Cult of the Lamb is a fantastic mix of cute and fiendish, blending together the roguelike and farm simulation genres to make one of this year's best games. The roguelike genre experienced its mainstream moment in 2020 with the release of Hades, a game that relied on equal parts skill and finding those broken combos of bonuses and buffs to bully bosses into submission. One of the underdeveloped parts of Hades involved the redevelopment of the Underworld itself, which added passive bonuses and furthered the story between Zagreus and various NPCs. If you loved Hades but wanted more of that base management aspect, Cult of the Lamb is the perfect game for you.
Developed by Massive Monster, Cult of the Lamb is a "cult simulator" game in which players take control of a Lamb who is reborn as the prophet for an entity known only as The One Who Waits. Powered by their new god, the Lamb has to build a flock of loyal cultists while striking out on Crusades against the four bishops of the Old Faith, the religion that eradicated his kind and imprisoned The One Who Waits. By maintaining their cult's faith and tending to their earthly needs, the Lamb not only gains more power but also learns more about the strange entity they serve. The obviously dark themes are balanced somewhat by the adorable art style of the game, with the wide-eyed Lamb leading his following in ritual chanting before suddenly levitating and presiding over a dark ritual where ichor flows from their blank eyes.
Time in Cult of the Lamb is split evenly between Crusades and cult management. The Lamb has two main resources during his Crusades – melee weapons with different strengths and attack speeds, and Curses that usually provide some sort of ranged attack but require Fervour dropped from enemies to recharge. The Lamb will also randomly find Tarot cards that provide extra buffs, such as increasing attack speeds or temporarily increasing their life during that run. Players will also have the option to switch out their weapons and curses randomly during the runs, with a benefit of the new weapons having a higher level and therefore a higher default strength.
Like other roguelikes, a good run often depends on a bit of chance. Players can unlock different types of weapons as their cult grows, unlocking necromantic or vampiric variants of their weapons at random. Often, the key to a good run will be getting a good weapon right at the start. While picking up stacks of tarot cards will help with the runs, the cards themselves won't make up for a lousy draw of starting weapon. As such, I'd say that Cult of the Lamb leans a little more on skill than Hades did – you could make just about any weapon in Hades work with the right combination of buffs, but Cult of the Lamb doesn't have that baked in advantage. It does make beating the bosses in Cult of the Lamb a little more satisfying when you do so with an unbuffed dagger, and the game isn't quite so punishing that you "need" a combination of strong buffs to advance.
The other half of Cult of the Lamb is its "cult management" system, which involves recruiting followers and using them to collect more resources and simultaneously growing their religious fervor. Your cult following is your biggest asset in the game – not only do they provide the bulk of the gruntwork back at your Cult's commune, they also provide the Lamb with the faith needed to unlock stronger weapons and abilities. A follower can even level up over time, becoming more fervent and more useful for going out on Missions to retrieve rarer supplies or temporarily transforming into Demons that accompany the Lamb on Crusades.
There's a lot of work that goes into keeping your Cult happy – daily Sermons must be delivered, meals must be made, and vomit and poop need to be cleaned up lest disease run rampant. Followers will also deliver random quests, which range from collecting supplies from a specific area to pranking another follower by feeding them a bowl of poop. If the cult's faith grows too low, dissent with start to ferment, which will require either forcible re-education to stamp out dissenters or a good ol' fashioned murder to silence doubters permanently. Players also have a variety of rituals they can use to keep their followers happy, ranging from taking followers as spouses to brainwashing followers using mushrooms to ritually sacrificing followers to gain new powers.
It'd be easy to call Cult of the Lamb a game of contrasting ideas and mechanics that work well together, but I feel that it finds complementary ideas and mechanics that pare well together. The farm management mechanics are a much needed change of pace from the fast paced roguelike combat bringing a reprieve from the dark themes of chained gods and betrayal. It's a game that acknowledges the power of religion while simultaneously criticizing it by using satire to show the strengths and dangers of blind faith. The cute art style takes the edge off of the game's dark themes but at the same time enhances the horror when the Lamb's followers are used as unwilling pawns or as willing sacrifices to dark entities.
Cult of the Lamb has the potential to be one of the next big indie hits. The cute art style and comparisons to Hades and Animal Crossing: New Horizons will draw potential players in, but the game truly stands alone as its own experience with an intriguing story, a haunting score, and a world that grows more and more alive the longer you stay in it. The blend of gameplay styles also addresses some of the criticisms of both the roguelike genre and the farm management genres – runs are deliberately shorter so players can spend more time at the homestead, but the homestead isn't so much of a resource sink that players will feel they need to spend all their time cleaning up their camp instead of killing enemy cultists. Cult of the Lamb expertly balances a number of different mechanics, themes, and gameplay styles to create a fiendishly good time, making this game a hauntingly fun escape.
Rating: 5 out of 5
Cult of the Lamb was reviewed on the PC platform with a code provided by the publisher.