It’s gonna be a long time before I forget seeing those eyes for the first time.
I was just sailing along, making my way through the ice field that serves as the setting for The Pale Reach, turned a corner in between two towering glacial walls and - boom - there they were.
Like a lot of the Lovecraftian horrors bubbling under the surface of indie hit Dredge’s waters, they were perfectly unnerving, their pupils gently darting around as though oblivious or indifferent to my little fishing boat’s presence. After a brief pause, I kicked my engines back into gear and proceeded to my destination, even more determined to solve the mystery I was already up to my neck in.
Said mystery serves as the main attraction of The Pale Reach, the first bit of DLC released by Black Salt Games for Dredge, the horror-tinged fishing game I, and at least two of my coworkers, really enjoyed playing when it came out earlier this year. Since that point, a whole load of others have donned fishing gear and joined us on the waves - but, if you’re yet to do so, The Pale Reach is the perfect point to delve into the depths for the first time.
After you’ve landed upon the shores of Greater Marrow as a newbie and proceeded to begin to shape your ship into the kind of formidable vessel required to survive reeling in catches around the base game’s five different archipelagos, a new location far to the South awaits you.
Fittingly for a DLC that released right when the UK’s in the thick of its dark and dreary, the The Pale Reach’s setting is a frigid ice field, which works just like each of the base game’s biomes. You’ll begin by sailing to it and landing at a pontoon, where you can upgrade your ship, sell fish and seek solace from the various terrors that come out when night falls. So far, so typical Dredge, which will be a blessing or frustration depending on how much you love its typical gameplay loop, but The Pale Reach does throw in a number of cool (literally, in some cases) new mechanics to freshen things up.
For instance, one of the things you’ll be tasked with as you explore is finding the parts required to assemble an icebreaker to fit to your boat, which you’ll need in order to be able to slice through the ice flows blocking some of the passages between the area’s glaciers. Those are far from the only hazard either, with a rather aggressive narwhal that you’ll need to pacify by feeding fish serving as The Pale Reach’s token monster to avoid or outwit.
As alluded to earlier, there’s also something hiding within the area's frozen climes, which you’ll uncover via a concise, but engaging, mystery involving a doomed crew who became obsessed with a subterranean heartbeat and end up frozen in blocks of ice. As you might imagine, it’s very Edgar Allen Poe, which meshes perfectly with the established old school horror vibes that take over once the sun sets.
For those who enjoy the more relaxing side of being a little fisherman, The Pale Reach boasts plenty of new and interesting undersea critters to catch and catalogue. Some of these will require you to outfit your ship with one of The Pale Reach’s special rods and nets designed to catch fish in icy waters. There are also some other handy upgrades to unlock that’ll give you abilities like the chance to purchase blocks of ice - to keep your catch fresher for longer - from the merchant.
Just sailing around, you’ll find a decent amount of cool little side stuff too, though a lot of these encounters are quite similar to ones you’ll have had in the base game. All in all, they serve as a bit of a microcosm of The Pale Reach experience as a whole.
If you already loved what Dredge had to offer, this first bit of DLC will give you a little more of exactly the kind of thing you enjoyed. If you didn’t click with the game, I can’t promise that what it adds to the experience will do much to change your mind.
However, I’d definitely say that if you haven’t given the indie hit a go yet, The Pale Reach, which arrives following a gradual trickle of useful, if not flashy, quality of life updates to Dredge since it first released, serves a great hopping-aboard point. The world you’ll be delving into has been slowly refined into something that’s more capable of grabbing your attention and getting you immersed in its unique atmosphere than it’s ever been before.
All you’ve got to do is sit back and allow yourself to be pulled beneath the waves.