Review: Cult of the Lamb

Posted 2 months ago by Jordan Devore
Cult of the Lamb review

A fascinating fusion of bite-sized roguelite action and cozy cult management

Cult of the Lamb is what happens when snappy roguelite dungeon-crawling action meets freaky animal cult base building and management, and it’s a wild, intoxicating fusion.

It’s challenging to combine two very different genres in a cohesive way, making sure each half feels satisfying on its own while also fitting into the bigger picture, but the risk is often worth taking. And the developers at Massive Monster sure pulled it off. Straight away, it’s clear this is a tortured, sinister-yet-weirdly-cute world worth getting to know. But I was surprised by just how riveting the core “slice and build” loop ended up being.

We’ve played roguelites that wear out their welcome. We’ve sunk dozens of hours into town builders. Against the odds, Cult of the Lamb doesn’t bite off more than it can chew.

The One Who Waits

Cult of the Lamb (PC [reviewed], PS4, PS5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X/S)
Developer: Massive Monster
Publisher: Devolver Digital
Released: August 11, 2022
MSRP: $24.99

If you’re not careful, this is the kind of game that can make hours suddenly vanish. But on the flip side, Cult of the Lamb is also incredibly respectful of your time as a busy player.

After a short but impactful intro to set up the stakes and the four major bosses, you’re off to start your very own cult. Playing as a literal sacrificial lamb who’s brought back to life by an ominous figure known as The One Who Waits, you’ll indoctrinate critters as a questionable yet committed leader. Biome by biome, bishop by bishop, you’ll get revenge to help your mysterious benefactor. I like that the overall path is established so early.

The core loop is so sastifying

Starting from scratch at your new home base, you’ll harvest natural resources, build, farm, cook, clean, bless individuals, give daily sermons to the group, and perform rituals, among other overseer duties. Early on, there’s little to manage, but you will have to get your hands dirty chopping trees or mining; further along, with many more cultists at your disposal, they’ll handle most of the cult’s busywork while you focus on the big-picture expansion and seedy decision-making. Above all, just make sure they keep the faith.

Out in the roguelite dungeons — which you can venture to at any time — you’ll fight through randomized rooms with plenty of fast sword slicing and dodge-rolling, culminating in a mini-boss. Each of these “runs” will typically take about 10 minutes.

Cleaning up poop in Cult of the Lamb

Further breaking it down, Cult of the Lamb is split up into four different biomes, each led by a conspiring bishop, and you’ll have to complete three (escalating) runs in each zone before you can embark on a final fourth run to dethrone the ruler of that land.

Action-wise, that’s the basic progression loop. But base-building is how you ultimately grow powerful enough to stand a chance of facing these challenges head-on.

In other words, played flawlessly, you’re looking at 16 runs, minimum (plus some endgame stuff). As weird as it feels to frame the game this way, I feel like it’s worth stressing up front as a ballpark figure for anyone who’s got roguelite fatigue. As much as I love games like Hades, Dead Cells, and Rogue Legacy 2, don’t come in expecting that kind of run-after-run grind. Cult of the Lamb condenses everything to avoid repetition.

Out in the field, you’ll naturally collect gold, food, and followers, all of which funnel into the cult-raising efforts back home. And every so often, you can stumble upon strange folks — some of them will open up areas on the world map for you to explore, and they’re just a fast-travel click away. Whether it’s a rapid-fire fishing mini-game, a dice-rolling competition against several NPCs, or a gold-obsessed maniac’s lair, it’s a colorful world.

Fighting the bishop Leshy in Cult of the Lamb

Tending the flock isn’t a hassle

Like any smart simulation game, Cult of the Lamb knows to keep things simple at first to avoid flooding you with too much info. That bit-by-bit rollout carries throughout the whole game, keeping things fresh without feeling overwhelming. You’ll never be “on the hook” for a concept until it’s properly introduced and explained. So while you’ll eventually end up managing a dozen or two animal cultists, the process of getting there is smooth.

And when it’s not — when a bishop curses your flock with sickness and they poop all over town while you’re dungeon-running, or someone dies of old age and you forget to take care of the body, or a dissenting snake in the grass emerges and you neglect to imprison and “re-educate them” — well, misfortune is part of the fun. While I had all of those mishaps (and more), my cult never got too derailed. Expect some funny Tamagotchi vibes.

The in-game cycle is just daily (not weekly), and you don’t have to eat or sleep like your followers. Generally, before leaving town, it’s best to give a sermon, cook some food, clean up messes, fulfill little villager requests, order any construction you want to be done, and collect resources that the group has harvested or generated. (A good portion of them will spend their day praying.) Cult of the Lamb has a few different technology trees.

The main tech tree — the biggest one — is for the town, with lots of unlockable building blueprints fueled by your follower’s devotion. This is how you’ll increasingly automate your cult. There’s also a skill tree for your lamb, opening up new types of randomized weapons and rechargeable combat abilities, as well as better starting weapon stats.

