For anyone who finished Dredge, it’s clear that the ending to the game has a rather cut-and-dry sense of finality to it. It’s morbid, but it suits the game’s tone to the ground, so to expand upon that would be folly. The Pale Reach, and all it adds, folds neatly into the core experience, supplementing what’s there rather than expanding upon it. It also introduces a new biome that rests due south of the game’s map beneath the existing archipelago. It’s a decent trek through treacherous waters to get there, but the game does deliver a very nice workaround for that at the tail end of The Pale Reach’s two-to-three hours of content.
It’s a chilly reception once you get down there, as icy waters prove to be just as frightful as the surrounding seas. Hazardous rocks jutting up from the surface are replaced by bergs big enough to capsize your modest vessel, and if you do happen to get through unscathed a menacing narwhal waits at the ready to sink you with its impressive horn. But as with the other key locations in Dredge, there’s an eerie story and mystery that tells a tidy little story of marooned mutineers, encased in their icy tombs as a result of the darkness that permeates the game’s world. It doesn’t overstay its welcome and really slots nicely into the sinister, overarching ideas Dredge puts forward.
Move over Rapala, if you’re even a thing still, Dredge is comfortably the best fishing game of the year and, of course, this substantial update obviously comes with more fish and crab species, eleven in all, to catch. One of my favourite things from Dredge was its Pokémon-like codex of ocean life to collect and catalogue, so to add more fish, as well as their horrible aberrations, is an exciting thing.
As I alluded to, The Pale Reach also introduces new equipment to help in the endless effort of purging the sea of fish. One thing I particularly loved was the icebreaker you’re eventually able to bolt onto the front of your boat which lets you carve through the once-dangerous ice fields. Irresistibly powerful all of a sudden, I’d pound through my icy foes bellowing “Titanic ain’t got shit on me!” You’ll also be able to plonk a few chunks of ice into your cargo stash to protect your haul from spoiling which is a neat little touch given how far south the far-off area is prior to your helpful, late-content unlocks.
There are also new rods and trawl nets to find that are suited to the frozen conditions, so while I’d absolutely describe The Pale Reach as a lean expansion it does complement the entirety of the Dredge experience. It builds out its world and serves up a chilling story of betrayal that had me dreading the night’s blanketing fog and scrambling for the relative protection of pontoon living more so than usual.
The games Dredge finds itself up against are no slouches, it’s always a competitive space for indies to pinch the mindshare in a saturated market. Dredge has the special sauce though in that it’s a masterfully atmospheric romp through an eldritch hellscape most of the time, though it inexplicably manages to check the cosy box all the while. There’s a hint of genius in the release timing for The Pale Reach, as it returns Black Salt’s sea-set horror-fishing game to the front of mind when it matters most.