horror. Rocks that weren’t there during the day can appear out of nowhere. Strange, giant fish, clouds of energy, and waterspouts can pursue you. Crows can attack, stealing fish you’ve caught. Your boat can take damage, perhaps even enough to sink you and end your journeys. And if you don’t rest, this unease, reflected by a gauge at the top of the screen, means these occurrences can bleed over into waking hours.
It becomes more than just a fishing game, but rather a game about resource management to make greater strides. The additional islands surrounding Greater Marrow can take more than 12 hours to reach, if you haven’t upgraded your engine, which could leave you limping into a port once you try to make the trek out there. You’ll come to realize that precautions that keep you safe at night, like lights, draw in the very things that can kill you. When you start fishing up questionable catches, taking them to certain people can make you realize others also know something is “wrong,” but are handling it in different ways. It’s incredibly unnerving and unsettling, but without jump scares. Rather, you’ll sometimes encounter moments where you know things are wrong and you’re in danger, but you can’t exactly address it properly to save yourself.
But at the same time, the balance is there in such a way that it almost lets you pretend this is a normal, pleasant fishing game. The fact that the two sides of the experience are balanced so well makes Dredge more enjoyable. People interested in fishing games might be pleased because of all of the upgrade paths and different sorts of fish. (Even pursuing the ones that are tainted is interesting, since you don’t know if or when you might discover the variants.) People who enjoy horror games might find themselves drawn to the way Dredge teases its otherworldly elements and lets you happen upon what’s going on as they explore.
Another thing I didn’t expect is for Dredge to be as accessible a horror and fishing game as it is. There’s a dedicated section in options designed to help make it easy for people to play, without toning down the difficulty in most cases. You can set the colors for emphasized, important, positive, and negative text. You can turn the option to toggle the Radial menu for abilities and equippment. You can set text speeds and pop up durations. You can adjust motion smoothing and the turning deadzone. Also, if you are having trouble fishing, there’s a “relaxed” mode that guarantees you will catch a fish, even if you fail. It’s all very accommodating, but doesn’t negatively affect gameplay.
Dredge not only manages to be a compelling fishing game that constantly urged me to scour every part of the option, but also is a great horror game with fantastic ambiance. It is perfectly unsettling, with things going awry when you least expect them. It makes you want to tempt fate by sounding a siren or using lights while on the water alone at night, even though you know whatever’s sounding a horn back at you doesn’t mean you well.
Dredge is available on the Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X, and PC.