Cult of the Lamb had quite the *cult* following when it first released, and I heard a lot of good things about it from the folks who tried it out. It seemed like a game that could potentially be up my alley and I really enjoyed what I had seen of the art style, but I never quite pulled the trigger on grabbing the game. Fortunately, a good friend of mine who loves the game decided that it was time to take matters into their own hands. Thanks to this unnamed benefactor, I’m now a person who has played through Cult of the Lamb. So today I’ll share my thoughts on the game as I tell the story of how the cult known as the Flat Ass Club came to be.
You begin Cult of the Lamb by dying. Your character is a literal sacrificial lamb, killed by four bishops to prevent a dark god from returning to power. However, their plan backfires – it is your death that instead begins the process of the dark god’s unsealing, as The One Who Waits reaches out to you in death to give you his power in the form of the Red Crown. The crown allows you to draw a weapon, cast some spells, and fight your way free to begin your own cult and use their power to take down the four bishops who tried to kill you. Someday, you’ll have to return the Red Crown to its true owner – but for now, its power is yours to take your sweet, sweet vengeance.
From a presentation perspective Cult of the Lamb is downright gorgeous. The game has a creepy-cute aesthetic that is bright and colorful while also delving into cosmic and body horror. The character animations and facial expressions convey a lot of personality, and unlike some other cosmic horror games I could mention, the colors and designs really pop and clearly convey all the horrifying things you are being shown rather than obscuring them in darkness. The music is delightful, too, following the same creepy-cute theming with a number of charming songs that fit perfectly into a sim game like Stardew Valley or Animal Crossing along with startling, unsettling sound effects to convey the demonic voices of foes or the slimy, sinewy powers of darkness at your command. A pleasure to look at and listen to, Cult of the Lamb immediately grabs your attention with its quality presentation.
Structurally, Cult of the Lamb is a roguelike and management sim rolled up together. Your cult has a base of operations with a temple where you build structures, conduct sermons and rituals, and harvest resources in order to grow your cult in both capabilities and in numbers. A clock tracks the day and night cycle as well as the total number of days which have passed and continues to tick away even as you go on “crusades”. Crusades are your runs for the roguelike portion of the game, sending you into one of the game’s four distinct regions to fight monsters and take down minibosses that eventually open the path to defeat one of the four bishops who sacrificed you. Crusades also give you resources as well as giving you opportunities to recruit followers, who join your cult and enable you to become more powerful so you can go on more difficult crusades. The two systems feed into one another and work together to create a complete experience.
In the beginning, your concerns with your cult will be providing the basic necessities like food and shelter while harvesting faith and devotion from followers. Faith feeds into character improvement, unlocking more HP, stronger weapons, and a larger variety of curses (combat spells). Devotion feeds into structural improvements, enabling you to build a larger variety of structures or higher quality structures. These structures will help you to meet the needs of your cult more effectively. For example, upgrading a sleeping bag to a shelter will help their beds to fall apart less often. Building an outhouse will allow followers to relieve themselves in a single, closed location, preventing them from spreading illness by making the camp dirty. Maintaining a clean, well-fed, and faithful cult is essential to your success.
This is a good opportunity to warn folks who might be a bit squeamish: Cult of the Lamb isn’t just cute-but-creepy, it’s also cute-but-gross. Cleaning up feces and vomit is a thing you do regularly in this game. You can even feed that feces to your cultists as part of a quest or just because you want to mess with them. When cultists die, their dead bodies lay around the camp and make everyone vomit with disgust, and you have to either bury them, compost them, or chop them up into meat – which you can then feed your followers. To some degree you as the player have a choice as far as how gross your experience is (I leaned hard away from the cannibalism aspects of the game, for example) but there are certain gross features that are simply unavoidable. There’s also some implied gore in the game, though weirdly enough Cult of the Lamb is a lot more careful about that than it is the other nasty aspects of the setting. These are important aspects to understand about the game before considering a purchase for yourself.
