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Review: DREDGE - Black Salt Games debuts with an ambitious Eldritch horror fishing video game

Updated: Apr 15, 2023

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Hi beautiful people, I’m Tasi with Kreenpananas Gaming. We’re only three months into the year and it’s been a bountiful one for indie games. If you’re down with indie games, or looking for insight on current and upcoming titles, be sure to subscribe to the channel where I have videos highlighting the tremendous efforts coming out of these dev teams.


Let me begin by saying that I loved my time with DREDGE. I strongly recommend it. You might also love it. But let’s consider some of the ups and downs. Dredge is an Eldritch fishing experience and debut title of the New Zealand-based four-person dev team, Black Salt Games, and published by Team17. A big thanks to Team17 for providing me with a review key.


Often I feel sucker-punched by game trailers because they’re so well-crafted. But the promise presented in the trailer is a siren call. This trailer for DREDGE presented a game that was dripping in atmosphere and mood that just clicked with me. And after spending some time on it, I can say with certainty, I was… not disappointed.

Eldritch horrors effect your sanity. Source: Black Salt Games

GAMEPLAY

In DREDGE, you play as a fisherman who finds himself narrowly surviving death after crashing his boat in treacherous waters. Or so it has you believe. You’re met by the overly peppy mayor of the town who gives you the general rundown of the daily do’s and don’ts in addition to offering you the means to set sail once more. Not long after, you find yourself back at sea with the aquatic equivalent of a jalopy, a sizable debt, and nowhere closer to finding the truth about what happened to you.


While Black Salt Games describes DREDGE as a single-player fishing adventure with a sinister undercurrent, the depths of the game slowly begin to reveal themselves after your first few times at sea. Curiously absent is the actual reel-in mechanic you’d find in fishing games. Instead, DREDGE utilizes mini-games to haul in the catch. The mini-games come in several varieties, which is good because you’ll be doing a whole lot of it. A couple became tedious shortly after being introduced, while I found a few favorite ones which remained enjoyable throughout the game.

L - one of a handful of mini-games used to catch fish, and salvage. R - Inventory system. Source: Black Salt Games

From there you play a game of Tetris to determine the most efficient use of your hull’s storage capacity, not unlike Resident Evil’s grid inventory system; you’ll rotate and consolidate your bounty while juggling your sanity. More on that later. In fact, outside of the storage units you find on various docks, your hull is the only way to carry items you’ve trawled, fished, or otherwise salvaged from the sea. Your fishing options at the start are limited but upgrades become available at the shipyard. Which you’ll need if you’re aiming to fill out the encyclopedia that boosts over 125 species of fish. A clear RPG-style progression system outlines the upgrade tree and unlockable equipment giving the player a clear sense of what they’re working towards.

RPG style progression. Source: Black Salt Games


I found the gameplay loop of fish-sell-upgrade to be satisfying all on its own. There’s a threshold when you’ve upgraded enough of your boat’s parts that the story starts to come into full frame.



STORY

The story felt a bit thrifty offering just enough to keep me invested, and at times it felt like a slog because of the distance required to travel over water. However, what it lacks in a robust main story it makes up for with its cast of characters made interesting by an art style that sings of that Disco Elysium flair. Their attitudes towards you vary but you can expect to feel a certain degree of secretiveness until you’ve proven your worth. I always found myself eager to pull into docks to see if I’d be greeted by a new character, or if a previous one had a new dialogue tree available to me. One in particular that sticks out to me involves two brothers, set apart by a family quarrel gone overboard and festered with time. It was also the first instance I had a human passenger aboard and ran into the issue of trying to consolidate space. It didn’t feel particularly tied to the main storyline but the quest, which DREDGE refers to as “pursuits”, resulted in the ability to start using explosive chargers. This further reinforced my desire to keep exploring the archipelago just to see what other abilities might be in store.

A character looms from a doorway. Source: Black Salt Games

In the nearly 10 hrs it took me to complete the main storyline, where I found myself the most captivated were those shifts in tone when your character’s sanity comes into question. If you spend too much time trawling without sleeping, you’ll quickly have to reckon with the consequences. In addition to sleeping, time also moves ahead when you’re sleeping, sailing, and fishing so it’s easy to find yourself ranging out beyond the safety of a familiar harbor with a full deck and way past your curfew. Too little sleep and rocks that weren’t originally there begin manifesting forcing you to think swiftly or risk damage to your boat. Ethereal lights and blinking eyes begin crowding the skyline, filling you with dread and unease. These well-executed visuals are accompanied by a sound design that knows exactly how to deliver tension and suspense.


Those moments, when I felt like the game knew more than I did were the kinds of adrenaline rush I need to balance out the conversely cozy aspects of the game. Thankfully the game is ripe with those moments and although it never fully builds beyond eerie and slightly dangerous, its execution was handled with so much finesse.


HANDHELD EXPERIENCE

Speaking of finesse, handheld gamers rejoice, I completed most of the game on the Steam Deck. I’m happy to share that it plays like a dream right out of the dock. No pun intended. I enjoyed the experience so much that I went a little extra by uploading the control layout I used which binds the back grip buttons to the most used actions. Mostly allowing you to access responses quicker and with minimal hand movement from the grips. If you do end up using it, lemme know how it works out for you. As far as the Nintendo Switch is concerned, the early reports I’ve seen suggest that it runs flawlessly on that platform too. Power to the gamer!

On their website, Black Salt Games writes, “Our debut title Dredge will show you the sorts of games we want to be known for; high immersion, excellent execution, and with a bit of a difference from anything you’ve played before.” It’s that kind of ambition coupled with the confidence to forgo a review embargo that says a lot to me about how they feel about their game. And frankly, it’s kind of hot. Do you know what else is hot? The accessibility features. DREDGE has a good number of ways to ensure it’s playable by as many people as possible. Options range from changing the colors of how information is presented and adjusting units of measurement, to reducing screen shake, and even toggling the radial dial which I found particularly useful.


FINAL THOUGHTS

Overall I thought DREDGE fulfilled its trailer hype. And I’m happy to recommend it. If you like games with addictive RPG upgrade loops, inventory management, and a unique art style, then DREDGE is for you. My experience with Lovecraftian-inspired media is limited at best with my earliest direct experience being cast in a play called Shaggoths on the Veldt and most recently in my six-part playthrough series of Call of the Sea, another brilliant indie title you should check out. DREDGE is a tremendous first effort from Black Salt Games and if this is any indication of their commitment to excellence, then I’m all hands on deck.

Source: Black Salt Games

DREDGE is out March 30th for $24.99 on PC and all major consoles.


 

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