Cult of the Lamb is Melbourne-based studio Massive Monster’s big break. It seems publisher Devolver Digital are on a bit of a hot streak lately, as this is yet another up-and-coming studio they’ve put their support behind, and boy has it paid off.
The premise is simple: four heretical bishops sacrifice you, the titular lamb, inadvertently sending you to a forgotten deity called The One Who Waits. This imprisoned god bestows upon the lamb a demonic crown and tasks them with building a cult in their name and hunting down the bishops, one by one.
Cult of the Lamb is a mix of roguelike and town builder. You’ll spend half your time indoctrinating followers, building tents and shrines, and gathering resources, and the other half flailing your sword and flinging fireballs in procedurally generated dungeons. These two pillars are balanced wonderfully and feed into each other without ever feeling like a chore.
To upgrade your Cult you need resources like wood, stone, and gold, all of which can eventually be generated by unlocking certain buildings, but to begin with, you’ll need to delve into one of the bishop’s four realms. These dungeons take the form of a series of rooms stringed together, most involving combat, but other events are sprinkled in too. You may come across a unique character, for example, some of whom are friendly, others not so much.
The combat is simple, with one button each for swinging your weapon, using spells, and dodge-rolling, but it does ramp up in difficulty as you progress through each of the bishop’s realms. Thankfully, as you utilise resources and the devotion of your cultists to upgrade your way through the various skill trees you’ll gain access to stronger weapons and abilities, flattening any spikes in difficulty.
At the end of each ‘floor’ of a particular realm you’ll fight a mini-boss, survive long enough to defeat a mini-boss four times and you’ll face a bishop. However, time does pass while you’re dungeon-delving, so if you stay away too long your cultists could starve, or fall ill and spread the sickness to others. This constant balancing act of not spending too much time on only one aspect of the game gets extremely addictive almost immediately.
Roguelikes are not my thing, generally. I understand the appeal, but they tend to lack the things I love most about video games: an intriguing world and compelling story. A lot of people called 2018s Hades “a roguelike for people who don’t like roguelikes” which is a phrase that kept floating to the front of my mind while playing Cult of the Lamb.
Any frustration from dying in a run and losing (some) of your progress is quickly forgotten upon returning to your cult because there’s always something else that needs doing. Whether it’s sacrificing one of your followers to the unknowable being beyond a portal, or upgrading your toilets. You work away and before you know it all your cute little cultists have gone to bed and it’s time for another go at a bishop. In this way Cult of the Lamb maintains offers a powerful incentive that I often find lacking in more pure roguelikes.
The art style and general vibe will be familiar to anyone who has played the likes of Don’t Starve or Hollow Knight, although that’s not to say Cult of the Lamb is without plenty of visual flair all of its own. The mix of cute and creepy just works, with neither of those two elements ever really engulfing the other.
The voice acting in particular is so similar stylistically to Hollow Knight that I can’t help but wonder if this was a case of two Australian indie devs sharing resources! The music makes great use of vocalisation and captures the game’s cute/macabre mash-up perfectly. The tune that plays as you wander about your cult is super catchy, and the heavier tracks that play during boss fights are suitably intense.
I encountered one technical issue with the UI, specifically with the upgrade trees. For whatever reason, the framerate seemed to absolutely tank when browsing all of the various upgrade or skill trees. It doesn’t render this screen unusable, but it does feel super sluggish when compared to the rest of the game. Not a huge problem by any stretch, but an annoyance all the same.
Cult of the Lamb may not impress because any one part of its design is totally revolutionary, instead, it’s the successful merging of two different kinds of gameplay that makes this game stand out. The way the progression of your cult is woven in with your mission to take out the bishops is this game’s triumph and the hook that will keep you coming back for more. At a glance, it’s easy to dismiss this as just another indie roguelike, but even under close scrutiny Cult of the Lamb proves to be the real deal.
Cult of the Lamb was reviewed on PC with a code provided by the Publisher.