Dredge – The Pale Reach review — Gone ice fishing

Dredge is a game that’s close to my heart. In fact, it was the first game I’ve ever given a perfect score of 100. When I first heard about the new DLC “The Pale Reach” I prepared myself for more of what I love about Dredge; the eldritch horror, exceptional yet subtle lore, and charming fishing gameplay. What I got was exactly that, and with an awe-inspiring glacial theme just in time for the holidays. On the other hand, the DLC feels half geared toward those who haven’t played Dredge yet, and that leads to some contradictions.

The DLC doesn’t really start, The Pale Reach just appears in the southern region of the map as a large circle filled with question marks. No one points you in that direction or even mentions the new area, which is a little disappointing. At the same time, the new area is taped onto the world map when you find the local map. I love that little detail. There’s even a whole new quest board for the new quests. In a game that puts so much effort into presentation, it seems odd that they would miss out on having a simple prompt to start the DLC, even if it’s just the Mayor saying, “Hey, some ice sheet floated up. I’ll pay you to go check it out.”

Upon investigating, you’ll find the Traveling Merchant docked on a massive ice field, which she postulates drifted up from the south. On top of having new rods for sale for catching ice-type fish, the merchant fills you in on a new piece of gear for your ship, an icebreaker. Said attachment will allow you to break through the hazardous chunks of ice that float around the new zone, all of which make a satisfying sloshy crack when they’re hit.

The Photographer is also around, and she’s trying to photograph a mysterious narwhal. The narwhal is core to the gameplay of the area, as it gives chase to the player, only being satiated by sacrifices of fish. It’s an impressive beast, and it will vault over ice to catch you. All the more terrifying, it’s less of a pure narwhal and more of an odd chimera of a polar bear, a sea lion, and a narwhal. As cool as it is, it can be safely outpaced by the engines players get in the late-game, rendering it little more than a nuisance.

In a neat little detail, the platform you use to feed the narwhal is red and white striped, possibly referring to the details of a diver-down flag, which is used to indicate a diver is submerged. It would be pretty funny if they’re referring to the sea-beast as a diver. The other flag it could refer to is the uniform flag, used to warn others of upcoming danger, a reference I used in the title of my Dredge review.

Moving on to the story elements, the main themes of The Pale Reach are greed and isolation. The primary quest for the area explores these ideas and involves the player investigating the frigid mysteries of a ship crew who beat you to the ice. Isolated from the world and with avaricious goals, the crew succumbed to something, and it’s up to you to find out if it was their own fatal flaws or something darker in nature. That being said, for reasons I won’t spoil, certain story beats are unsatisfying and confusing, but it’s good overall.

Being so far away from everything else, deep in the heart of the labyrinthian, snowy, ice sheets really gives a sense of isolation. At the same time, that isolation is a bit of a detriment. Part of Dredge’s charm is exploring the various islands dotted around the ocean, knowing that there could be treasure, danger, or a story on any of them. Despite that, the aesthetics are on point. The crackling of ice, the whirr of the wind, the gentle snowfall, and the occasional beating of a heart from an undiscernible location all add to the tone of the area. I would even argue it has the strongest ambiance out of any of the main island chains. Certain tracks elevate The Pale Reach even higher. The grinding, eerie dissonance of The Icebound Shadows, the sorrowful sound of The Gelid Air, and the otherworldly beckonings of The Excavation stand out in particular.

Of course, it wouldn’t be Dredge without some good old-fashioned eldritch horror! The DLC’s main story has that in spades. Looking to pry into the darkest parts of human desire? Look no further. Want a good chase sequence? The Pale Reach has you covered. It even adds a bit to the cosmic elements introduced in the first game. On another note, the aberrations are looking particularly gruesome this time around, and they tie into the glacial theme perfectly. The first one I came across was the tortured form of an ice fish, aptly called the fractal ice fish, its body pierced by ice crystals. Whether you hate fish or just really love body horror, you’ll love reading those grim text blurbs.

As I stated before, The Pale Reach benefits from being played on a fresh run as a new player. Sure, it’s more of what players love about Dredge, but the game is already wrapped, the bow is already tied, and the grand narrative is revealed to those of us who have finished the game — this is more of a stocking stuffer. Dredge revels in its slow-burn horror, traveling from island to island as the feeling that something isn’t quite right deepens. Despite the fact that this expansion fits right in, it comes late, so for many of us, it can’t be a part of that slow-burning grand whole, it can only be Dredge plus The Pale Reach. In addition, the rewards aren’t of much consequence to those who have already beaten the game, they mostly just help with filling out the fish encyclopedia. The new ability you get is a direct upgrade over an older ability, but once again, for those who have finished the game, it’s retroactively useless.

It’s important to note that The Pale Reach was a substitute for the Ironhaven DLC that got delayed. Given that Ironhaven is supposed to be a much larger addition, it makes sense to delay it so that it can thrive. Since we got The Pale Reach instead of Ironhaven, one can assume that the latter will be an addition that can stand on its own. That being said, I’m thoroughly hyped for it.

Overall, Dredge is a game that wrapped its eldritch horror tentacles around my heart and refused to let go. While The Pale Reach doesn’t compound on the main game for me, it does certainly add its own frosty flair. If you’re a fan of Dredge, and you’re yearning for an hour and a half of new content, then I would highly suggest buying this expansion but don’t expect any major plot developments.

Jackson loves to play and write about video games. Rogue-lites, FPS, and RPG games are his favorite. He's a big fan of the Battlefield series and Warhammer 40K.




Review Guidelines

If you’re a fan of Dredge, then I would recommend The Pale Reach without hesitation, it’s a good piece of new content to sate your appetite until Ironhaven releases. However, keep in mind that this DLC won’t change your experience of the main game all that much if you’ve already completed it, it just gives you another chain to explore. All in all, it’s like adding another puzzle piece to a completed puzzle.

Jackson Lustberg

Unless otherwise stated, the product in this article was provided for review purposes.

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