So this is going to be a short review of the DLC released just last month for Dredge, called the Pale Reach. You may want to check our review of Dredge as it was released at the beginning of the year, if you are not familiar with it. It has since then gone to secure nomations for several prizes and an award. We have also interviewed the developers twice this year. at the Bitsummit in July 2023, and at the Tokyo Games Show in September 2023.
This new DLC is the first paid content for Dredge brings a new landmass at the southern part of the map - a world of ice and snow. Right when you arrive there is a small harbor that you can use to rest and avoid the night and its monsters - you will notice very fast that there are many obstacles when trying to move around. The ice is blocking many pathways and you will need to equip your boat with an ice-breaker device to go through. To do that, you need to retrieve several parts that constitute this ice-breaker, and bring them back to the harbor to equip it. But not so fast, it will take a while.
As you try to navigate around without this precious ice-breaker, you end up meeting the photographer who tells you about some specific spots on the ice where you can put a bunch of fishes together to attract the Narval - one of the new Sea monsters of this area. As you give it a go, you see the Narval destroying a wall of ice to get to the fresh fish deposited in the right spot. There will be several spots working the same way in the area - and some of them are just to make the Narval get full and give you some moment of peace as you move around.
So one of the major enablers to sail in these areas is going to be the ice-breaker. There are three metal parts to find for assembly. As expected, they are in three different areas quite far from each other’s. Once you get them, you can get them combined together at the only harbor on the northern tip. Once installed, you will be able to break through the tiny rocks of ice on your way, which unlocks new areas and shortcuts. Note that the icy rocks will keep regenerating day after day, so getting rid of your ice-breaking tip is not recommended as long as you stay in this zone.
The main quest in the Pale Reach is about freeing the remaining spirits of a lost expedition. 4 shadows are imprisoned inside human-sized chunks of ice, begging you to liberate them (yes, they can still talk). You can do that by finding 4 large ice-picks, once again spread out in the waters in different places. Every single member you free will release you some shiny heart-shaped object - and freeing all ex-crew members gives you 2 new bonus items (that you have to obtain in different places).
And… that’s mostly it! The main quest in the area is VERY short. I was surprised when I unlocked the achievement for completing the main quest of the Pale Reach less than 2 hours after starting. So soon? Of course, there are a few more things you can do in the area (another hooded person asking for fish, and some more mysterious black rocks), but there’s really not that much to do at all.
On top of the lack of content, the story itself is quite dull, the Narval sea monster is extremely annoying and keeps chasing you the whole time when you are in its area (regardless of the time of the day), and since there’s only a single harbor where you can actually do stuff with your boat you will do a lot of back and forth in case you incur damages. That felt tedious, especially because there’s nothing much in between the spots of interest… just ice…
A Bit Light?
For a DLC which adds a whole new area, this falls a little short of expectations. I honestly expected more, at least something like 5 hours of gameplay since this is not a free extension. And it may be well be that it falls short because it’s a kind of band aid. Black Salt Games was supposed to release a more ambitious DLC in Q4 2023, but they announced in September 2023 that they have to delay the real DLC they were planning to next year:
A few months ago, we were thrilled to share with you our release plans for the first DLC for DREDGE, The Iron Rig. Originally, we planned to spend a few months crafting this exciting addition and release it in Q4 this year. However, as we progressed, we were faced with the reality that, given the time of the year, we’d need more lead time to coordinate our marketing and make the launch as exciting as it could be. […] So, we’ve been hard at work crafting some additional content and we can’t wait to share more details with you soon, including when it will be available and how much it will cost.
I am not sure how much this has to do with the contractual obligations with the publisher. Did they have to release a DLC anyway in Q4 2023 to meet the expectations of Team17? Or did they decide by themselves to release something in the meantime to ensure that Dredge stays visible and in the news until the bigger DLC lands in 2024? Your guess is as a good as mine.
In any case, if you were waiting for the big add-on to Dredge, this is certainly not it. There’s certainly nothing bad about the Pale Reach, it’s the same solid gameplay that made Dredge great in the first place (with a few flaws as highlighted above), but there’s just very little to see here.
It’s priced at 5.99 USD, which is a little on the high side for so little added content. Gamers who owned the base game have had a lukewarm reaction to this DLC, with only 72 % of positive ratings on Steam at the time of writing according to SteamDB.
Now, I expect to see the real stuff in the next DLC in 2024, with hopefully much more to see and unveil of Dredge’s mysteries.