'Dredge' is an eldritch fishing game that can be quite pleasant, if you let it
Reeling in my fishing line, I am met with a many-eyed creature hauled unwillingly from the depths. Its all-seeing gaze peers beyond our ken, gaping maw dripping sinew and blood and unnamable flesh as a mouthless voice whispers incomprehensible truths into my mind.
"Sweet!" I cheer as I move aside some wood to fit it in my cargo hold. "I can get 40 bucks for this."
Developed by Black Salt Games, Dredge is a Lovecraftian horror fishing game in which you take up a job as the local fisherman for a small town. However, it's immediately apparent that something isn't quite right. A weird fog creeps in at night. Some of the fish you're pulling in are otherworldly, lined with rows of clicking teeth. And strange things begin to happen when you're out on the water for too long after the sun has set.
Happily, there's an easy solution to all of this. Just ignore it and go to bed.
Quiet quitting my cosmic horror angling job
Fishing is already one of the most dangerous jobs in the world, but Dredge ups the ante considerably. At night, the unknowable terror of the sea seeps into your psyche, filling you with panic and morphing the world around you into violent waves and nameless monsters which can do real damage to your boat.
I do not want that. I do not want to dodge rocks that appear out of nowhere, or be perceived by disembodied eyes floating in fog, or flee from mysterious boats that look exactly like mine. And I certainly have no interest in the gargantuan creatures rising up from the deep to chase me across the waves like territorial dogs.
I want to fish my little fish, boat my little boat, and go about my day free of eldritch horrors.
Fortunately for the safety-conscious sailor, Dredge won't stop you from spending the night moored in a safely lit dock, getting some shut-eye in your secure and cosy boat. And while Dredge's waters are foreboding at night, setting out in sunlight is a much different matter. When the sun is up there's blue skies, clear waters, and sometimes even dolphins. Not all dangers are deterred by daylight, but it's much less riskier than fishing under moonlight.
Follow these rules, and the life of a fisherman can be relatively simple. I find fish, I catch fish, I sell fish. I research and upgrade my equipment. I find more fish, filling out my encyclopaedia with the different species I've caught and where to find them. Then once my upgraded engines provide enough speed, I venture further afield, exploring new environments, meeting new people, and catching new fish.
I have no interest in staring into the abyss and grappling with the horrors writhing beneath the thin veneer of this world. I'm happy for anyone who does, but all that seems like none of my business. I'm satisfied with the simple joy of rearranging fish in my cargo hold, packing them into the grid like a jigsaw puzzle so I can maximise my haul.
Simply do not gaze into the void
There are 128 different types of fish in Dredge, which includes twisted abominations of otherwise innocuous species. Catching them typically involves timed mini-games, such as tapping a button when a moving arrow reaches a green section of a ring. You eventually get the ability to set out crab pots and equip your boat with a trawling net as well, giving you access to new species and allowing you to passively scoop up sea life as you go.
The fishing minigame switches up a bit depending on what species you're trying to catch, so trying to catch 'em all doesn't get too repetitive. There's also a similar minigame for dredging, as hauling up sunken treasures is necessary for acquiring the materials to improve your vessel.
Such upgrades give your boat more cargo space, more room for equipment such as trawl nets and lights, and a more resilient hull. This is useful for when you accidentally accelerate bow-first into a bunch of rocks, which I did embarrassingly often even without being chased by a scary fish.
Yet even if you avoid the incomprehensible monsters lurking in the deep, fishing in Dredge isn't a perfect hermit life. By nature, selling fish requires that there be someone around to buy your fish.
Many ports will have someone willing to relieve you of your haul, or a couple of locals who will inevitably ask a favour or two. Deliver a package here, dredge up an old trinket there. A few of these side quests will also require you to venture out at night. For example, someone might ask you to bring them an eel that only comes out after dark.
However, you can still mitigate the inherent risk of being on the water by exercising safe fishing practices. This includes staying as close to a dock as possible, keeping night jaunts short, and only setting out to explore at daybreak so you can maximise your sunlight.
Yes that's a disembodied glowing eye, but I just saw a whale
Most of the folk you'll meet are a little bit off, as you probably would be if you kept eating weird mutated fish that are clearly unfit for human consumption. But of them, arguably one of the strangest is a guy in a ruined mansion who wants you to track down some lost relics.
I'm happy to do him this favour since I'm out there on the water anyway, and his directions give me an idea of where to explore next. The map is split into roughly five different areas, each with a different environment and challenges to overcome.
But the guy doesn't pay me. Instead, whenever I bring him back one of these valuable relics he opens up this weird old book, does a creepy little chant, and then all of a sudden I know words that will banish monsters or straight up kill a bunch of fish. I didn't ask for that. I'd much rather he just give me some research parts so I can unlock new fishing rods.
Is there something bigger going on here? Probably. But again, it doesn't seem like any of my business. I'm just here to catch some glowy squid.
It took me around 40 hours to finish Dredge on PC, including its main quest, all 20 side quests, and a substantial amount of time trying to fill out my fish encyclopaedia. I didn't quite get there in the end, and there were still a couple of mysteries still unsolved, so I'll probably spend a few more hours finishing it up.
There are terrible things in the world, I don't deny that. There are unknowable horrors that could fill us with dread if merely glimpsed from the corner of our eye, rending our minds and twisting us in ways we cannot fathom. But it does no good to fixate on them. And there are also dolphins, whales, and pretty coral reefs to see.
Dredge will sail onto Xbox, PlayStation, Nintendo Switch, and PC on Mar. 30.