This year at PAX Australia 2022 there was a special highlight on some great indie games, given much more exposure than usual due to the decreased presence of AAA developers and publishers in attendance for 2022. This provided an excellentGamescom opportunity for some exciting and inventive indie titles to be showcased, case in point DREDGE.
DREDGE is developed by Black Salt Games, a small group of 4 passionate developers based in New Zealand. The team consists of Nadia, Mikey, Alex, and Joel. I got a chance to speak with the team during my time at PAX, along with seeing what Dredge is all about with a hands-on demo.
A single-player fishing adventure with a sinister undercurrent, DREDGE takes some inspiration from Lovecraftian themes and creatures. You will go out in search of fish and loot to bring back and sell, but beware the dark of night, for this is when otherworldly creatures come out to play. The game has been in development for a year and a half now by the talented team, coming to fruition when developer Alex uttered two simple words to the team “Lovecraftian” and “fishing”, and Nadia thought “yeah, we can make that work”.
In DREDGE you take control of a small fishing trawler, taking regular trips out into the various seas to fish and find all sorts of treasure and collectables, complete different quests, and explore the region to uncover hidden secrets. Your loot can then be sold at various points across the map, allowing you to use your hard-earned cash to purchase new equipment and upgrades and venture out further and gain bigger hauls.
Navigating the seas during the day is a truly peaceful experience. I loved just setting out to see what I could find out in the surrounding isles, looking forward to engaging new finds and various NPCs that I may encounter and noting areas I wanted to investigate further.
Though DREDGE has a unique aspect – this is not a simple fishing simulator – there is a darkness to the world you are in. Staying out too late and getting caught in the dark of night can lead to encounters with various monstrosities that prowl the seas. Creatures of the night are not the only thing to keep an eye out for; navigating your surroundings takes care and precision to avoid sharp rocks, land masses, and shallow reefs, but illuminating the ay for yourself at night also makes you an easier target for creatures to find.
Keeping an eye on the panic meter at the top of the screen helps to ensure you do not stay out in the sea for too long, with the more it fills bringing a host of new nasties to avoid. Specific abilities and relics can be acquired by completing quests that will aid your travels and allow you to withstand the dark for longer, along with researching new upgrades for your boat.
There is no combat per se in DREDGE, you are but a humble fisherman and the team wanted to instil a sense of vulnerability within the gameplay. Developer Mikey says, “there is a day/night cycle, so during the day you don’t really build up insanity because you can see everything and its calm, there is a risk/reward system where during the night there are different types of fish that come out…but as the fog rolls out your panic builds up quicker”.
If you stay out for too long and it turns to night, you must navigate carefully to avoid encounters with various creatures. Being attacked by these creatures will inflict damage to a random part of your inventory which could cause you to lose your haul, including if you are transporting an NPC.
It cannot be understated just how beautiful and captivating the unique art style is and how it compliments the strange world. Looking both simple and intricate at the same time gives a warped cartoony look to everything. I simply loved the aesthetics and design of everything from the characters to the creatures, DREDGE is gorgeous to look at and I found myself constantly stopping to take in the scenery and details around me, though not for too long at night as a sense of ever-present danger was always on my mind.
In terms of PAX, the team had a great time and was relieved to see that their efforts have not been in vain. Nadia told me, “all of this has been really helpful…having our demo out and getting player feedback…seeing if people will like it and if they will they enjoy it… it’s been really good to see there is some interest in this, and probably interest continuing”.
You can currently download the first chapter of DREDGE ahead of the full release sometime in 2023. I encourage you to give DREDGE a shot, you may just find yourself falling in love with it as I did.