What is it? A game that puts the ‘cult’ into ‘cutlet’
Expect to pay $25/£19
Release date August 11, 2022
Developer Massive Monster
Publisher Devolver Digital
Reviewed on GeForce GTX 1650, AMD Ryzen 5 3550H, 8 GB RAM
Link Official site
At first, it looks like this is going to be a remarkably short game. Things start with you, as a cowering little lamb, being led to your death as a sacrifice. Within ten minutes however, you’ve already exacted violent revenge on your would-be murderers, and pledged your adorable allegiance to the mysterious being that returned you to the land of the living. You start a cult of your own; a cult where all the members are super-cute creatures.
This is Animal Crossing if Tom Nook craved power instead of money. It is, much like football, a game of two halves. The first half involves growing, caring for, and—of course—indoctrinating your cult. You’ll need to take care of the basics before getting too ambitious, though. Your adorable little cultists need food to eat, places to sleep, and somewhere to poop. Don’t give them that last one, and they’ll just do it wherever they feel like it in the field you’re developing. Well, they are animals, after all.
The second half feeds into the first half, and is a great example of the way that every aspect of the game has been carefully woven together. There are four dungeons, which you need to complete both for the narrative (on your quest to free the one who resurrected you), and for the upkeep of your cult (new followers and resources can be found). This part of the game is essentially a roguelike, with randomised weapons and rooms, and perks to be unlocked. Combat is solid, if sometimes a bit button-bashy when you’ve been given a fast but weak weapon. The default difficulty is nicely balanced, but if you ever feel like you need to increase (or decrease) the challenge, difficulty can be changed at any time.
Yet the feedback loop sees your actions in the settlement having a direct impact on your progress in the dungeons. The levelling system is, quite frankly, genius. The fundamental idea is that the bigger and happier your cult is, the faster you can harvest their Devotion (primarily by holding a sermon once a day), which works as XP. This in turn either directly or indirectly unlocks weapons, perks, and abilities for the dungeons; and blueprints for decoration and functional buildings for your cult.
Increasing and maintaining everybody’s loyalty and faith is more complex than you might expect, but it never threatens to be overwhelming. It can be downright fun, too. By the time my cult’s overall faith first fell to a level where I got my first heretic, preaching against me to the others, I was ready with the perfect way to deal with them. At this point, I had indoctrinated my cult to celebrate sacrifice, and would soon convert them to cannibalism (hey, no need to let good meat go to waste). From then on, whenever a heretic appeared, I 'rewarded' them by sacrificing them. They were no longer a problem, my cult’s faith got a boost, and there was something for dinner. Everybody’s happy.
Part of the progression system involves developing your cult’s doctrine. While this is a binary either/or choice each time, it’s still an enjoyable way to decide how reasonable or evil you want to be while gaining a new perk in the process. For example, I wanted to make sure that my followers respected the elderly, resulting in a faith boost whenever I had a member reach a certain age. That more than makes up for the cannibalism thing, right?
Your cult base isn’t the only non-combat place to explore. There are other (similarly small) locations to be unlocked that offer side quests, resources, and things to buy. There’s a dice game (Knucklebones) and very basic fishing to distract you. It’s a small world, but it’s also one that practically begs you to explore every corner of it.
Where there's a wool
Yet there is even more to Cult of the Lamb. With the story done, the dungeons truly open up, no longer coming to a close when you hit what was previously the boss room. You can keep going for as long as you dare, running the risk of losing a portion of what you’ve collected if you die. Although, how long you play won’t necessarily be your choice. There’s one enemy that you can never quite defeat. Time.
There’s a gentle yet constant pressure to the game, in the form of the day/night cycle. Whether you’re at your settlement, in one of the other locations you slowly discover, or in the middle of an adventure in a dungeon, time is slowly passing. That means cultists are slowly getting hungry, pooping somewhere or other, and possibly becoming ill or even dying. That, in turn, means that your cult’s loyalty will begin to wane, which demands a lot of work to reverse if left unattended. It’s not difficult to avoid a situation where your cult turns against you and you suddenly struggle to harvest Devotion, but in order to keep on top of things, you need to keep a good balance between settlement upkeep and dungeon adventuring. Nothing wrong with that, but it would be nice to have the option of leaning more heavily into one side or the other if you felt like it.
Still, Cult of the Lamb is clever, it’s wonderfully designed, and the script is sharp and funny. The atmosphere is great, helped in no small part by art which immediately endears itself to you. Speaking of which, making all of your followers adorable wickle critters was a smart choice. Intentionally or otherwise, it makes the brainwashing and murky morals amusing rather than disturbing.
Occasionally, I found myself thinking ‘erm, this really is like a cult’, such as the time that the game gleefully informed me that I can marry as many of my followers as I want. Don’t be fooled into thinking that this game is anything but great, though. I adore it, and that is almost certainly my own opinion unaffected by nefarious influences.