DREDGE Review + The Pale Reach DLC


When H.P. Lovecraft wrote Dagon and The Shadow Over Innsmouth, he tapped into a palpable fear of the unknown that lurks beneath the waves. Monstrous and unknowable entities that were as ambiguous as they were indifferent and implied a terrible nihilism that humanity has no special place in the universe. These stories resonated and have become the basis for several films and even video games that aim to inspire a sense of helplessness.

While there is no shortage of Lovecraftian horror games, most of the time it is used as a dressing, and what you get is usually a generic action or adventure game. Titles like the remake of Alone in the Dark fail to incorporate intangible horror and relent to having broad body-horror creatures without achieving genuine dread.

What if there was a game that made the incomprehensible horror into a game mechanic that also played into the maritime atmosphere while also instilling a palpable sense of helplessness? Dredge not only understands what makes Lovecraft’s work so effective but it’s a game that manages to blur genres and become something fresh and original. How does this unique blend of survival-horror and fishing sim fare? Is the DLC a worthy addition? Find out in our Dredge: The Pale Reach review!

Developer: Black Salt Games
Publisher: Team17

Platforms: Windows PC, Nintendo Switch, Xbox One, Xbox Series X|S, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5 (reviewed)
Release Date: March 30, 2023
Price: $24.99 USD

A fishing mini-game can elevate a mediocre game, but a good fishing game that has intelligently designed survival-horror elements is a special and rare occurrence. Dredge combines the seafaring lifestyle of a fish harvesting sim with the grid-based inventory and time management of a horror game, resulting in one of the most inspired mixtures of genres ever.

Dredge begins ominously with the protagonist waking up in a small inlet town where he is tasked to repay a nominal debt. Stricken with amnesia and no place to go, he haplessly accepts his role as a fisherman and sets out to sea on his small dredger. At first, gamers will be very restricted with the kinds of fish they can catch and won’t be able to go very far. The world may be your oyster, but you are a small fish in a huge ocean teeming with massive leviathans that want to eat you.

Dredge is a very hands-off and open-ended game that encourages exploration and freedom… but within reason. The day and night cycle is one of the looming threats that hangs over the player like a sword of Damocles. When night comes, so do the terrors of the deep which can range from nightmarish flounders to massive serpents, to even bizarre anglers that can rip the dredger to shreds.

The gameplay loop revolves around going out to sea to catch various species of fish. Some fish require specific equipment to catch or are found in certain regions and most of the experience is working towards a goal to afford the necessary upgrades. The thing is some of the most valuable critters to fish appear at night, but staying out late is not only a huge risk but also utterly terrifying.

At around 7 pm, you really must get docked someplace to spend the night. Unless your dredger is equipped with several high-powered motors, you won’t outrun the terrors of the sea. Getting hit can lead to pieces of equipment getting broken, losing inventory space, and losing valuable catches. Even when decked out with the best gear, playing it safe is always preferable to facing certain death.

The fishing is streamlined and fast-paced which helps maintain a sense of urgency when out at sea. All players have to do is maneuver the dredger over a school of teeming fish and then perform one of several timing-based minigames. Sometimes weird things happen and you might pull up a strange mutated creature or even treasure or materials for building equipment at one of the many shipyards.

The different rods and expansions for the dredger are locked behind very rare items that are seemingly spaced out where players will need to make significant progress. Depending on which upgrades you go for will also be where you get funneled towards.

Acquiring the volcanic equipment will mean that players will probably need to start venturing into the volcano region, but choosing the reef equipment means focusing on the tropical area.

Eventually, players will have access to all the types of rods and gear to catch any fish, but the choice at the moment will always steer them in a direction where they must commit. When sailing to a new region and settling down to focus on a questline, it will usually conclude with the acquisition of some rare materials that will guide gamers to the next area, depending on what is upgraded.

The way Dredge guides players with a system that is invisible and intuitive is remarkable. There is never any question on what to do and there is always something to work toward. Money earned is always being funneled into repairs or maintenance as the systems keep players in a tense tug-of-war struggle against the elements.

The Pale Reach DLC adds a new arctic region that comes with its unique terrors and obstacles to overcome. The ice in this part of the sea severely limits where the dredger can go and a majority of the main quest is spent assembling an ice-breaker that will allow players to plow through small glaciers.

This addition is enjoyable though brief. It doesn’t take long to fully explore the four areas and the story ends just when it feels like it is getting interesting. The atmosphere in these icy waters is where the game’s Lovecraftian elements really grab the player by the throat and the two massive entities that lurk in these waters prove to be some of the most frightening in the game.

The Pale Reach and the core game’s best scares occur when night falls. All kinds of weird and creepy events can happen and it is bolstered by the chilling sound design. The way the wind cries as it whips across the surface sounds like a ghost and it coldy grabs your heart like an angel of death.

The only flaw with Dredge is that its art direction feels out of place. This is a very harrowing and haunting game with a story that has a tragic twist and a profound atmosphere of loneliness but has a very playful and high-contrast cartoony art style.

Dredge should have gone with more gritty visuals and put more of an emphasis on textures. The flat shading and hard edges don’t match the gloomy atmosphere at all.

When sailing, it would be easy to mistake the graphics for something like The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker, instead of something that is meant to evoke the indifferent horrors from a Lovecraft story.

The emphasis on creating a lonely atmosphere also leads the developers to not consider other ships in the ocean. The only boat in the game is the dredger if you don’t count the fake angler ships that are traps. This may make the feel of the game seem more lonely, but is also makes it feel more artificial since NPCs reference other sailors all the time.

The graphics are very pleasing and easy on the eyes, despite not seeming like they belong in a horror game. Another issue is the overrepresentation of females in stereotypical roles. While Dredge has a limited cast, most characters fall into categories like really old men, creepy cultists, or women. Even the female characters, though important to the story or gameplay (like the lady mechanic, the scientist, or the Asian vagabond merchant), fall into tropes.

In the real world, commercial fishing is one of the most dangerous jobs, and the U.S. employs over 5,500 fishermen, of whom less than nine percent are women. While it’s quaint that developers strive for more female representation, completely ignoring this reality makes the experience less believable.

Even with minor nitpicks, Dredge and its The Pale Reach add-on turned out to be one of the most enthralling experiences I’ve had in 2024 so far. It’s exciting, tense, full of mystery and wonder, and there is no other game like it.

Dredge is a totally innovative and creative take on the survival horror genre and manages to tell a compelling story without long-winded cutscenes or spoon-feeding it. The minor metroidvania elements to its adventuring also give players a lot of freedom to play at their own pace.

Dredge: The Pale Reach was reviewed on PlayStation 5 using a code provided by Team17. You can find additional information about Niche Gamer’s review/ethics policy here. Dredge: The Pale Reach is now available for PC (via Steam), Nintendo Switch, Xbox One, Xbox Series X|S, PlayStation 4, and PlayStation 5.

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The Verdict: 9

The Good

  • Engrossing time and inventory managment gameplay
  • Fast paced fishing minigame
  • Stressful stakes and horrible monsters
  • Eeries sound design and music
  • Clever story that homages H.P. Lovecraft's maritime stories

The Bad

  • There is a noticeable lack of other ships in the ocean which highlights the artifice of the world
  • Disproportionate female over-representation in the world
  • The Pale Reach is too short


A youth destined for damnation.

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