Raising a cult of lowly followers is easy. It’s getting those highly devoted
wealthy, science-denying celebrity acolytes that’s a challenge. In Cult of The Lamb, players progress through a deep crusade into the dungeons of treasonous ex-bishops, overcoming even death, as you slash and dash through the opposition.
The game is a roguelike dungeon crawler and colony builder about an enthralled lamb who is saved from a ritual sacrifice by an Eldritch god and is tasked with defeating that god’s traitorous ex-bishops. To do so, the lamb must build a cult in its name and either nurture or abuse it to gain unworldly powers.
Developed by Massive Monster and published by Devolver Digital, Cult of The Lamb was released on August 11 on Xbox One / X|S, Playstation 4 / 5, Nintendo Switch, and PC – Steam / GOG. It also features Twitch integration (only PC at this time) in which your viewers can participate in your game by customizing a colonist’s appearance to their liking, as well as providing other staple features such as Help or Hinder and contributing channel points for in-game rewards for the player.
Fishin’ in this game is kinda great
Now, outside of the dungeon and the colony, there are activities that the player can participate in, such as dice gambling and fishing. The gambling game offers some decent strategy, but ultimately still relies on the roll of the dice, and is a fun way to occasionally eke some more coin. On the other hand, fishing offers a fun way to earn a ton of cash and provide much-needed food for your cultists.
The fishing minigame itself greatly resembles that of Stardew Valley in that you must match a floating bobber to the fish’s vertical movement to reel the fish in. But rather than facing off against the lava eels of the SDV universe, the difficulty level is only around anchovies. The minigame isn’t a testament to personal fishing achievement, but rather a refreshing side activity that is an important source of high-quality food.
It’s easy to bag every catch, and most people may never see a single fish get away. The difficulty in fishing then becomes not catching the fish, but rather, avoiding catching the fish you don’t want as it quickly becomes a waste of valuable time. Time is the most essential resource in the game. One that could be spent pampering your cultists, developing your base, or delving into the depths of the dungeons.
Two games in one – take it or leave it
For the heathens that don’t enjoy fishing as much as I do, Cult of the Lamb features two other immersive facets of gameplay. First is the procedurally generated dungeon crawler where you go on crusades and purge heretics. Second is the colony builder where you indoctrinate and raise cultists that empower your otherworldly abilities with their faith. These two sides of Cult of the Lamb are deeply entwined as progression on one side leads to progression on the other.
The dungeon crawling is straightforward. Get a weapon and an ability, explore the dungeon, and kill bosses. Along the way, you’ll be given the opportunity to also gather resources, buy or save followers to indoctrinate and encounter other sorts of bizarre events that slowly disseminate the lore of the world. As you defeat bosses and make progress, more of the outer world opens up to you, and rare resources are used to push the development of your burgeoning cult.
The colony building is a bit of a chaotic mess in all the best ways. After you recruit followers, collect resources from the dungeon, and return to your homestead, you grow your colony in size and technological prowess, starting from little more than a disorganized and desperate backwater denomination that poops in the corner, and eventually developing into a bonafide self-sufficient cult that poops in luxurious outhouses.
Your cultists’ faith and devotion will empower all sorts of technological advancements, as well as improve your personal ability in the dungeon. They’ll also go around doing jobs in the homestead, though they can be directed to do something specific.
The cult also features some roleplay potential, as there are a number of interactions that you can have with your cultists, including marriage (which leads to smooching), imprisonment, and feeding them poop.
A fully developed cult will have all sorts of buildings like farms, lumberyards, the Temple, and all manner of holy buildings – production buildings, housing, and more. Eventually, your cult leader’s duties in between dungeon runs will just consist of going around collecting the fruits of everyone’s labor, performing a daily sermon and the occasional ritual, and improving everyone’s loyalty through individual interaction.
Getting to that point not only requires several successful plunges into the dungeons but also considerable amounts of hands-on labor and leadership. I personally spent considerably way more time developing my colony than dungeon crawling (though I did get soft-locked out of the dungeon for a week due to a buggy quest, and spent that entire week farming and meditating), but I suspect that it’s possible to neglect some aspects of your colony and heavily subsidize resource costs with material gathered from the dungeon.
In the end, the cult offers not only love but also power, and it’s up to the player how they gather and use it.
