Cult of the Lamb isn’t a bad game, but it doesn’t commit to any of its single mechanics adequately to be an excellent game. The only area where it makes any real innovation is in combining the various gameplay loops that it consists of. But perhaps as a result of that synthesis, none of those loops felt very deep. As such, I didn’t personally enjoy it, and I don’t recommend it.
Let’s back up for a moment, so I can catch my breath from outrunning the screaming mobs. The game is getting a lot of good press and attention right now, and I suspect my opinion is going to be somewhat unpopular. Still, before you crucify me, let me explain myself.
Cult of the Lamb presents itself as a combination of a management sim and action roguelike. You play as the Lamb, resurrected from a sacrificial death by an elder god-like figure, The One Who Waits. Upon being returned to life, you are entrusted with two goals. To build a cult in his name, and to slay the four bishops who trapped him.
I’ll cover the slaying first. The action roguelike portion of the game follows the somewhat standard roguelite formula. Upon beginning a run (or crusade, as the game likes to call them), you’re dropped into a level and given a starting weapon and a curse. There are four or so base weapon types, each with varying speed and attacks.
The dagger is the fastest, but with low damage, while the hammer is the slowest, actually having a sort of windup before it swings. The sword and the axe sit in the middle. There are more variants applied to each of the base weapon types, but they don’t really change how the weapons play, just how much damage they do. Curses are just spells. You spend fervor to use them and they have some sort of damaging effect. You get fervor by killing and hitting enemies.
The system is pretty light on builds, so runs don’t feel that different. You can’t force weapon spawns to show up, and despite the variants, each variant feels the same as the base. For example, the poison dagger and the godly dagger don’t feel different to use, even if the second has much more damage.
Anyway, back to crusade mechanics. The goal of a run is to reach the end of the zone, which looks something like the map below. Along the way you’ll gather various resources and crafting ingredients.
While this might look a little intimidating at first, there are usually only 2-3 combat areas in a run. The rest are actually resource nodes, shops, or other small events.
Upon reaching the final area of a zone, one of two things will happen. One, you’ll face off against a mini-boss for a bit more loot and a recruitable. Or two, if you’ve already defeated the zone 3 times, you’ll face off against the zone’s boss: one of the four Bishops of the Old Faith.
I played the game on medium difficultly, and I’d say that none of the fights are particularly challenging. Only one boss fight in the game took me multiple attempts.
If you win the fight, you’ll get some bonus resources, and if you lose, you’ll lose some of what you’ve collected. Either way you’ll be sent back to your cult after. This is the management sim portion of the game. You can construct buildings with resources you’ve gathered. But you make the the most important building during the game’s intro: the shrine. The shrine is used to gather devotion.
Devotion serves the role that something like “Science points” would in another game. It’s used to unlock additional buildings and structures from your primary tech tree. The other resources you have to keep an eye on are the food and faith meters. While individual cultists have their own stats, these meters provide a sort of aggregate overview of the status of your cult. Keep your cultists fed, or they’ll start to starve, and get unhappy. Keep them loyal, or they’ll… I actually don’t know what happens to be honest. I never had any loyalty problems.
This might have been because the only time someone wasn’t loyal, I sacrificed them to be ritually devoured by tentacles.
Speaking of, rituals! Another building you unlock early on is the Church, where you can perform rituals and announce doctrines for your followers to obey. In theory, it’s kind of a neat idea. In practice, I never once ran out of the resource needed to perform rituals, so I pretty much just performed them whenever they were off cooldown. For some rituals the cooldown was several in-game days long.
The timing system itself is probably worth noting. Time passes the same regardless of if you’re at your cult, or on a crusade. And cultists can’t make their own food. So it’s somewhat necessary to either set things up so that they won’t starve while you’re away, or to try to minimize the time spent on your crusades.
This is as good a moment as any to talk about the cultists themselves.
While each individual cultist does have some of their own traits, they don’t offer much variety. I only ever saw cultists with a maximum of three traits, and most of them have fairly minimal gameplay impacts; things like “15% faster/slower gathering speed.”
The end result is that I never really felt incentivized to get attached to anyone, or to assign any specific cultist a specific task. The benefits to doing so were pretty much non-existent.
It doesn’t help that there are a bunch of other mechanics that discourage you from getting attached. Cultists can die of old age, which encourages constantly acquiring new members. But cultist death makes it feel bad to use gifts or invest any significant effort into leveling up a single member. There’s also a portion of the game where several of your cultists will be randomly selected to turn against you, and you’re forced to kill them. You can also unlock the ability to sacrifice members for various reasons, including to resurrect yourself after dying in the roguelike portion of the game, but I never used that feature.
This is the biggest argument for me on why Cult of the Lamb isn’t like Animal Crossing. Cultists aren’t friends or helpful NPC’s. They’re a resource to be used in your quest to slay the bishops. At their best, they’re pretty much slaves to your every whim. At their worst, you can sacrifice them to a pit of tentacles for emergency meat.
Since I’ve covered most of the game’s mechanics, let me try to wrap it all up into one neat package. The action roguelite section of the game doesn’t have the build diversity of other games like Binding of Issac or Atomicrops, or the mechanical challenge. At the same time, the cult management portion of the game doesn’t offer the mechanical depth of other sim games, like Cultivation Simulator or Dwarf Fortress.
At the same time it doesn’t have the comfy factor of something like Animal Crossing, since many of the mechanics apply pressure to your cult. It feels like a waste to construct various decorations and buildings when the same resource could be used to create another outhouse.
I’ve talked a lot shit, so before I wrap this up, I want to say some nice things. Cult of the Lamb has absolutely incredible art style, that it executes to near perfection. And while the plot twist is pretty easy to see coming, there were a few moments in the game that did creep me out. It’s not enough to change my opinion on the game. In 12 hours of gameplay, I can’t tell you the name of a single cultist or about a really cool run, but I do remember a small set of dialogue from an NPC that twisted the knife on how fucked up the game’s universe is.
So, yeah. I don’t personally recommend Cult of the Lamb. This isn’t because it’s a bad game. But what I personally tend to prize in games is either new weird mechanics/risks, or really fun moment to moment gameplay and systems. Cult of the Lamb doesn’t do either of those things. Instead, it’s a synthesis of existing mechanics, and watered down versions of their systems.
Cult of the Lamb is $25 for all platforms.