While gaming is a much more accepted pastime in this technologically dominated age we live in, that was not always the case, and gaming along with various other forms of media was often vilified by suburban mothers, good Christian families, and opinionated old-timers alike. You need only look back through the annals of recent history to dig up a few examples.
Do you remember the 1990s when Pokemon fever was in the air and it was said to be opening up a gateway to a demonic realm full of satanic rituals and sorcery? Then you had later cases when the Doom series was supposedly the catalyst for the Columbine shootings.
In short, games have always been in the firing line and usually for reasons beyond their control, as the US government had an agenda in the 2000s to curb the rise of gaming, and quite frankly, they still do. Then fast forward to 2022, and here we are reviewing a game that allows you to run your own satanic cult, with plenty of nods to real cult practices, and sprinkles of blasphemy in there for good measure. Oh, how far we have come as an industry. That’s right, I’m talking about Massive Monster’s new Roguelike cult simulator, the object of this Cult of the Lamb Review.
This title takes this taboo topic, lovingly creates a sinister world with a cutesy overlay, and then marries together some of the hottest gaming formats around to create a title that occasionally stumbles, and perhaps fails to compete with its inspirations, but is easily one of the strongest indie games of the year so far.
Though, don’t just take my word for it. I’m going to break down this unique and surprisingly deep cult sim so that you can make your mind up and decide if you are willing to join the cause. So without further delay, here is my review for Cult of the Lamb. Enjoy!
A Wolf in Lamb’s Clothing
The lamb has always been seen as the perfect sacrifice to purge one of their sins. Well, have you ever stopped to consider what the Lamb might think of this? Well, Cult of the Lamb does just that, flipping the script and allowing you to take control of a lamb, form your own cult and serve as a charismatic, or dictatorial leader, and then you can do the sacrificing. Neat, huh?
The story is simple, you have been saved from slaughter by The One Who Waits, a strange figure who wishes for you to serve as his apostle and form a following in his name. From there, you reanimate and are tasked with slaying the pillars of The Old Faith, building your flock, and becoming the most powerful force in the land.
In terms of story, I thought the premise was very strong and the world-building that occurs throughout the game helps support the story. However, the whole way through I couldn’t help but think back to roguelikes such as Hades, where the character development, the NPC’s you met along the way, the cut scenes, events that happened between deaths, and the general sequence of events as so much stronger than what Cult of the Lamb had to offer.
It’s perhaps unfair to compare this title to Supermassive’s breakout Roguelike but this is the scrutiny that comes with running in the same lane as the big boys.
Next, we move on to the presentation, and Massive Monster has really nailed it in this category. Beginning with the overall art style, it is very reminiscent of The Binding of Issac, but with a much more modern polish and a much more whimsical approach.
The way that this game manages to take such dark and potentially triggering topics and make light of them with cute animations, character models, and a sprinkling of humor is sublime.
Yet, when the game wants to unnerve you with imposing bosses, demonic themes, and tense moments, it manages to switch things up accordingly and to great effect.
If I was to be somewhat critical of this game’s presentation, I wasn’t blown away by the soundtrack as it washed right over me with no standout tracks or emotive scoring to make me feel panicked, at ease, or anything in between.
Then to double down on sound, I did enjoy the baritone chanting in lieu of voice acting, but I feel that this game could have benefitted from voice acting for the main characters at the very least. It wasn’t a dealbreaker at all, but more a small note for improvement.
Another Day In Paradise
Just a brief mention of the decorative and cosmetic aspects of this game, as while I’m reluctant to compare this game to titles like Stardew Valley and Animal Crossing, the game does share some mechanics with these games, such as a fishing mechanic, and more prominently, the ability to decorate and customize your compound.
Cult of the Lamb accommodates players that spend time making things look aesthetically pleasing by allowing players to unlock and spend resources to build decorations.
However, to be critical, the pool of decor items is rather limited, so this is more of a fun extra than something that you can spend hours getting lost in like the other games mentioned. Still, it’s better to have some say on how paradise should take shape than none at all!
Dance My Puppets!
Okay, it’s about time we broke down the gameplay for this game, and much like managing a cult, not that I have personal experience, there are a lot of moving parts here. So let’s begin with the standout aspect of this game, managing your followers. This is easily the deepest and most impressive aspect of the game and allows you to build a cult in your own image.
