‘Cult Of The Lamb’ preview: creepy but cute, bloody but wholesome mayhem

The game combines the roguelike genre with a cult-raising sim - a two-for-one-deal that really works

Counting my followers, decreeing doctrines, and slaying heretics: I, an adorable lamb with an unquenched bloodthirstiness, ruled with an iron fist during the five hours I spent with Cult Of The Lamb. Massive Monster‘s and Devolver Digital‘s upcoming game combines the roguelike genre with cult management, leading to a combination that’s sadistically charming and creepily cute.

As soon as you open your eyes in Cult Of The Lamb, you’re already on a sacrificial altar. The good folks conducting the ritual kill you promptly, but a god known as “The One Who Waits” revives you. He then hands a red crown over and bids you to construct a cult in his glory.

You’re down for the task (“Absolutely” is the answer I gave the chained god), and soon you’re cutting a path through randomly generated dungeons for resources like enemies’ bones and more natural resources like wood, food, and seeds. This is the first of two primary parts in The Cult Of The Lamb: exploration.

Cult Of The Lamb. Credit: Massive Monster.
Cult Of The Lamb. Credit: Massive Monster.

Every exploration run comes with a random weapon—swords and axes with different stats—and a secondary magical ranged ability called Curses. The combat is fast-paced and dodging is a must. Every enemy has a very recognizable, usually simple, pattern of attack, but the sheer number can be overwhelming in certain rooms.

For those who have played other action roguelikes, for example 2018’s hit game Hades, Cult Of The Lamb‘s dungeon runs should feel pretty familiar. A key difference, however, is that while the dungeons are randomized, the game does offer you a choice at certain points for which resources you’d like to pursue. Tarot cards with different boons, offered by a dealer in random rooms, add variety to every run. As you level-up your cult, your weapon, secondary ability, and tarot card choices increase.

The key downfall of a lot of roguelikes is the repetitive nature of endless dungeon runs. But Cult Of The Lamb side-steps the common pitfall with its second key part: colony management. Every exploration run brings back new followers and new resources, which leads to changes in the cult—providing an incentive to repeatedly tackle dungeons.

Cult Of The Lamb does a very organized job of introducing what you can do in the cult. Activities start with indoctrinating followers, building shelters, and mining resources. Later, as you gain more followers and earn more devotion, you can build temples, a missionary outpost, and other structures beneficial to the cult’s economy.

Cult Of The Lamb. Credit: Massive Monster.
Cult Of The Lamb. Credit: Massive Monster.

Of course, it’s not a cult sim without some cult stuff going on. In the temple, you can declare doctrines and conduct rituals—like sacrificing followers or uh, “ascending them.” The game does give you a choice of whether you’d like to be loved or feared as a cult leader. Declare marriage as a ritual, or choose to instead extort money from followers.

It’s some dark stuff, but with cute woodland creatures, building corpse pits and getting followers to pray at a statue created in your likeness is pretty funny. Tonally, Cult Of The Lamb feels very much like Root – a tabletop game where players ruthlessly campaign against each other for territory and control as adorable woodland creatures – meeting Midsommar.

If I had to be nitpicky, The Cult Of The Lamb does have a few flaws. I’m all for minigames in my games, but just like how fishing felt out-of-place in Hades, the fishing in Cult Of The Lamb feels similarly unnecessary. Sure, it’s a way to get fish meat to feed your followers and it’s connected to unlocking another feature—but for a game already pretty full of activities, an extra fishing minigame feels just that, extra. Ditto for the dice minigame.

Cult Of The Lamb. Credit: Massive Monster.
Cult Of The Lamb. Credit: Massive Monster.

I also think that while each dungeon run offers variety—especially with randomized Tarot cards—the primary weapon choices could use some more options. The weapons in the demo vary between different types of axes and swords—which is good, and I like whacking at heretics—but hopefully, the full game will offer more choices. The enemies, however, come in a balanced set of variations and all have specific, recognizable timings. You will be punished if you mindlessly mash the attack button, and liberal use of the dodge button is recommended.

Small details also bring The Cult Of The Lamb‘s world to life. Attacking body bags scattered in the dungeon reveals bones (useful for rituals), and if you run out of Curse juice, the cape and crown fade from red to gray. If you’re feeling vindictive, the lamb can also temporarily destroy other god’s altars while also stealing their devotion. A mysterious storyteller will also be waiting in certain dungeon rooms to tell you secrets about other gods and your role. These small details add colour to the mysterious landscape ruled over by eldritch-looking gods, and while they normally might be missed (like the cape’s colour changing) -on the nth dungeon run, you’ll definitely appreciate the attention to detail.

Roguelikes and colony management games occupy a crowded field, with many titles jostling for attention. But Cult Of The Lamb stands out for the way it seamlessly integrates both genres – a two-for-one deal that really works. And the game does it all with striking aplomb and charming tongue-in-cheek writing that strikes the sweet spot between creepy and cute.

Long live the lamb!

Cult Of The Lamb launches on August 11 for PC, Nintendo Switch, PS4, PS5, Xbox One and Xbox Series X|S

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