The Tithes Will Continue Until Morale Improves
By Alex Orona
Cult of the Lamb has been on my radar since the initial announcement by way of Devolver Digital. Generally Devolver has had a good track record for games that hit for me but this one initially wasn’t interesting. Boy was I wrong. I didn’t realize I needed a Binding of Isaac roguelike with a Tamagotchi style management sim. Whatever you call that game is what I need more of in my life, and at this point that’s Cult of the Lamb.
Cult of the Lamb brings together two separate games and combines them into a cycle of supply and demand that flows seamlessly together. On one hand you have a procedurally generated dungeon crawler, but then you have this city building resource management game both working together harmoniously. Both games wrapped together in this dark and seedy cult aesthetic that is as quirky as it is grim. A heavy use of bright reds and stark blacks are the motifs that work well to emphasize the evil lovecraftian elements but can make it hard to discern important details or even enemies at times.
The game begins with a single lamb being sacrificed by four gods. As it turns out, there are five gods, but one has been betrayed by the remaining four and now wants revenge on them. You are the lamb who is resurrected by the betrayed god, and your job is to seek revenge by growing a cult following of worshippers and defeating the remaining gods. It’s a wild premise with each god having a set theme, style and personality. The artwork does a lot to create a cartoonish atmosphere but with a ghastly twist, akin to something you’d see on Adult Swim. It makes for lovingly crafted character designs that will spark joy in any goth at heart.
With Cult of the Lamb being a single cohesive idea, it’s a game of two brains. First there’s the dungeon crawling. Levels are procedurally generated, and you move from map to map with inspirations coming from original Zelda’s or Binding of Isaac. You get randomized weapons with stats and traits like a heavy ax with poison or a sword with high level crits. You are also given a “Curse” which is a spell ability that can be used 3 times per your mana, but enemies drop orbs to refill it. These can be projectiles or special attacks. As you progress through the maps, you find that this is part of a larger web of 3-5 paths. Each path comes with these explorable maps where you can find resources, new cult followers, or even small shop events. Lastly, the maps come with tarot card readers who will give you the option to pick one of two, which are random buffs that can impact your play style.
Once you’ve beaten the boss, died or just found a way to exit the dungeon, you are returned to your base camp. This is where the management simulator comes in. Here at your cult, you have a base statue of worship, a church, and whatever else you decide to build as you progress. You’ll establish farms, quarries, lumber mills, sleeping stations, outhouses and whatever else your cult members may need, and it really is all about them. You’ll be managing their moods, health, and faith (in three separate meters) because no one likes a dissenter.
Sermons can be given once a day, doctrines can be established and rituals can be performed. Doctrines are collectables that allow for you to level up how you reign over your cult that are unlocked via individual cult members leveling up. Collecting more faith from your worshippers unlock a separate leveling up system which gives you new buildings and features to craft for your cult. Rituals are bonus actions that will build up faith, and also boost effects of your cult members, but are on a cool down timer.
While it starts out convoluted, Cult of the Lamb eventually grows to feel more natural as you progress your following. If a member of your cult has their faith taken too low, it will become a dissenter and can try to turn the other cult members against you, so why not perform the ritual to sacrifice him to your god? Boom, problem solved, plus bonus faith from your followers for doing so. These issues make for quick thinking solutions. A cult member may ask that we bring in extra followers who are starving, better start cooking up more food. The quests and events add fun wrinkles to keep you on your toes while still managing each member individually. Over time the cult will grow and more advanced doctrines and rituals get added easing into the end game.
The addictive quality is quickly apparent with Cult of the Lamb. When dungeon runs generally last about 15 minutes, it’s easy to say “one more run.” Then once back at camp, losing track of time as you juggle sermons and praising and cleaning the cults’ poop, you could blink and hours fly by. It’s got heavy animal crossing vibes but with an obvious dark and twisted twist to it. I’ve become surprisingly absorbed into Cult of the Lamb. It’s a split personality game that comes together to something so villainous that you can’t help but keep playing. There are some issues with the color palette at times but it’s a minor complaint to what’s such a stand out indie. This is a definite highlight of the year. Now if you’ll excuse me, there are sacrifices to make.
For Fans of
- Binding of Isaac
- Animal Crossing
- Lovecraftian Gods