The short of it is that this game has no right to be as good as it is.
The sales line for this game seems like someone through some words together: a cozy Lovecraftian fishing simulator, with RPG and Tetris components. This just simply works, despite the weird elements. Now, I’ve gone on record multiple times saying that any game with fishing automagically moves up the “wanted” list, primarily because no one in their right mind implements fishing without an appreciate of the zen aspects. Dredge, at its most basic, is a fishing game, and everything else comes after. And that core gameplay loop just works dammit.
The start is simple enough, you’re a fisherman who washed ashore and need to get back on your feet. You get a loan and a boat, then go from there. The interface is simplistic (it should be) and fishing can never truly fail. The stuff you collect can be sold to various merchants. The RPG elements allow you to research improved boat components/rods, and slot them within specific areas. Fish also have their own habitats/requirements, so you need both the right location and right tools to harvest.
The game is wrapped in 5 continuous chapters, where you’re tasked to do something in the local archipelago, then sent to the next. Each of these areas has it’s own hazards, which can wipe you out fairly quickly to the last saved port. The various zone mechanics are also interesting, such as blasting cores to get rid of rocks, or bait to quickly collect some fish. The surreal abilities you get are also quite useful, like a teleport to the home base, or the ability to just collect all the fish around you instantly.
There’s a sanity meter that’s best left for players to discover. Suffice to say, it gets progressively more interesting as the game goes on.
But that’s the wrapping, like on a chocolate bar. The beauty of this game is the pacing and fluid controls. You’re never under the gun, and the controls themselves are precise when they need to be, and floaty otherwise. The art is a sort of camp call up with a comic book feel. The sound is eerie without being haunting. Combined, it’s a game where you can just have a cup of coffee on a rainy day and enjoy the experience. Ideal for the Steam Deck or Switch.
The storyline isn’t terribly long or complex. I’m sure you could speed through if you wanted to, but then you’d be missing the point. It took me nearly 10 hours to get to the last step, and I put in another 5 or so to fill out my fishing log.
Dredge is yet another example of a small scale game that shows that longer is not better. Crazy graphics are not required. Complexity isn’t needed. And that a simple story, crafted with care, can still impress. An absolute gem of a game.