Crisp but concise combat system
Cult of the Lamb feels great in your hands. Nice smooth movement, an invincible dodge roll, responsive attacks that reliably follow patterns, and clear and beautiful animations – it just feels crisp. On top of it all, the weapons and curses are diverse and fun, the combat flows naturally, and the SFX for every action and response is succinct and rewarding.
There’s also a high skill ceiling with dodge cancels, which is always a fun mechanic to abuse. The dash itself is also pretty good, featuring good distance, low cooldown, decent i-frames, and you can change direction mid-dash, which is a very fun and clutch mechanic.
On the other side, the enemies are designed with care and effort, featuring a wide variety of behavior and patterns, subtly telegraphing their attacks but giving no quarter en masse. There aren’t many over-the-top attacks or other kinds of visual clutter, so there’s very good combat legibility, even for bosses. And unless you have a game-breaking build, which only a few rare tarot cards can potentially provide, boss fights on the highest difficulties demand extremely clean execution. In the end, it’s fast-paced, fair, and fun. And you do want to be fast, because you have to get home to pamper and feed your cultists, after all.
In order to purge heretics and topple bishops, our lamb is equipped with a weapon and a curse, which is a unique magical ability that relies on a mana-like resource called Fervor. There are also tarot cards, which give unique buffs or perks to the player for that run, like a chance to gain overheal on kill, increasing damage at night, or even fully replenishing your Fervor every new room.
Each weapon type has its own unique playstyle, and despite each weapons’ individual quirks, I found them all extremely satisfying to use, especially when RNG provided good complementary tarot cards. Though in the end, I’d have to say my favorite is the hammer, since it has a great chance to stun enemies on top of dealing massive damage that often one-shots, and I appreciated that it was so slow that it had its own crosshair. I do think the dagger is underpowered compared to the other weapons, especially with dodge cancelling, but it can still dish out some serious damage in the hands of a good masher.
Curses include all manner of offensive abilities, such as throwing fireballs, chucking toxic sludge that leaves a residual AoE, or summoning tentacles to assault your foes. Most curses can be aimed with a combat time-slowdown, and some include a charge-up mechanic that can increase their power. Fireballs even have a critical zone in the charge-up that can turn it explosive. And yes, there is a curse that provides some timed invincibility and projectile reflection, and it’s as overpowered as similar abilities in other roguelikes – Divine Dash, anyone?
Fully featured colony builder provides meta progress
Cult of the Lamb goes further than other roguelikes when designing a world outside the dungeon. Most other games provide some simple staging area that you have limited influence over, mainly just a place where you go when you die and talk to some NPCs to improve your meta-progression. Cult of the Lamb tasks you with designing your own staging area, along with making all the decisions and performing all the labor necessary to get it running. Every single building constructed is placed by your will and built by your own hands, or by your followers.
One interesting thing to note is that the building system is on a diagonal grid system, as opposed to a square grid employed in many other top-down simulation games. It’s a more welcoming shape in contrast to the harsh brutalist square-shaped rooms of the dungeon, and so rather than designing on a piece of graph paper and plotting for raw efficiency, you’re drawing on something like an argyle canvas and shaping art.
For all intents and purposes, the colony-building minigame is essentially a fully featured game in itself. There is an expansive tech tree, resource management, and colonist management. The game has a day/night cycle that never stops, even in the dungeon. There’s an overworld with various locations that can be visited to extract resources or shop for various blueprints or goods. Speaking of blueprints, there are dozens of them for various decorations that can be placed around your homestead, including the 10 or so that are themed for each bishop’s demesne – all of which serve to brighten up and beautify your cozy little home. Your followers have needs that need to be met, and most of them can’t be automated until your colony reaches a certain level of technological progress.
It’s advanced cat-sitting. You farm crops and gather meat in the dungeon, cook food via the minigame, feed your cultists, scoop their poop, and spend time petting them and talking to them in baby voices. They even make the same noises eating as my cats do – seriously, once you hear it, you’ll know. But as you spend time with them, they gain loyalty and level up. If they annoy you, you feed ’em poop.
Not only does having a large number of cultists help improve your self-sufficiency, but a certain number of followers are also required to unlock the high level dungeons, serving as a means of gating progression, as you’ll not only have to find and convert the followers, but also be able to sustain them as well.
