As a rule, cults aren’t cute. Yet in the woodland critter-starring Cult Of The Lamb, ritual sacrifice looks pretty darn adorable. Equal parts cuddly and terrifying, Cult Of The Lamb is the latest release from Enter The Gungeon and Hotline Miami publisher Devolver Digital, and based on what I’ve played so far, it’s shaping up to be a banger. Offering up a compelling blend of roguelike dungeon-crawling action and a deceptively deep base-building metagame, this is the roguelike for anyone who thought that Pikmin would work better if it was satanic.
Sitting down with a 30-minute demo of the game at London’s W.A.S.D, it’s hard not to be charmed by Cult Of The Lamb. Sporting a gorgeous paper-like artstyle that looks like Tearaway on a three-day comedown, creepy cardboard cutouts and defeated facial expressions are the order of the day. Put in the hooves of a lamb sentenced to death, things aren’t looking great for our wool-wearing protagonist. Thankfully, as I prepare to become a literal lamb to the slaughter, I make a mate. As a screen-filling demon whisks us into the void, I pledge allegiance to him and my life is spared. The catch? It’s now up to players to start a cult in your new demonic deity’s name.
“As soon as we had the idea of the cults, we knew we wanted to bring in horror elements as well” reveals the game’s art director, James Pearmain. Unsurprisingly, horror films were a huge inspiration for Cult Of The Lamb. “We were inspired by things like Midsommar, and The Witch – and wanted to kind of juxtapose that vibe with our cute, colourful, art style.”
Much like a deranged influencer sim, Cult Of The Lamb is a game all about accruing followers. Action levels see you recruiting new cult members by rescuing them from deadly dungeons, before returning to an RTS-style hub world where you build up your cult’s base of operations. My demo saw me using my two fleeting followers to build a stove, while commanding them to chop down trees for wood. It was simple survival game stuff, but Pearmain promises the base building aspect will evolve into something pretty meaty, allowing you a surprising amount of choice over how you mould your own personal brand of cult.
“When you go back to your base, you kind of have all these different decisions to make,” Pearmain explains, “You can hold sermons to draw power from your followers, you can build a shrine where followers can worship, and then there’s also rituals that you can perform. So you can marry one of your followers or sacrifice one ….or, have two fight to the death.”
While my cult was only taking baby steps into the land of sacrifice and rituals, I was pleased to learn that the base-building side of your cutesy cult will actually offer a surprising amount of depth.
“We really want to encourage players to experiment and try different things, rather than trying to make everyone happy. You get all these different kind of traits that make followers act differently. You can make them cannibals, for example, and if you murder a follower, you can harvest that meat and feed the meat back to your followers. But er, they’ll be really unhappy about it unless you give them a specific cannibal trait! So, there’s always different systems working together.”
“You can also set doctrines, which give you a doctrinal decision,” adds Pearmain, ”so you choose what kind of cult leader you want to be – if you want to be feared or loved by your followers.”
In another nice touch, players will be able to focus on whatever aspect of the gameplay they prefer. While going out dungeon crawling will always be essential to gather followers, you can opt to focus on farming back at your cult’s base of operation, meaning that you won’t have to don your sword every time you want to feed your flock. The mix of possibilities look to create a refreshingly diverse hybrid type of gameplay that lets you shape your cult how you see fit.
“You will have to look after your cult members, and you will have to go into the dungeon to sort of get anywhere in the game,” says Pearmain, “but we want people to lean in either side if they want to.”
Still, Pearmain reveals that Cult Of The Lamb was almost a very different game:
“One very early [idea] that [we had] was you were a god on top of a floating whale, and you have this village on top of the floating whale, and you’d kind of jump off the whale and go to the ground below, and then bring people back up. And then there was another one where you were Girl Scouts going out, growing weapons back at your base, and then you took the weapons you grow out into the world, and that was kind of cool. There was another one where you kind of run your own hell, too… but it was the cult idea that really stuck.”
Featuring the now industry-standard Dark Souls slash and roll combat, the dungeon sections are fun enough, if a bit familiar-feeling. Still, it’s the unique merging of the two genres that really keeps Cult Of the Lamb feeling unique enough to stand out from the roguelike flock.
“We’ve worked very hard on making a kind of a colourful game full of personality and character… and just putting as many interesting little things in as we can. And we think – hopefully – it kind of has its own vibe and personality that you won’t find anywhere else.”