‘Cult Of The Lamb’ review: a gripping game grappling with its own depth

Massive Monster’s chibi cult sim might be too complicated for its own good

Cult Of The Lamb has you play as a sacrificial lamb turned cult leader, indebted to the god that saved them from death. Despite this, playing the game was punctuated with glee. The art style is gorgeous, the music is catchy, and every new feature feels carefully introduced. You play as a sacrificial lamb turned cult leader, indebted to the god that saved them from death.

Imbued with demonic charisma, you must indoctrinate and maintain a following of adorable animals. This involves cleaning up their poop, engaging in polygamy and murdering dissenters in the dreaming hours. And when you’re not playing house, you’ve also got to defend their honour by crusading against rival cults in dungeons full of mobs, harvesting their loot so that you can progress the narrative and provide bed and board for your legion of unsupervised babies.

Cult Of The Lamb makes a fantastic first impression, and is a true chimera of inspiration that manages to squeeze multiple genres into one engaging gameplay loop. The roguelike dungeon-diving is reminiscent of The Binding Of Isaac, but the homestead management evokes Harvest Moon. Follower traits and needs demands the people management of The Sims, while the character-driven side quests and quirky vendors with awkward criteria will remind you of Hades. Somehow, Cult Of The Lamb juggles all of these derivations and still provides an experience that is novel, albeit quite bloated and flawed.

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

It took me 61 days of cult management to find the credits, and the first half was a care-free thrill ride. I relished in the finding and naming of followers and loved exploring the world, kicking off side quests and funnelling my loot from dungeons into the next most useful building at my disposal. I made genuinely difficult choices between doctrines, with scope given to curate the obedient or lucid cult of my liking. I also worked to inspire my followers every day, meeting their needs so that they would give me more faith during sermons, which in turn bolstered the lamb’s combat in the world beyond the cult camp.

Here there are four major dungeons that you have to fight through, each with access gated by the amount of followers you’ve collected. Each area is themed differently, with a cute narrative tied to the false prophet that governs it. Some will summon sickness or dissent in your flock back home while you’re out fighting, adding interesting time pressure to your spelunking.

In spite of adversity, you pick your branching route through each run, prioritising resources, food or followers towards a set of mid-bosses and then a trickier final boss. The combat is intense but rewarding, testing reaction time and patience as you dodgeroll through projectiles and punish weak spots.

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

Over the course of the game, seeing my cult base grow into a hub of activity was awesome, and was only spurred on by the difficult emotions of burying my most loyal consiglieres behind the temple. Maverick dissidents like Bepis were also missed, but instead of a proper burial, their bones became the bread that fuelled the rest of the unit into hours of lumber harvesting and worship.

These are the stories that you can take with you from Cult Of The Lamb, but they balm over what the game eventually becomes if you want to finish it. And that’s without considering the existence of progress-halting bugs. Cult Of The Lamb’s multifaceted design doesn’t come without caveats, you see. It’s so busy with ideas that I always felt like I was scratching the surface, until suddenly, I very much wasn’t.

Inevitably, all of these warring genres began to gnarl and intertwine, leading to a lot of busywork and a messy endgame that can’t help but feel like a letdown. Cult Of The Lamb starts to consider its own complexity, and like a robot seeing its own reflection, the results are pretty haywire.

The day-to-day cult maintenance quickly becomes taxing once you’ve conquered even a third of the upgrade tree. Before you know it you’ll be waking up every morning and doing the rounds with your flock, seeing the same long animations as you inspire, extort and adorn each and every one of them to ensure proper operating capacity.

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

This is where Cult Of The Lamb becomes more like a cookie clicker than a thoughtful simulation game. It became a repetitive slog to maintain a sense of peace, especially when I’d run out of reasons to do so, like the allure of new upgrades or the criteria of side quests. Maybe it would be better on higher difficulties than Normal, but It didn’t feel like I was being moulded by the tumultuous, emergent gameplay situations I had enjoyed at the start. Suddenly they were frustrations to fix rather than challenges to enjoy.

This was only made worse by a big helping of technical trouble. At around three-quarters of the way through I noticed villagers starting to clump in areas and refusing to work. Then buildings I had worked hard for started to disappear from my camp, which at first I considered to be a feature. Maybe dissenters were knocking them down? That was until my temple vanished, which you can only build once. After area-jumping and reloading I got it back, but then I couldn’t perform sermons or rituals without the game softlocking. Luckily, at this point I had beaten enough side quests and gathered enough resources to buy and brute force my way to the final battle, but as of writing, my save is still broken in the postgame. It felt like the game was buckling under the pressure of all of its branching systems as they tried to talk to each other.

It’s a big shame because the concept is so well-realised. The dialogue is very funny, the mini-games are ace and the rituals are so clever. One mushroom-focused NPC will let you brainwash your buddies with enough spores, and you can ascend or sacrifice loyal followers to keep the faith when they’re about to croak. Being able to nominate a Loyalty tsar to bully the rest of the group into loving me is a genius idea, but you might not be able to watch it shake out up close, Rimworld-style, because you’re too busy fishing or farming for crystals. Choosing between doctrines definitely opens the door to replayability, but the amount of repetition between these moments is definitely putting me off from trying again, even with the difficulties I had in the back third. Unorthodox endgame aside, I just don’t think I’d be able to change my approach enough to make it viable, because of what the game ultimately wants from me to complete it.

Cult Of The Lamb is coming to PC, PlayStation, Xbox and Nintendo Switch on August 11. This review was played on PC.

The Verdict

Cult of the Lamb is so inspired and enticing in the beginning, but it feels crushed under the weight of its own ambition. A bit like a real cult, then? A smart but flawed indie game with a good heart, Massive Monster’s latest is well worth a look if you have played and enjoyed its varied inspirations, but it can’t quite deliver on the promise of controlling an emergent cult of critters, at least in a way that feels free of bugs or repetitive busywork.

Pros

  • Awesome art direction brings the creepy-cute world to life
  • Plenty of funny and rewarding moments as your cult grows into a machine
  • Some scope for replayability with different doctrines
  • Satisfying combat that is hard to master

Cons

  • Lots of busywork once you see the forest for the trees
  • Too many genres mixing together leads to an overly complicated end product
  • Technical issues that can halt progress
  • Early challenges quickly become frustrations
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