When I saw the initial reveal trailer for Cult of the Lamb, it was love at first sight. And sure enough, I enjoyed the first few hours of the game. However, the deeper I delved, the more chips and cracks noticed. The disappointment for me stems from how close it was to being an absolute gem.
You are a lamb. A group of four gods have you slaughtered to thwart a prophecy of their downfall. This inadvertently sends you straight to the afterlife where their enemy lies in wait. The One Who Waits, fittingly named, offers you a deal: resurrection, but in exchange you must strengthen their cult and slay the gods trapping them here. And so begins your journey as an aspiring cult leader!
Cult of the Lamb’s gameplay is divided into two sections: cult management and dungeon crawling. Cult management was easily the part I sank the most time into. Your cult is composed of cute animal villagers that you can name and customize. These villagers perform tasks to generate resources and are just oh so cute! As cult leader, it is up to you to keep the villagers faithful and fed for efficient production.
The church allows the lamb to enact doctrines, tenants of the faith. Each doctrine is a choice between two options that yield different rituals and follower traits. While I enjoyed the idea of picking the cult’s beliefs, I wish I could have seen all of the choices ahead of time given some doctrines work well with others. Some doctrines do not seem balanced with one another, but in the end these are storytelling choices for the type of cult you want to build. After all, there are many ways to generate resources, some are simply faster than others.
Do you want to be a leader that secretly murders the elderly in the night and buries their corpses for free compost? Or perhaps a leader that praises ritual sacrifice and resurrects their favorites to extend their life on this mortal coil? The choice is yours!
Followers can pray at the town’s central statue to generate devotion. Devotion is used to unlock new structures to build. Many of the early buildings were useful and unique. However, the exciting upgrades petered out halfway through as many became upgrades to existing buildings, most of which only granted more devotion or more resources. These are nice rewards for the endgame if you want to be able to unlock everything and deck out your entire town, but they otherwise do not provide any new interesting interactions. In addition, in order to build upgraded structures, the player needs to build the basic building first and then upgrade it. Every time. I would have preferred to be able to build the higher tier building straight away once it was unlocked.
Managing your cult can either be the most engaging or tedious part of the game. The Lamb must craft food and clean up follower poop to maintain the status quo. Oddly, followers cannot do many basic tasks without acquiring upgrades first, such as harvesting the food they grow. While it is possible for followers to dissent and rebel, it is extremely easy to keep everyone happy.
The only issue I had was my followers starving in the 10 minutes I left them to go dungeoning. I could easily resolve this by making food and giving out free blessings, no rituals required. The ease of management made me feel like there was no danger, especially since some gods are supposed to inflict blights on your cult…that can be resolved in all of 30 seconds once you get back. So much for being all powerful huh?
The Lamb can hold a church sermon once per day to generate experience points for the dungeon upgrade tree. While this seemed like a great reason to expand your cult following, the dungeon upgrades were lackluster. While some of the status effect weapons were neat, such as vampiric weapons providing a way to heal, some statuses were far less useful. And not to mention, acquiring these weapons at all is completely random. I completed the upgrade tree halfway through the game which left me wanting for something else to mix up the dungeon runs.
The rogue-like dungeons are easily the weakest half of Cult of the Lamb. Almost every part of it feels unfinished and underwhelming. Combat itself is simple: The lamb can do a basic three hit combo, use their special weapon, and dodge roll. An enemy appears, you throw out some pokes, roll away, learn the one attack it can do, and repeat. This wouldn’t be an issue if each run’s build felt different. Sadly, upgrades and weapons have such a minimal impact on the core gameplay loop that each run feels almost exactly the same. This has a devastating effect on replayability as there is little entice players to revisit dungeon areas.
Then there are design problems I could not wrap my head around. Why would you force a weapon type on the player at the start of a run? If the player does not like using hammers they have to hope a different weapon appears later and suffer until then. There is no way to restart a run without penalty until later in the game. Then there are soul hearts and black hearts. These have no builds or combination effects so they feel tacked on simply because other rogue-likes have them.
Some of the tarot card options are useless. Poison is rarely encountered and easy to avoid, so why would I want poison immunity? Revealing the map is a horrible choice given dungeon floors are small and have no hidden rooms. I rarely had to made an effort when choosing cards since more often than not one card was clearly the better choice.
Where Cult of the Lamb exceeds expectations is in its presentation. The artwork is downright beautiful. It somehow manages to be both adorable and hauntingly horrifying at the same time. Bright, blooming, colors contrast well with the foreboding darkness looming at the edge of your vision. Characters have delightful expressions that make you laugh as you commit atrocities. The soundtrack similarly has this child-like horror synth vibe to it. Its incredibly unique and I cannot praise it enough!
There are four difficulty modes ranging from easy to very hard, making the game accessible to a wide audience. As someone who does not excel at fast paced action games, I did not have much trouble playing on the hard difficulty. Those familiar with well-known rogue-likes will likely not find much of a challenge here.There are special fleeces that change some rules to make dungeons much harder, but these require doing entire side quest chains to unlock. I wish there were fleeces that were solely cosmetic, but a lamb can dream.
While I’m normally lenient when it comes to bugs, they became hard to ignore as I regularly encountered them throughout my playthrough. While most of these were cosmetic or fixable by reloading, I cannot excuse when a game has softlocks and hard crashes. In my case, the Twitch extension revived a follower, that follower bugged out, and I could no longer use the church without softlocking. Luckily, I was still able to complete the game, but many of my friends experienced similar issues without the extension. In addition, the frame rate stuttered here and there when there were too many characters on screen. The developers have been patching the game regularly, so hopefully these issues are fixed with time.
Cult of the Lamb has great genre combination concept that feels unfocused in both directions. There are so many mechanics I wish had a bit more depth to them to keep me engaged throughout. While choice is emphasized, many of them mean little in the long term. The fun in the end comes from follower interaction, designing the town, and enjoying those sweet tunes. If you want an adorable, but dark management sim with a side of okay dungeon crawling, then pull down your hood and join the cult.
- Incredible art style
- Bopping soundtrack
- Customizable followers
- Cult management is addicting, but gets tedious
- Who doesn't love a good dice minigame?
- Great Twitch integration
- Great conceptually, but feels shallow
- Finicky tile grid for building
- Dungeons lack replayability
- Tarot cards and weapon effects are underwhelming
- Ran out of upgrades to unlock halfway through
- Predictable and lacking story
- Needs more overall polish with common bugs and softlocking issues