HomePC GAMESForza Horizon 5Dredge's new DLC is a masterpiece of icy show-don't-tell horror

Dredge’s new DLC is a masterpiece of icy show-don’t-tell horror


Dredge was pretty weird to begin with. The indie hit somehow melded fishing with cosmic horror – seamlessly – to create an enthralling adventure where you can never be sure if what you’re about to haul out of the depths will have a normal amount of eyes or tentacles. The new Pale Reach DLC gets even weirder, a masterpiece of show-don’t-tell horror that manages to evoke some of the more inspired Bloodborne monsters as well as some of icy, supernatural scares from The Terror. And it’s all centred on a big whale.

Spoilers ahead, friends, but in The Pale Reach, a massive icy landscape has suddenly appeared in the southern, well, reaches of Dredge’s world, so naturally we’re off to see what that’s all about, ploughing along in our faithful fishing boat to the hostile new climate. Every path into the landmass is barricaded by imposing ice walls. It’s a slog.

It’s also a great setup. We’re made to instantly wonder what the hell hides in this treacherous ice field, and the answer is equally great: a massive corrupted narwhal with bulbous glowing eyes. The huge beast dwarfs your tiny ship, but mercifully it’s frozen solid in an even bigger chunk of ice, with only those very angry eyes poking out at us. Four angry eyes on one side of its head, to be very precise.

It calls to mind some of the best game design of the last decade. If you showed me artwork of the big narwhal and said it was a cut Bloodborne feature, I’d probably believe you. The creature looks almost as beautiful as it is intriguing, gross at the same time as you’re drawn to understand it. Part of the fun of Bloodborne’s brilliant cosmic horror was running smack into some new monstrosity and muttering “what the fuck is that?”, and The Pale Reach captures that feeling sublimely via the big old narwhal.

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An explorer in the Dredge DLC The Pale Reach, who asks if you're there to investigate the ice field as well
Image credit: RPS/Team17

As you look at it, you wonder what the narwhal did to end up effectively beached on a giant ice platter in the middle of the ocean. How long has it actually been frozen there? The eyes seem unnatural, almost like a parasitic growth, and if so, what did the whale do to get infected? The Pale Reach purposefully doesn’t answer any of these questions, because, of course, the mystery is more intriguing than the answer – something J.J. Abrams subscribed to with Lost, setting up more unsolved questions than he ever planned to answer by the time the final credits rolled (your mileage may vary with the Smoke Monster, but you can’t argue with Lost’s results re. viewership).

Recently horror games, and arguably games in general, bloody love spelling everything out to you, in some cases literally. Just look at the finale of Resident Evil Village, for example: the final hour includes a room that contains heaps of documents from the game’s villain, all of which spell out in crystal clear detail how and why everything happened in the game. It’s really boring, and dispels any mystery – which Dredge thankfully preserves by withholding all the finer details.

Bloodborne had you looking up to the sky to see a creature with six spindly arms and spidery eyes on its head just perching on the side of a church, or mangled body parts congealing into one moaning boss in The One Reborn’s fight. You could stare for hours at The Pale Reach’s encased narwhal and similarly be at a loss for what’s happened to it – and because it’s unlike anything we’ve seen in the base game, it’s immediately fascinating and captivating. There were never any immediate answers about Bloodborne’s horrific monsters like the Blood-Starved Beast, and The Pale Reach does that perfectly, too. The DLC’s larger plot, such as it is, is anchored around freeing four trapped souls from their own ice crystals, each of which heard a mysterious voice whispering to them from underneath the ice itself. Normal things from a normal fishing game.

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A journal discovered in a ruin in Dredge's The Pale Reach DLC, detailing how the crew have heard a heartbeat in the ice

A map of Dredge's The Pale Reach DLC, showing a new area marked with a big red question mark

Image credit: RPS/Team17

The trapped mariners whisper strange fractions of sentences to you (“do not… it senses”), maybe answering some of your questions but creating as many more. Once you’ve tracked down the requisite hatches and hacked them free, they disappear into a wisp-like form, and purge one of the narwhal’s threatening eyes. There’s never any grand revelation as to what the sailors actually heard beneath the ice, leaving your imagination to do the work – which is why showing instead of telling is so powerful. Just like with the narwhal itself, what your mind creates to fill the gaps between what is shown is worse than any concrete truth.

The entire DLC plays out a bit like The Terror, AMC’s neat horror show which took some whacky creative liberties with John Franklin’s doomed expedition into the arctic. There are no demonic polar bears with human faces cutting about in Dredge, but there is an expedition into uncharted waters that’s clearly gone horribly wrong, as its crew fractured and split off thanks to otherworldly forces.

There are points in later episodes of The Terror where dead or dying men are discovered and you see only the aftermath, so are left to imagine the battles, the cannibalism, the freezing desperation yourself. But what made The Terror so great was the human element – people turned into cannibals, crewmates stabbed one another in the back (literally), and others just wandered out into the icy wilderness and never came back. Dredge gets this, and so as weird as The Pale Reach gets with all its monstrous antics, it still lets human feelings cut through to the core story with the remainder of the crew longing for a reprieve from their captive shells.

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A whale trapped in the ice, it's baleful red eyes staring out, in Dredge's The Pale Reach DLC
Image credit: RPS/Team17

Dredge was a great horror game in the first place. Whether it was playing cat and mouse with a monstrous fish as you baited it into exploding barrels, or cruising up alongside a pile of rocks only for them to become sentient and batter you, the whole thing was a wickedly wonderful adventure. The Pale Reach makes things even weirder, without losing any of the enthralling horror charm. A narwhal the size of the Titanic is threaded into the same quest as freeing the trapped souls of deceased sailors, so the whole thing folds back into oddly relatable people struggling against the horror.

What’s even more impressive is that The Pale Reach manages to do all this in under three hours. If this is what Dredge’s mini expansion is like, then 2024’s meatier Iron Rig DLC should be an absolute belter.

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