From the offset, you have full control of your flock, and just about everything is customizable. You can name your members, change their appearance, and then assign them tasks that best suit their given traits, with work rather like Rogue Legacy’s character traits at the beginning of runs.
Then digging into the tasks themselves, this starts as simple as gathering raw materials but expands into other avenues like praying, construction, resource refinement and so much more. However, to keep your flock in line you will need to feed them, keep the place clean, keep their faith high through regular sermons and rituals, and through completing side quests, and if someone steps out of line, then you must discipline them as you see fit.
I would compare this format to that of Don’t Starve and that is very high praise indeed. This game has so many moving parts and so many small decisions and maintenance considerations that the player must adhere to, to the point where you will spend as much time in your compound as you will out there killing demons.
So it would have been very easy for the developer to make cult management complex, convoluted and messy. Yet all the pieces fit together seamlessly, and while things do become repetitive and tiresome as your flock expands, many will love the management aspect of this game more than the roguelike combat.
(Lamb) Shank Your Enemies
Speaking of, let’s discuss the combat and what happens beyond your cult’s compound. For me, the combat was a mixed bag. On the positive side, this combat leans on the more accessible side of roguelike gameplay, offering combat that is much more in line with titles like Binding of Issac or Rogue Legacy where you can attack, dodge, do special attacks, and that’s about it.
There are no complex combos, no deep strategies, and the enemy’s attack patterns are all pretty easy to decipher. This is great for the casual player, but for those that love the bullet-hell-esque games like Hades or Enter The Gungeon, this will feel a little underwhelming.
Then to expand on this, there were some aspects of the combat format that weren’t my cup of tea personally. Take the weapon situation for example. If you are going to offer a variety of weapons, then let the player choose right off the bat. Hades does this through Infernal Arms, and games that opt not to do this offer a standard starting attack that can be altered with powerups, like Issac’s tears in The Binding of Issac.
Yet in Cult of the Lamb, you are given a random weapon at the beginning of each run, and while you may get an option to swap this eventually, this initially forces you into a playstyle that may not be your preference. The argument against is that it forces you to be a well-rounded player but I would rather make that choice rather than be forced to do so by the developer.
Then secondly, I want to rag on the Fervour/Curses system for a moment, as I think this was handled poorly. This mechanic pays homage to Hades Cast mechanic. However, unlike Hades, this game doesn’t offer a quick and easy way to regain your cast from room to room, and Fervour (the currency that governs this mechanic) isn’t offered in enough quantity to allow for constant use.
This would be fine if the special attacks were real game changers, but aside from their ranged capacity, they aren’t much stronger than a basic melee attack most of the time. In short, I think it would have been better to offer a recharge meter that is filled by killing enemies for example, rather than this unbalanced system we got.
Building a Demonic Legacy
With all that has been said so far, you may be wondering, if this is a Roguelike, then what aspects do you carry with you after you die/complete sections? Well, the player keeps items gathered on each run that allow you to build new resources and buildings to make cult management and future runs easier.
Plus, the player will occasionally gain Stone Slab Fragments, Unlock Tarot Cards, or obtain unique items from bosses which allow you to up your character’s personal stats and the layout of the procedurally generated wilds beyond your compound.
Since I’ve been comparing this game to Hades throughout, let me do it again and this time say, Cult of the Lamb does this better. Unlike the Mirror of Night which offers basic stat buffs, this title allows for regular Doctrines to be put in place, Rituals to be carried out, and Divine Inspiration that can unlock new resources and buildings.
Then with unique boss items, the player can unlock real game-changing powers too, such as sacrificing cult members to keep your run going, for example. It’s just a much more varied and diverse system which makes leveling up and setting up for your next run much more immersive, thought-provoking and satisfying.
On a side note, the power-ups don’t do much to curb the spikes in combat difficulty that occur from moving on to each main boss’s biome, but this is a minor issue and only pushes the player to master the combat in order to continue.
Busy as Flock
Moving onto the UI for this game, which I think deserves a lot of praise. As I mentioned above, this game has so many systems and interconnected mechanics. To the point that could have spent forever holding the player’s hand, or overloading the screen with Heads-up-display assets.
However, the game manages to guide the player through comprehensive overviews upon every new introduction and manages to showcase how each action links to the core stats like hunger, cleanliness, and faith without being a constant nattering in the player’s ear.
