Dredge – The Pale Reach Review

The Pale Reach is premium downloadable content for Dredge, an adventure videogame that combines psychological horror and fishing mechanics that proved one of 2023’s early standouts. Once installed, the DLC adds a sixth island to the core videogame’s original five. It can be visited at any time once the player character has unfettered control of their boat by traveling south from Greater Marrow to a large red circle drawn on their map.

A frozen member of a lost expedition whispers a warning.

The Pale Reach is unique among Dredge’s island clusters. Instead of dry land, it consists of glaciers which have only recently appeared in the nearby sea. The Fisherman player character bases themselves from another of the Traveling Merchant’s pontoon outposts while they explore the narrow channels and broad pools between the glaciers. He soon finds a camp left by a ship’s crew that discovered the Reach in 1874. The Fisherman also finds the crew themselves, frozen in thick shards of ice around the area—a crew that seem to still be alive, whispering warnings against disturbing the ice and a mysterious voice that promises stones from the stars to anyone who draws near.

Like the other islands that surround Greater Marrow, The Fisherman’s ability to explore the Pale Reach is limited until they uncover a new tool. In this case, it is an Icebreaker, a set of sharp metal blades fixed to the front of their boat they can use to plow through thin ice barriers. Like other upgrades for the boat, finding the pieces to the Icebreaker requires dredging them up from pools of wreckage around the glaciers using the familiar timing minigame. It’s disappointing that Dredge can’t dream up a new way to obtain its primary tool for this new island cluster in a new DLC. It’s further disappointing that the Icebreaker has no function outside the area in which it is found.

A monstrous narwhal stalks anyone who enters the Pale Reach.

More than ice is an obstacle to the Fisherman around the Pale Reach. Like the other island clusters, a unique monster stalks the waters around the glaciers: A giant narwhal with a glowing golden horn and huge, vicious claws. It’s a ridiculous creature, looking more like a bear that has grown a horn than a narwhal with outsized arms. It lurks around the center of the Reach where most of the main goals are hidden, springing out from the water to swipe at the fisherman’s boat as he passes by. The beast is technically hard to avoid, but the nearby Merchant’s pontoon makes it easy to repair damage from its attacks. It doesn’t pose much of a threat.

At first I am excited to see the Pale Reach adds a whole new Pursuits page, the menu that tracks all of the Fisherman’s goals. The original page is crowded from edge to edge with Pursuits by the end of the story, so a whole new page suggests a bounty of new Pursuits. I am disappointed to find that there are only five in total.

Once equipped with an Icebreaker, the fisherman’s boat can plow through thin ice barriers.

It takes me a little over an hour to mark most of these Pursuits as completed. Discovering and avoiding the Narwhal, assembling the Icebreaker, and dealing with the frozen expedition trapped in ice checks off most of the goals. A fourth, optional Pursuit adds ice blocks to the Merchant’s pontoons across the entire game world. When purchased and placed in the boat’s hold, they slow the decay of caught fish. 

The fifth and longest-lasting Pursuit tasks the fisherman with capturing a new category of Ice fish for another mysterious hooded man. Since I wrote my original review of Dredge, the invisible time limit that was attached to the hooded men has been removed, relieving me of having to drop everything and focus on catching rare fish and crustaceans. I can take as long as I need to satisfy their bizarre appetites.

A new category of Ice fish extends the encyclopedia out with several dozen new entries.

After I’ve finished these Pursuits, I cannot suppress the feeling that there should be more. This doesn’t mean The Pale Reach is devoid of things to do. Upon completion, I’ve added two new useful cursed fishing objects to the Fisherman’s collection—though, having already finished Dredge earlier in the year, there’s not much I can do with them.

The truth is there isn’t much in the Pale Reach to entice me to return to Dredge. There’s a new island, but it exists adjacent to the main story. There is no reason to visit aside from a desire to explore. There is a new category of Ice fish which requires a few new pieces of equipment to capture, but the minigames and circumstances in which they are captured are identical to the base experience. If there are new psychological events to bedevil the Fisherman when he spends too much time exposed to Greater Marrow’s eldritch horrors, I do not encounter them. 

“It whispered… promised… stones from the stars…”

I wish that I could have visited the Pale Reach earlier in my experience with Dredge. New players who can install the DLC before playing the rest of the story will get the most out of it. Players like me who have already finished the main story will find a short new quest chain on a small island cluster that ends suddenly and offers little reason to stick around. Only filling in the Fisherman’s Encyclopedia with the new Ice category of fish and crustaceans gives me a reason to linger, and this goal adds only a few more hours to the playtime. Missing out on the Pale Reach won’t make you feel any less about Dredge, but it also offers little to get excited about.