Just a couple of hours into Dredge, Black Salt Game’s fishing-sim-meets-survival horror RPG adventure, I’ve fallen into a comfortably familiar routine. Thanks to the intriguing genre mashup’s fantastic pacing, engaging progression systems, and fun, intuitive mini-games, I’ve settled nicely into the quaint maritime town of Greater Marrow and its surrounding islands.
My angling business is thriving, as evidenced by the plentiful coin the local fishmonger pays for my daily bounties. I’m doing so well, in fact, I’ve been able to invest in a new rod – capable of plundering both shallow and coastal waters – as well as a faster outboard engine for my customizable craft.
The future looks bright too, as I’ve also earned enough research parts on my seafaring journeys to invest in even better gear. And thanks to my newfound ability to dredge supplies from the ocean’s depths, I’ve also started gathering resources that’ll eventually see my ship upgraded with more space, better lighting, and a sturdier hull.
Life for me on the beautiful archipelago is, literally, smooth sailing, so I offer to help out some of the less fortunate locals. A friendly dockworker seeks a more fulfilling existence North – on the tiny island of Steel Point – so I collect some materials for her residence before ferrying her to the new home.
I also meet a grieving man in the neighboring Little Marrow. He’s seeking closure from the loss of his son, who apparently perished in a shipwreck years prior. I dredge the wreckage, find the victim’s engraved belt buckle, and return it to his father for some peace of mind.
My extracurricular activities also find me accepting a task from a traveling merchant with an interest in rare ocean species. But with my quest log expanding as quickly as the game’s open-world map, I decide to hold off on catching and cataloging the scarce fish for now.
I’d previously accepted a more pressing assignment, from a rather mysterious chap living in a rundown mansion on nearby Blackstone Isle. I was due to check back in with him, plus his tiny island hosts a small workshop that’s been tugging at my curiosity ever since I learned it was locked up tight.
The man, who calls himself the Collector, had previously outfitted my rig with the aforementioned dredging equipment in exchange for an old handkerchief I’d found in the belly of a fish. While the deal was unquestionably odd, it came with the offer of more work: If I agreed to bring him more relics, he’d continue to reward me for my effort.
First on the docket was an old key supposedly located not far from my new home of Greater Marrow. I secured the artifact with little effort and immediately delivered it to the Collector. Strangely though, he accepted the treasure with more agitation than gratitude. Stranger still, he began flipping through a dusty old book, before a blinding beam of light shot up from its pages.
Now mind you, my unexpected encounter with this man’s seemingly magical tome was not my first brush with the strange or unexplainable in Dredge. In addition to chatting up the eccentric locals – many of whom warned me not to take my boat out after dark – I’d also caught a couple of mutated fish, including a mackerel with five eyes.
I’d also been swarmed by red-eyed ravens, had an unidentified “something” slither onto my deck, and saw my hull damaged by an illuminated, bulbous fish that was nearly as big as my boat. But while these encounters ran the gamut from somewhat unsettling to downright ominous, none interrupted my peaceful routine or provided proof of the supernatural like this ancient work the Collector now cradled in his hands.
He cryptically spoke of the book holding “power from the deep,” a claim he backed up by granting me an ability dubbed “Haste.” Described as “otherworldly speed,” the gift came at a cost. While it’d imbue my aging engine with newfound momentum, it’d also threaten to burn it out. On top of stressing my motor, though, the ability came with the foreboding promise of also straining my increasingly fragile psyche.
With my tranquil existence now turned upside down, I set out with a new sense of urgency – and fear – to track down the remaining four relics on the Collector’s list. But with my clockwork routine tossed overboard in favor of a feverish schedule, fueled by incoherent pursuits, it wasn’t long before I met my demise.
As I raced toward Gale Cliffs – where a coveted music box supposedly rests on the ocean floor – I began to appreciate the peppy benefits of the haste ability. But I also worried about my motor, which according to a rising HUD meter, was threatening to burn out.
An overheating engine was the least of my concerns, however, because – as promised – it seems my anxiety was beginning to boil over as well. As I pushed forward through a thick fog, rocks seemed to appear out of nowhere, forcing me to frantically steer clear of them. While I was able to narrowly escape these jagged obstacles, I wasn’t sure how to evade the dozens of red eyeballs that were now hovering above the water’s surface.
I ignored the menacing peepers, as I believed them to be figments of my spiraling imagination. It was more difficult to discount the massive, stretching tentacle emerging from the sea, however. I prayed the towering limb was just another sign of my character’s mind playing tricks on me, but seeing as it soon swatted me from existence – and effectively ended my demo – I’ll have to assume I’ll find more than relics lurking in Dredge’s depths when it launches later this month.
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Author: Ryan McCaffrey