Cult of the Lamb is an original combination of roguelike and micro-management elements. It’s a game that came out of nowhere and delivers lessons in addictive gaming and respect for the player’s personal time.
Did you ever think how evil cults, demonic deities, warlike sheep and crazy action can fit into one game? You control a sheep who, just before being sacrificed in a demonic sacrifice, is rescued by an imprisoned god. The god endows you with supernatural powers, appoints you his chosen one and the leader of a cult in which you will live to worship and serve him. At the same time, he also assigns you to murder four gods who betrayed him by building their own cults and places of worship and are responsible for his imprisonment. You as a good pastor must see to it that the cult is both good and upwardly mobile by recruiting faithful followers, and that you destroy rival cults that worship false gods to establish your unique dominance in the world.
It’s one thing to read the story, which is pretty dark at least on paper, and a different matter to live it in the game. The game’s special aesthetic is solely responsible for this, which perfectly combines a light cartoonish approach with large doses of black humour and offers many a laugh. First of all it is worth mentioning that the game is suitable if you are a roguelike beginner, as it is quite easy on the predefined difficulty level without many pointless and tedious repetitions, while there is also an easy mode to make it even easier for you. Purely in the action area, there are four areas corresponding to the four gods you need to eliminate. Each area is made up of sub-areas that are randomized each time, so every run you make is different. You have a choice of path to the final boss of each sub-region via very informative symbols that translate into simple terms, e.g. sword for enemy presence hence battles, question marks for random encounters with AI characters etc. With each sub-area completion, a piece of the main door is unlocked, behind which one of the four usurping gods awaits.
One of the things that make the game particularly addictive is that aside from the fact that each run is relatively short in duration, almost every dash gives you the chance to see something new or unlock some new area and cosmetics. The battles are quick and simple, consisting of attack and evasion. The weapons at your disposal are divided into basic melee weaponry and curses, which are essentially magic. Basic melee weaponry varies, from swords and axes to ironclads, and has two main characteristics, damage and speed of attack. Weapon selection is done randomly at the beginning of each run, but during the course of the run you have several opportunities from merchants or random events to replace it if it doesn’t suit your personal play style. The second attack, curses, are varied long and short range attacks that do a lot of damage simultaneously to many enemies but their use depends entirely on the fervour (essentially the game’s mana) you collect by killing enemies Enemies don’t have much variety and attack predictably. Aside from the main bosses, there are many mini bosses that keep you on your toes.
Where the game excels and also serves as a stress reliever in between battles is in the base-development process of the base-division you create and the god-awful situations you witness (literally). The game follows a day-night cycle, upon which the growth and improvement of your base is based through the creation of structures necessary to deepen your faith in the one and only god and the survival of your loyal followers. As your congregation grows in numbers, so do the needs of your followers for food, shelter and expression of their faith through prayer. Thus, it is imperative that you provide for their strong faith through daily prayer, for their well-being with nutritious meals and convenient shelter, and for their health with essential recovery stations. I mention just a few examples because the game really does offer so many options for shaping your base that you will often be engaged not in combat and action but in building toilets, picking up dirt, and striving to meet the needs of your followers. If you are a good-hearted leader of course, because with that dark fascination the game allows you to be tough and lead through fear. If your followers are unsatisfied, you can very simply sacrifice them to the dark god, chop them up and cook them with tasty condiments for the others to eat, or even turn them into demons that help you in various ways in battle.
The upgrade potential of your equipment is gradually unlocked as you stay loyal and dedicated to your work and increase the loyalty of your followers with daily rituals. Also by collecting all the prayers of your followers you unlock upgrades, new buildings and decorations for your base, turning it into the perfect cult you’ve always dreamed of creating. Aside from the main mission, there are sub-missions, but they are limited to familiar clichés like finding a certain number of items or building a certain number of buildings. There are also some interesting missions (some of which are even hidden) in which you are rewarded with pieces of a holy amulet. Every time you collect four pieces you can unlock special bonuses on the protagonist’s cape that permanently accompany you on your adventure. You can only use one bonus at a time, not all at once.
Ultimately, the magic of Cult of the Lamb lies precisely in its base-option management. The game initially fools you with its innocent and naive presentation of constantly smiling characters in the form of sympathetic animals, but with every action and interaction, every ritual, you witness a hidden madness lurking within. It manages to hide its dark aura and quaint grotesque touches under a bright and cheerful curtain of smoke. It amuses with its lightness and shocks with its cruelty at the same time.
As mentioned above, Cult of the Lamb’s graphics are so tasteful with their naive “childlike” approach while leaving their mark with gruesome details in the environments that both provoke and create contrast. Pained expressions on tortured bodies nailed to walls, stuffed and sacrificed corpses drenched in blood and generally a marriage of rainbow and decay presented in a clever way that manages to blend harmoniously. All the areas have a central motif and a theme of their own which is very enjoyable, although there is a logical repetition in the environments from a certain point onwards. Beyond that, I have to say that unfortunately there are a lot of bugs, at least on the PS5 where I played. I encountered several problems, even very serious ones like not being able to unlock entire areas related to missions and story. At least the developers are aware and promise immediate resolution with a patch. The music is in keeping with the overall aesthetic of the game, with cheery tunes and sudden dark outbursts in dramatic events. And the sound effects are very funny, as there may be no voice acting, but the cute mumbling of the animal characters and their high-pitched squeals when starving or sacrificing themselves have a tremendous laugh and ultimately work best with the style of the game.
Cult of the Lamb is the big surprise of 2022. At 10+ hours long and attractively priced, it has you accompany a bloodthirsty sheep on an unpredictable adventure, drawing you into its insane and heretical madness. “Embrace” it and you won’t regret it.