When your followers are fed, clean, and have offered up their devotion and faith for the day, it’s time to set out on a crusade. During a crusade you choose one of the four bishops to pursue, though generally there is a “recommended” order to face them based on follower requirements to unlock their regions. When you enter a region you’ll be given a weapon and a curse to work with. There are five weapon types in the game and a preponderance of curses in comparison, and you can expand these by upgrading your character. During a crusade you can occasionally find opportunities to change your weapon or curse, but always to a randomly-selected alternative and not to a specific choice out of all the possible configurations. So much like other roguelikes, it is rarely about getting what you consider to be your best kit and more about making the most of the limited options you are given on a particular run.
Combat is simple with a limited number of commands. You can make an attack with your weapon, cast a curse, dodge roll away from attacks, or just move around the battlefield. Enemies will glow to indicate that they are about to attack and some attacks will show a targeting reticle or danger area to indicate where you need to avoid in order to dodge the attack. While your attacks have varying damage values based on the quality of the weapon you are wielding, enemy attacks always do half a heart of damage with your maximum hearts generally being around 4. In other words, you’ve got about eight hits to work with during any given run, with limited or unreliable access to healing. And because the weapons mainly only differ in damage, attack speed, and range, there’s not as much going on combat-wise in this game as in games with similar combat systems like Boyfriend Dungeon, let alone a game like Hades. I say that not to say that Cult of the Lamb is worse than those games but to set expectations around the action: if you come to games like this primarily for their combat systems, Cult of the Lamb is probably not going to keep your attention. That said, the combat aspect of Cult of the Lamb is unavoidable if you care about rolling credits, so that’s something to keep in mind if you are primarily interested in the sim aspects of the game.
If you’re here primarily for the sim aspects, I do think Cult of the Lamb has a bit more to offer on that front. You’ve got a lot of freedom in how you lay out your cult and how you design your campsite to look. I’m not really a customizer and prioritize function over aesthetics, so I basically just put all my important buildings in a central location, shoved everyone’s houses in a corner somewhere, and never made things like roads or cute little decorations to spice up my camp. But if you care about that stuff, there are all kinds of paths to discover, furniture pieces or decorations to unlock, as well as lots of designs for your followers to make them visually distinct and fun to look at.
Overall, I think Cult of the Lamb will hit hardest for you if you dig the aesthetic, care about making and managing a cult beyond just the most functional aspects of that cult, and don’t mind to go on short excursions to do some combat. One thing I really appreciate about Cult of the Lamb is how it respects your time. Crusades generally take less than thirty minutes and so can quickly be engaged during short bursts; a one hour play session for Cult of the Lamb might look like one crusade followed by collecting your devotion and faith and then investing your rewards into new structures and abilities, setting you up for your next crusade. The overall game is quite short and took me less than 20 hours to complete, a breath of fresh air after pouring eighty hours each into Elden Ring, Fire Emblem Engage, and Persona 3 Portable back to back. It kept Cult of the Lamb from overstaying its welcome, something I could easily see happening to me had it been longer.
I enjoyed Cult of the Lamb for what it is and I recognize that my middling appreciation for it is partly the result of it just not being my kind of game. Historically I’ve not clicked with games that combine simulation elements with RPG or action gameplay as I’ve found both sets of systems wanting as a result, but there is absolutely an audience for titles like this that combine base building and management with a touch of roguelike action. I think if you’ve not tried Cult of the Lamb but the game sounds interesting to you, it is certainly worth checking out. I had a good time with it and it was the perfect palette cleanser for me between massive, time-consuming undertakings, and those types of games are important to have in your library.
Glad you had a positive experience with the game. I…did not. I found both the roguelike and sim aspects of the game fairly lacking. They’ve probably added more to the sim side since I played it at launch, but it was fairly barebones back then which led to it being just as unsatisfying to engage with as the incredibly repetitive combat.
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I get that, for sure. That logic keeps me away from Rune Factory for example. But since this was short, looks good, and did have some charm to it I had a positive experience, and it helps that I had a buddy who was really enthusiastic about it that I could talk to.
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