As far as improving your chances in the dungeon, other than collecting tarot cards from regular play, meta progression comes in the form of unlocking additional weapons/curses and increasing their base level, therefore their damage. The prayers of your cultists at your sermons are used as the resource to fuel these crown upgrades, and higher level cultists give more XP in this regard. Therefore it’s definitely worth investing the time into your cultists if you are having difficulty clearing the dungeons, as you can become stronger by strengthening your cult.
Amazing sound engineering provides meaningful audio feedback
I’m simply blown away by how good the audio is in Cult of the Lamb. As mentioned above, the audio cues used in the combat are definitely noteworthy. Each swing of an axe is accompanied by the hefty bass of a ton of mass cleaving through the air or flesh. Critical hits give a special unmistakable ting. A perfect cast of a fireball curse comes with an extra poignant roar of fire as the explosions batter flesh and stone alike.
But these glorious sound cues are not restricted to the dungeon alone, and can be discovered all around your cult homestead. The delicate rustle of berry plants as you forage, each resounding thud of the hammer as you construct, and the clangs of each loot chest. Or even the cascading torrent of divine inspiration as it leaves your idols and enters your XP bar.
The drips and drops of fishing, as the seagulls caw and the waves softly break on the shores nearby. Even the satisfying splat as you collect pesky spiders at night to bolster your meager rations. All of it is meticulously engineered to keep you coming back for more – and I am only happy to oblige.
Even on top of all this superb SFX, Cult of the Lamb features some remarkable OST as well, by @RiverBoyBeats. The dungeon music is dark, creepy and atmospheric, but the music on the homestead is cheerful, optimistic, and catchy. And the temple music in particular really drives home the cultish aspect, evoking feelings of power and omnipotence as your followers dance and sway to your words. Each bishop has their own memorable fight theme as a part of their design as well.
Cult of the Lamb features partial voice acting in which each character just kinds of blurts out some incomprehensible noise in addition to their text dialogue. It just sounds like they had a lot of fun recording these non-lines, and it’s certainly fun listening to them bubbling away as you spam-A-ignore all their text dialogue.
Extremely thoughtful design, but has the occasional technical hiccup
Most aspects of Cult of the Lamb were clearly designed with the player experience in mind. There are all sorts of small details that were painstakingly implemented to provide a streamlined and frustration-free experience. For example, combat ends immediately after the final enemy dies, and there is no risk of taking damage after a room or boss is cleared.
Menu prompts often feature minimal animations and crisp interaction in order to minimize time spent out of the game. Even the cooking is super streamlined: boom bam recipes, 1 2 3 cooking minigames, and we’re done. There are all sorts of tiny details and tricks that I won’t spoil since the joy is in the discovery, but it’s clear that a lot of love and effort went into the game’s polish.
Unfortunately, not all aspects of Cult of the Lamb are perfect, as there are occasionally things that make you stop and scratch your head. For a colony builder, the cultist management, in particular, could be improved drastically, as there is no colonist manager widget or any comprehensive list with all their details like personality traits, which can only be found by talking to each cultist individually.
The personality traits themselves are also a bit milquetoast and have minor impact on your management. Additionally, it’s completely atrocious that there isn’t full keybind mapping. Cult of the Lamb instead offers three controller mapping settings, and while I’ll concede that Layout C is extremely good with attack on RT and dodge on LB, these presets won’t necessarily win everyone over. And one small point that players have noted is that there is no auto-saving during a dungeon run, which has recently become a staple feature in other roguelike games – forcing you to finish a run to completion or abandon it entirely.
And while Cult of the Lamb overall runs very smoothly and without issue, I still came across a few notable bugs in my playthrough. None of them were necessarily game breaking, but players may still find some of the bugs particularly frustrating. One was as mentioned above where I was soft-locked out of the dungeon as a result of a buggy quest, in which a follower demanded I hold a ritual right after I held one, and it was on cooldown for a week. It does appear that many of these sorts of issues are already on the developers’ radar, and they have been fairly active so far in releasing small fixes that have resolved the more notorious issues.
Cult of the Lamb: Crisp and enjoyable dungeon crawler combined with fully fleshed colony builder, built with love but stymied by minor tech issues
The fun in the cult comes not only from the combat but also from watching your cult grow from a single temple to a bustling colony – Cult of the Lamb is guaranteed to provide hours of satisfying gameplay, with promise of bug fixes on the horizon.