Then, best of all, the HUD is minimal, meaning you can really lean into what’s on screen and immerse yourself in the action. Absolutely no complaints when it comes to usability here.
While I am largely impressed with what this game has to offer, there were moments when I found myself dissenting from the flock.
Firstly, I don’t want to condemn the game for this as it will likely be fixed pretty promptly in a patch, but the game has quite a few bugs, the most prominent being one that blacks out the screen when moving between rooms on a run, meaning the player must quit to the title screen and lose all run progress.
Seeing as runs are usually fifteen minutes tops, it’s hardly the end of the world but it’s enough to have you tut in disappointment before hopping back in.
Then another issue that had me audibly sighing was the volume of tasks as your flock grows, and the lack of clarity regarding who needs dealing with on a daily basis. As my flock expanded into the double figures, knowing who needed to be blessed/inspired, who was assigned to which job, and who wanted me to turn in a quest became very hard to track. Again, not a dealbreaker, but it had me wishing that I could just chop my numbers down with no consequences to progression.
Then another issue that was a little irksome was the volume of resources that are regenerated daily. Very quickly in your run, lumber and wood become a rarity and without the proactive choice to build Lumbermills and Stone Mines, you’ll find yourself light on these resources.
This then forces you to head off into the combat area, prioritize stone and lumber paths, and then this can slow down your progression. Not to mention opening up other cans of worms like a lack of food, and more time away from your flock.
Even a simple prompt to say, these huge mounds of rock and wood present on the compound won’t be here forever would have been handy.
Then lastly, I was just surprised that even as your flock grows, how hands-on you have to be as a cult leader. Isn’t the whole idea that you are a puppet master holding the strings, and therefore not dirtying your hands with manual labor?
Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy showed the issues that come with being a dictator of actions rather than a hands-on character getting things done through its combat, but contextually it was just a little off for this game to have you being so involved, even in the late game.
If you liked certain aspects of this game, but want something that leans in harder on story or combat for example. Or you just want more roguelike/management games, then these alternatives might just fit the bill:
- The Binding of Issac
- Rogue Legacy
- Dead Cells
- Don’t Starve
Question: Is Cult of the Lamb Scary?
Answer: No, not in the slightest. Thanks to the cute and cuddly art style, you’ll find that even with the demonic setting and the taboo nature of the source material, this game leans more towards a wacky, whimsical, and funny outing than one that finds itself in the horror genre.
Question: How Long is Cult of the Lamb?
Answer: This will vary from player to player, as you might get more invested in the base-building, cosmetic, and management aspects of the game. Which will naturally slow down your progression. However, assuming you gun it for the finish line you could have this one wrapped up in about 10-15 hours. However, if you are a completionist and what to squeeze every drop of goodness out of this game, you’ll be looking at a playtime closer to 30-40 hours.
Question: Can You Fish in Cult of the Lamb?
Answer: Yes, the game has fishing-related quests, collectibles, and a corresponding mini-game that is a mashup of Stardew Valley and Animal Crossing’s mini-games. This game actually has a lot of other mini-games too, including a dice game not unlike Fallout New Vegas’s Caravan card game, but with Dice called Knucklebones.
Overall, Cult of the Lamb is a game that has a wide reach and will appeal to a lot of different gaming fans. With roguelike elements, accessible hack and slash combat, and lots of resource management aspects, this game casts a wide net, and will likely lead to a huge initial success in terms of sales.
However, when you take a step back you begin to realize that the game doesn’t quite deliver top-tier content in any of these avenues. The combat when compared to its closest competitors Hades and The Binding of Issac, is a little too simplistic and lacks variety as time goes on.
Then the storyline, while serviceable, is nowhere near as rich and cleverly paced through progression (and deaths) as Hades, for example. Then with the resource management, while this is easily the strongest aspect of this game, this too runs out of steam as you near the end of the game, with so many moving parts that it feels like a chore.
What I can say though, is that this game looks fantastic, has a very strong and addictive gameplay loop, a killer concept that is brought to life with love and care, and although I may not return to this one again after besting those that chopped my head off mere moments into the game, I don’t regret my time spent playing this truly unique game. I may be deprogrammed, but the dark and sinister memories of cult life will stay with me forever.
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