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DREDGE - The Pale Reach (XS)

DREDGE - The Pale Reach (XS) - Review

by Lee Mehr , posted on 04 January 2024 / 3,306 Views

Lying beyond the assorted islands the original adventure held, The Pale Reach now beckons to go further yonder.  After boating through shallow marshland, deep coasts, and volcanic waters, there was one obvious biome missing: the frozen tundra.  Several months & modest updates after DREDGE arriving on scene, Black Salt Games has now released its first expansion.  How well does it pair with this Lovecraftian atmosphere?  Does it seas upon that opportunity or leave enthusiasm frozen over?

Among the first things you'll likely notice before getting there is the wider world map.  Instead of feeling like the world's edge, a larger concentric circle now surrounds the five main archipelagos.  At the southern bottom lies "The Pale Reach."  The quasi-ominous name doesn't do it justice: it's a gargantuan glacier from the outside with every auxiliary entry point blocked off by dangerous ice chunks.  It'll cost some treasure to reach the cold inner sanctum, but the allure of exploring the unknown is so tempting.


With regards to timelines, The Pale Reach expects your player-character to be far along in their fishing travels.  Since there's no way of cheesing into the center, a new photographer NPC says a bountiful fish offering will summon the fabled narwhal lurking beneath the depths.  As it requires a handsome sum to acquire an Ice-classed fishing rod (or net) and The Reach's surrounding pools only have Ice-classed fish, there's an implicit understanding that you'd know the ropes by now: succeed at skill checks to yank fish or other items up faster, maximize cargo space by manipulating their Tetris-like shapes, go to docking space at night to avoid spooky horrors, and repeat.  As long as there be fish to catch, there be fisherman to cast a line.

After finally able to ingress into this inner circle, the greater mystery starts to unravel.  The traveling merchant, parked on the glacier's edge, needs proper material to weld an icebreaker on your hull.  Those three components you need to dredge are quaintly plopped near skeletons encased in ice.  This is where the meat of narrative comes into place: hearing their pained mutterings beyond the void, pleading with you to release them.  Between them, the interesting collectibles, and the main plot thread, it ranks up there with DREDGE's best writing.  Granted, the story is more about establishing a lore and mood, but it's engaging world-building nonetheless.  How Black Salt intertwines an eldritch short story and gameplay rewards remains damn engaging.


Beyond the written word, so much is told through the stark aesthetic.  Similar to the writing, The Pale Reach's visual design ranks highly among its varied locales.  The ginormous size, the hidden secrets lurking within, and even the new fish species that ride the line between being different enough whilst harmonizing with the original's design.  The same can be said of composer David Mason's ambient soundtrack capturing the lonely setting; his breezier tunes evoking something like an abandoned Alaskan coastal town.

It's a shame, then, that the visually-splendid narwhal is hampered by desultory game design.  There's some clues that Black Salt wanted to evoke something like Resident Evil 2 Remake's Mr. X: an unceasing beast charging your hull at tremendous speed.  The first time you see him feels so memorable because of his shape and power, building trepidation whenever entering his domain.  Given how nettlesome he was after two rough encounters – destroying precious cargo and such – it carried an impression of him being the Ruler of the Reach.  Then you realize the situation is tractable: either hurry to a nearby dock to de-spawn him or toss any fish on a nearby altar to distract him for the day.  Rather than being this otherworldly creature testing you when least expected, he's more or less an aggressive pest on a set schedule. 


That underwhelming design won't be a bother for too long, given The Pale Reach's modest two-hour runtime (if that).  How much that sways opinion depends on what you're expecting from a $6 expansion.  Sure, it likely hits that dollar-per-hour threshold; moreover, the new aquatic wildlife, new equipment, and added ice blocks to preserve your haul for longer are genuine plusses.  Even with those diminished expectations, it nevertheless doesn't feel like the expansion equivalent of a trophy fish.  It's a new plot of land helped with some quality-of-life enhancements, including photo mode and detailed map markers, made from previous updates.

DREDGE - The Pale Reach is emblematic of the phrase "she ain’t much, but she’ll get you where you need to go."  Perhaps that's not the best hook for a general audience, but I think it earns respect for the modest asking price.  By sanding down some rough edges, it leaves a better aftertaste than the original's final location; and yet, the new design gimmick flounders its true potential, making an otherwise-atmospheric new place a bit too predictable.  What that leaves is an engaging jaunt where the Lovecraftian horrors are still enticing and the fish are still biting.


Contractor by trade and writer by hobby, Lee's obnoxious criticisms have found a way to be featured across several gaming sites: N4G, VGChartz, Gaming Nexus, DarkStation, and TechRaptor! He started gaming in the mid-90s and has had the privilege in playing many games across a plethora of platforms. Reader warning: each click given to his articles only helps to inflate his Texas-sized ego. Proceed with caution.


VGChartz Verdict


7
Good

This review is based on a digital copy of DREDGE - The Pale Reach for the XS, provided by the publisher.

Read more about our Review Methodology here

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2 Comments
hellobion2 (on 07 January 2024)

Definetly going on my wishlist and thanks for the review.

  • +5
coolbeans hellobion2 (on 07 January 2024)

Awesome news. Thanks for reading.

  • +4