Choosing a doctrine in Cult of the Lamb

And then there are unlockable rituals (that run on a cooldown) and doctrines (that are permanent for the playthrough). Rituals can restore everyone’s faith in you, raise the dead, or satisfy empty stomachs, among many other dark “miracles.” You can even get married! Multiple times over! Doctrines present interesting conundrums — these are unlockable traits for your villagers, but it’s an “either this or that” choice and they can be tough calls with wild pros and cons to consider that lead to memorable situations as the simulation unfolds. If you want to get selfish, you can; the game won’t judge you. As I grew to really care for my cultists (which you can individually name), I tried not to be too vile.

Again, for all of the elements that come into play, Cult of the Lamb presents everything in a digestible way. Your screen won’t bombard or prester you. And while you do need to pay attention to what your cult is up to on a more or less daily basis, if you get distracted by the roguelite side of the game — or you decide you want to catch every fish back to back for a whole day — you won’t be overly punished. I never once found the base-building sim side to be stressful, even during “oh shit I should probably run home” moments of panic.

The roguelite dungeons have almost no downtime

Instead, the stress tends to manifest in the roguelite action. There are several difficulties — I went with “Medium” — and that’s what I’d recommend. (The developers do too.) I made it halfway through Cult of the Lamb before I died on a run, and all told, I think I wiped four or five times. If you’re a planner, you can really set yourself up for success.

Aside from gaining more raw attack power and weapon types in the randomized pool (my favorite is a massive slow-hitting hammer), you can preach to get a health boost or finish certain multi-part NPC quests to earn alternate fleeces that suit different playstyles. Instead of finding temporary tarot cards on runs (for things like a higher crit chance or better chests), I preferred to wear a tunic that gave me four random cards right at the start (and prevented me from finding any more). Other tunics are risky but powerful.

Fighting in the Anchordeep dungeon

The game takes a few good cues from The Binding of Isaac, including permanent and non-permanent hearts, as well as optional AI “demons” that follow you into battle with various abilities, but don’t expect snowballing item combos or anything crazy. The combat is simple, fast, and effective. If you’re not actively attacking an enemy, you’re probably dodge-rolling their swipes or projectiles. It’s often a race to take out the highest-priority threats and clear some destructible bits of the environment so you have more room to work with; the skeletons, spiders, assassins, and other threats can easily overwhelm.

A careful approach is usually the way to go so you don’t take too many papercuts along the way. The bosses are the hardest part of Cult of the Lamb, far more than the common foes or anything strategy-minded in the base-building gameplay. Even with each area’s enemies warming you up to the mini-boss, and the mini-bosses telegraphing what to expect from the actual biome boss, the bishop fights require focus and fast reflexes.

Every single time I failed a run, it was while fighting a bishop. That said, the penalty on your collected resources isn’t too strict, and there are ways to cheat death — would you trade a cultist’s life for your own? It’s a cruel world, and I honestly still felt guilty.

The fishing mini-game in Cult of the Lamb

A dozen hours is just long enough

I appreciate how streamlined the action is, but by the end, especially factoring in extra runs for resources and optional cosmetic unlocks, I had my fill of the combat. It lasted just long enough. If you crave diverse character builds, this might not be your game. On the village simulation side, a constant rollout of new unlocks kept it fresh the entire way through for me. I spent 13 hours finishing the story, and a few more digging for secrets. Aside from general mop-up, there isn’t much of an incentive to stick around after the credits, though you can — and it sounds like post-game content is in the works.

The roguelite action could’ve had a bit more complexity in terms of distinct enemy, weapon, and ability variety. That said, the design feels pretty intentional. Cult of the Lamb isn’t a game meant to be played endlessly, and it is enjoyable as is, especially given how ridiculously fast the runs end up feeling. You can fly through rooms, which keeps the pacing tight. My only notable complaint with the cult-raising is that things can get a little crowded sometimes, which is a minor (always temporary) problem when you’re trying to interact with a specific object or villager. Worst case, I would just hold the meditative fast-forward-time button for a few seconds and the crowd would quickly shuffle along.

I’m a big fan of roguelite action games and city builders, but even if you’re on the mild side, Cult of the Lamb is a winning combo. It draws many of the best aspects of those genres, places them in a one-of-a-kind world, and charts its own condensed course. The result is hard to put down. Despite the morbid subject matter and potential for player fatigue, this is such an easy game to recommend to a wide audience. Go on, spread the good word.

[This review is based on a retail build of the game provided by the publisher.]

8.5

Great

Impressive efforts with a few noticeable problems holding them back. Won't astound everyone, but is worth your time and cash.

Jordan Devore
Jordan is a founding member of Destructoid and poster of seemingly random pictures. They are anything but random.