Dredge + The Pale Reach DLC Review

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Dredge - The Pale Reach DLC Review
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Dredge - The Pale Reach

Brutalist Review Style (Version 2)

I was as surprised as anyone that Dredge managed to slip past us. It was such a unique little title when it came out, and yet, for some reason, we never had anyone review it for the site. But with new content comes new opportunities, and the newly released Pale Reach DLC gave us a chance to dive back into this eldritch fishing sim. As such, this review will be two-fold: an examination of the first game, and what/how the DLC offers and adds. 

It’s really quite remarkable how something so simple can be made so incredibly engaging by attaching such an interesting hook to it. It could have been enough to create a fun fishing sim in a contained open world, merging a satisfying game loop with an overall chilled experience—fitting comfortably in what Ben “Yahtzee” Croshaw calls the “dad game.” But Dredge takes it a step further by adding an element of otherworldly horror to the mix, giving the game a certain charm that few other games achieve.

Dredge - The Pale Reach Dlc Review

For the uninitiated, Dredge has players take on the role of a fisherman in an unnamed mysterious archipelago. There’s a sinister undercurrent running through the water and the land itself, and it’s up to the player to solve it. That’s really all there is to it. In typical Lovecraftian style, Dredge leaves a lot of its story-building up to the player, shrouding everything in a fog of mystery that adds to the otherworldly, unknowable grandeur of the cosmic horrors that pervade its depths.

The Pale Reach DLC adds little to the story both thematically and in terms of actual content. A small labyrinth of ice appears in the southmost part of the archipelago, with it, new creatures and ancient secrets. I’d say it’s about on par with the rest of the game’s narrative, but you would think for a piece of paid DLC that it would have a little more on offer.

The gameplay is where Dredge really stands out. As I said, it utilizes a very satisfying gameplay loop where players find areas to fish, slowly earning money to upgrade their boats and buy better equipment to find bigger and more valuable fish. But Dredge implements incredibly unique gameplay elements that set it apart from any other type of sim.

Dredge - The Pale Reach Dlc Review

For starters, time only moves in Dredge whenever the player moves or fishes, creating a distinct element of strategy as players decide whether it’s best to go out and fish or return to a port to unload their goods before they rot. Adding to this is the game’s inventory management system—which is similar to that of Resident Evil 4. Everything from your catch of the day to fishing and boat equipment take up space on your vessel, which needs to be carefully arranged within the ship’s inventory grid. There’s a bit of strategy and Tetris logic to maximizing space as well as researching more versatile equipment to optimize the space on your ship.

Lastly, there’s the game’s main hook: it’s horror elements. From the start, players are warned not to stay out after dark as a menacing fog shrouds the archipelago, and terrible things begin to appear in the water. This can be beneficial—in the form of horrific aberrations of fish that are worth a bit more money—and they can be terrible, as the fog does things to a person’s mind. Adding to this is the player’s “stress meter” which can exacerbate the horrors seen at night.

From illusory islands to ghost ships in the distance to strange rot that infects your catch; there’s a plethora of ways the sea can assault the player and send them to a watery grave. The only way to remedy stress is by getting a good night’s sleep, so there’s a unique bit of strategy to playing it safe and fishing during the day, or braving the sea at night. Furthermore, certain types of fish can only be caught at night, so certain side-quests and completionists will need to face the added challenge.

Dredge - The Pale Reach Dlc Review

It’s an incredible bit of game design, both from a technical and narrative standpoint. It adds a satisfying risk vs. reward to the game and captures the sense of loneliness and horror that comes from exploring the sea. Much like its cosmic counterpart, the sea is a prime location for horror-based narrative because its size and unexplorable nature easily give way to many terrifying scenarios.

“…while I don’t think The Pale Reach DLC offers enough to justify its price, it is a nice excuse to continue sailing on the seas of Dredge.”

The gameplay directly ties the player to the exploration and plundering of it, and despite being bound to a boat for the entirety of Dredge, there’s always the underlying understanding that the sea is nothing to be trifled with, and if you fail to treat it with respect, then it will destroy you. Add to that actual horrors of the deep, and you’ve got a truly tense experience.

The Pale Reach adds a few new things to the gameplay, but most of them are specific to the region itself. While it does add a new quest that can yield two useful items and 11 new species of Ice-type fish; probably the most useful addition to the game, The Pale Reach includes a block of ice that can be purchased from the travelling merchant—who is available at every main area of the archipelago—to extend the shelf life of your fish.

Dredge - The Pale Reach Dlc Review

It’s a fairly neat inclusion, but as I said before, for a piece of paid DLC it really feels like a paltry offering even at $5.99 USD. This feels like the kind of thing that should’ve been a free DLC, with something more substantial costing money. While it’s not going to break the bank, I can’t say I feel that it justifies asking for more money, considering how little is on offer.

Visually, Dredge does a lot with a little, utilizing a combination of simple cell-shaded objects with a realistically rendered ocean that creates a stunning disparity between the land and the sea—combined with a solid lighting engine that does a lot to make the world feel more genuine while still feeling strange. Each of the archipelago’s five islands is unique and interestingly designed. The Gale Cliffs are a maze of tall cliffs that rumble when an aquatic horror is on the hunt. At the same time, the Stellar Basin is a beautiful and colourful reef that becomes bioluminescent at night and punctuated by the tentacled monstrosity in the middle.

“It’s an incredible bit of game design, both from a technical and narrative standpoint.”

In addition, the effect of the fog rolling in as the night begins to set in has a chilling effect as stress builds and creepy eyes begin to appear all around. And while the use of lights always provides a sense of comfort, especially the ever-present lighthouse that can be seen from almost any part of the map, it works to incredible effect when the lights are sometimes deceptive. The designs of each fish are interestingly painted and biologically accurate, and each of the aberrations is hauntingly beautiful.

Dredge - The Pale Reach Dlc Review

The Pale Reach is equally interesting—a winding labyrinth of icy walls, with snowstorms restricting visibility, especially at night. Surrounding the Reach are the frozen remains of a long-forgotten and ancient horror. It truly captures the stress of navigating icy waters, the ever-present risk of running aground always around the corner. All the while, a twisted narwhal pursues with a glowing yellow horn seen through the fog.

Dredge is a game you can easily lose yourself in. It’s part of what makes it so enjoyably playable. Despite the horror, you soon find yourself acclimating to its world, as areas that seemed so far away and dangerous become pleasant jaunts as you slowly become better equipped to live in this world. When I started playing for this review, I didn’t even realize I had sunk eight hours into it. And while I don’t think The Pale Reach DLC offers enough to justify its price, it is a nice excuse to continue sailing on the seas of Dredge.

Final Thoughts

Jordan Biordi
Jordan Biordi

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