If you told me that I’d be running a cult comprised of cute characters and led by an equally cute lamb, I would’ve told you to get your head checked. However, that is exactly what happens in Massive Monster’s Cult of the Lamb, the studio’s most recent offering and my most recent addiction.
The One Who Waits
Cult of the Lamb sees you playing as the titular lamb, who’s in a bit of trouble. Brought before four heretic prophets, the lamb is the last of its kind and is sacrificed. Upon dying, it appears before a strange deity known as “The One Who Waits”, who tasks the lamb with starting a cult in their name before reviving them. Shortly after escaping, the lamb settles at the ruins of an old temple to start their cult and ultimately, defeat each of the heretic prophets.
The story is fairly intriguing from the get-go and unravels slowly over the course of the game. Through interactions with characters and the heretic prophets, you get to learn more about the world and past conflicts, however, it does take a bit of a back seat to the gameplay. It’s not a bad thing though since the gameplay is excellent and the little bits of the story does a good job of keeping you engaged.
When it comes to the gameplay, Cult of the Lamb is a combination of an action-adventure roguelike and a town management and survival sim. The best part is that these play into each other very nicely. The roguelike part of the game is fairly standard fare: you enter a dungeon of sorts equipped with a melee weapon and curse with limited use and must defeat the enemies in each room across a map that is randomly generated. You also have the ability to dodge, allowing you to roll through attacks, which is indispensable for avoiding taking damage. During your crusades, you’ll encounter paths which can lead to a new follower, health drops or spots to forage for resources, depending on your choice.
In the early going, a single run can take up to ten minutes and may stretch up to fifteen minutes once you’ve defeated a prophet or two. They never feel too long and are great for collecting loot, which can then be spent on developing your settlement. The combat is pretty satisfying though and strikes a good balance of providing a decent challenge while not being overwhelming. Plus, if you do happen to perish during a run, the punishment isn’t too severe as you only lose a few units of your collected loot. This all depends on your chosen difficulty, however, so if you’re finding it too easy, you can definitely dial it up a bit.
While you do start off with a fairly basic arsenal, there are opportunities to pick up better weapons towards the end of a dungeon. Most of the time, these seem to have better damage output but in the event of it having similar stats, it may have a special perk such as poisoning struck enemies. You’ll also encounter a tarot card reader who offers you the chance to draw one card each time you meet them. These cards grant buffs to the lamb for that run and can actually increase your chance of survival should you pull a particularly powerful card. The combat is actually quite great and since the runs are pretty short, it never feels overwhelming.
A flocking good time
Once you return from a crusade, either by beating a boss or getting beaten down yourself, you’ll end up at your cult’s settlement. This is where the town management and survival sim aspect enters the fray. As you’re crusading, you will come across potential cult members in need of rescuing from a group of zealots. Once all of the enemies in the room have been dispatched, you can walk up to the rescued character and send them back to your settlement. The bosses you beat at the end of a run can also be converted to your cause once defeated. Each cult member that you recruit will contribute to the running of your settlement, be it by gathering resources, helping with maintaining the farm or spending their entire day worshipping a shrine of the lamb. The latter doesn’t sound very helpful but this generates Devotion. Once you’ve collected enough Devotion, you unlock a point of Divine Inspiration, which can then be used to unlock new buildings for your cult. These range from sleeping quarters to farm plots, an outhouse and even a prison.
In the early going, looking after your flock is relatively easy. You keep them fed, keep the settlement clean and preach a sermon to them once a day and you’re golden. However, it does become a little challenging as you introduce more and more members to the flock though, which is to be expected. If the faith of the flock becomes too low and not addressed in time, you may encounter followers who will dissent against you. All is not lost though since you can throw them into prison and re-educate them daily until they’re back to normal. That or you can straight up murder them. It’s really up to you to be as nasty or as nice as you like.
Working on levelling up the loyalty level of the members of your flock is also quite important. Once a follower’s loyalty bar fills up, you can claim a loyalty reward in the form of a commandment stone fragment. If you manage to get three of these, you can impose a new doctrine, which will either unlock a new ritual or a trait for the members of your flock. Traits can be incredibly helpful for making your flock turn a blind eye to questionable acts such as sacrificing another follower. It’s funny how much freedom you get to be as depraved as possible if you play your cards right.
It can be a bit stressful to manage your settlement at times, especially when you have more than one elder in your cult and they could die of old age at any point while you’re off on a crusade. It’s good then that Cult of the Lamb does an excellent job of explaining every aspect of the game. Plus, if faith gets too low, there are a number of ways to rectify the issue, be it by marrying a number of members or performing a ritual that provides substantial boosts.
As you make your way through dungeons, you’ll also meet a cast of different characters who open up new areas surrounding your settlement. These locations unlock new shops and also additional activities such as playing a dice-based game called Knucklebones and fishing, which allows for cooking fish dishes. The shops sell blueprints for decorations or follower forms, and tarot cards that could possibly be drawn during one of your runs.
As mentioned earlier, the gameplay types play into each other rather nicely. The loot from running through dungeons will provide you with resources to build the necessary buildings for your settlement while the Devotion and Crown upgrades will provide you with perks and better weapon and curse options for your crusades. The result is a satisfying loop that can be incredibly addictive and rewarding since it always feels like you’re working towards something.
Cute or grisly?
Visually, Cult of the Lamb looks fantastic, it sports a colourful 2.5D aesthetic that oozes charm. The lamb and the members of your cult are super cute and it’s just as well because of the gruesome imagery you may encounter now and then. Performance-wise it’s a bit of a mixed bag on the Nintendo Switch. For the most part, it runs fairly well and at a consistent frame rate, however, when the screen gets a bit busy, it has the tendency to slow down. There was also a bit of a hiccup each time I teleported from a dungeon back to the settlement and at the start of each day. The audio is also great, especially the soundtrack. There’s an element of Lo-fi mixed with tribal beats and chanting and is incredibly catchy. It’s also very subtle and more in the background than anything else.
Like lambs to the slaughter
Cult of the Lamb is a fantastic and addictive experience. The story does take a bit of a backseat in favour of the gameplay, but the little bits that are fed to you throughout are interesting enough to leave you wanting more. The combination of the roguelike and management gameplay works so well together and creates a sort of synergy where one assists the other. Managing your cult and indoctrinating the members into being supportive of your nasty deeds is something that doesn’t get old quickly. Visually, the game is absolutely charming and manages to channel cuteness even during some grisly scenes. It’s unfortunate that performance on the Nintendo Switch is a little up and down though. Cult of the Lamb is a great execution of a number of ideas and is sure to have you hooked in no time.
A Review code for Cult of the Lamb was provided to gameblur by the publisher
Story8/10 Very Good
Visuals8/10 Very Good
- Addictive management gameplay
- Fun, challenging combat
- Fantastic art style
- Great synergy between the gameplay types
- Some performance issues