Dredge is a brand new indie fishing title developed by New Zealand-based Black Salt Studios. It follows the story of a fisherman who accepts a job in a small archipelago town after a terrible fate befell the previous person who held the position. He is later entrusted by a mysterious resident with the task of recovering four artifacts lost at sea.
Fortunately accessibility is at the forefront in the design of Dredge. Fishing games are usually a difficult genre for disabled players because they’re typically dexterity-intensive affairs that require far too many simultaneous inputs resulting in quick fatigue. Fishing in Dredge is done by sailing over a fishing spot and then pressing X to interact. This engages a mini-game where players need to press square when a rotating marker enters a green space.
This mini-game would normally be a rather large barrier to motor-impaired players, but Dredge cleverly fixes the issue by giving players the ability to enable relaxed fishing mode. Relaxed fishing mode makes fishing and dredging always succeed no matter how many times you miss the correct space. It will succeed even when nothing is pressed. Fishing never grows stale because apart from basic species there is a wide assortment of Lovecraftian oddities like cyclopean flounder and entwined mullet to name a few.
Basic acceleration and movement can be done with one hand because it’s on the left stick. Since the camera moves with the boat, the right stick isn’t required for movement. Remapping is also available for controller (and keyboard and mouse on PC). Camera sensitivity, camera shake, and motion smoothing are adjustable as well.
…with a supernatural twist
The catch in Dredge is that every action be it fishing, dredging, or simply piloting your boat makes the clock tick. Should the fisherman become tired, panic sets in, leading to increasingly dangerous hallucinations that can damage the vessel such as ghost ships and sea-monsters.
Filling requests made by the denizens of each of the four islands rewards players with money and parts necessary for things like hull integrity upgrades or equipment that allows for fishing in deeper waters and by extension, new species some of which only appear after dark. The fisherman is granted a variety of supernatural powers ranging from super-speed to teleportation. These are selected using a radial wheel, mapped to L1 and selected with right-stick and can fortunately be set to toggle.
Sailing into unknown waters after dark where dangers lurk to find nocturnal fish is thankfully not a nerve-wracking endeavor. There are automatic saves each time a player docks, so any fish in your cargo will be there when loading. Since docks are plentiful, no more than five minutes of progress are ever lost.
Inefficient upgrade system is a patchable hole
The upgrade system is somewhat inefficient. Some of the more useful upgrades are connected to ones that aren’t useful. These are required to get to the upgrade you want. For example unlocking the versatile fishing rod which allows catching the majority of surface-dwelling fish, requires unlocking the anti-tangle line. Even if a player already has a fishing pole that serves the same function.
A rod that can fish abyssal waters should be able to fish coastal ones, but in the early game players will find themselves constantly opening the inventory to switch rods because they don’t. This may cause fatigue. Hopefully a future patch will make larger rods feasible in shallower waters, so you don’t need to occupy valuable space with two fishing poles.
The same situation also applies to boat upgrades. Making the player use their earnings after having to gather all the parts seems odd. This is especially prevalent when considering both the fact that most games would just reward you with the upgrades for providing the parts, and that should you unlock a superior upgrade and sell the inferior one, the inferior one will sell for less than what you paid, making it an ineffective strategy to put the money towards something new.
The visual splendor of the Sea
The majority of Dredge’s story is told through messages found in bottles. These messages get displayed to the player in a black text box. It’s overall very accessible to players with low vision. All words are displayed in this fashion and the player can even choose the color of words that have narrative importance, or negative and positive connotations. Text size isn’t adjustable, but the default is still a commendable effort. Furthermore chromatic aberration can be turned off to reduce the hazy filter brought on by panic.
The home depth of each species is listed with bold lettering. Should a player not see that, then the distinct silhouette of each species sits just below the surface. Furthermore, clever use of haptics gives a distinct tactile feel when hovering over each species’ spot. Fishing spots containing mutated fish possess odd coloration.
Even in the open ocean with a thick fog, finding one’s way is never too difficult. The map is intuitive, an X always marks the area of your current objective. Friendly ports are always marked with dots and are easily seen at night because they’ve got plenty of lights. The player’s position is indicated by a wooden boat, making it easy to get oriented. However, as good as the map system is, its biggest flaw is that it doesn’t mark the general vicinity of side objectives. Since these are quite abundant and can often provide necessary resources, it can often test a player’s patience, resulting in dependence on YouTube videos. It doesn’t make the experience unplayable, but it can break immersion. This could be remedied by marking side-objectives with a different marker.
Minimalist audio aids accessibility
Since there isn’t any spoken dialogue in this title, hard of hearing players shouldn’t have any issues here. Players won’t miss important information due to limited hearing as everything necessary is presented visually. Even the length of tutorial messages display time can be tweaked. Carefully listening to the bubbling in each fishing spot can tell a player what species is there. Audible and tactile cues denote never-before caught species or mutant variations. Volume can be adjusted with several separate sliders.
The end of the journey
Dredge is an admirable effort at putting a macabre twist on a genre typically filled to the brim with simulators. Although it does have a few kinks in its upgrade system, its forgiving save system, surprisingly deep story, and incredibly dexterity-free fishing mini-game make it a must-have.