Preview: Cult of the Lamb
It’s not often that I love a game at first glance, but I’ve always been a fan of that “dark cute” aesthetic. Of taking absolutely cute and saccharine critters and putting them in a situation that’s more than a little bit messed up. That contrast of something that wouldn’t look out of place in a kid’s cartoon, splattered with the blood of its enemies. The shock of seeing something that’s the absolute picture of innocence decide that making a pact with unspeakable horrors sounds like a fun time. The moment I first saw the trailer for Cult of the Lamb (developed by Massive Monster and published by Devolver Digital) I knew I had to check it out.
You are the last lamb. Every last member of your species has been slaughtered to prevent a prophecy that one of you would be the instrument of The One Who Waits, an old god feared by the bishops who rule the land. Unfortunately for them, in killing you they have sent you directly into his hands, and he offers you a deal: You get to live again, and in return all he asks is that you form a cult in his name and use his powers to slaughter those who killed your people. Easy choice yeah?
Outside of the intro there are NPCs to talk to and get a little bit more history into what’s going on. It’s clear the god you’re working for isn’t exactly the best, but he may just be the lesser evil compared to the bishops. Of course, since the demo only goes so far I can only speculate on where the plot will go. Is The One Who Waits a necessary force and their imprisonment a perversion of the natural order? Will you be betraying them at the last minute to use them and keep them imprisoned? Will you become a villainous overlord? All of the above? Who knows, but I appreciate the ambiguity as I’m fed scraps of lore about my god and his relation to the bishops and the world at large.
Now, adorable aesthetic and satanic story aside, this is a game so how does it play? It’s a rogue-like hack and slash with branching paths, very similar in style to my earlier previewed Curse of the Dead Gods. Difficulty-wise, I’d say it skews a bit towards the easier side: Hearts are an uncommon reward from clearing a room, most attacks are fairly telegraphed, and the RNG is fairly low. At least, that’s the case in the demo which barely covers a quarter of the game. I have no doubt things will ramp up later on.
You essentially have two random pieces of equipment – your weapon and your curse/spell – but the tiers are fairly consistent. I still had to deal with RNG in the form of, say, wanting a slow heavy-hitting axe for hit and run tactics over the speedy button mash of a dagger, but at least there wasn’t an issue of only getting low tier items like in other roguelikes I’ve played. The other main RNG aspects were which area types are available (which is part of the fun), and tarot cards for passive buffs, though these were generally fairly minor effects rather than things to build your playstyle around.
The other primary aspect of the game is actually building your cult, and it is interwoven beautifully with the roguelike dungeon crawler aspect. As you explore you can rescue other victims of the bishops and recruit them into your ranks, and you’ll constantly find materials as you explore. Back at your base you’ll use those materials to build facilities for your cult members to use, and it is through those cultists that you will get all your power. Without them, you are nothing.
There are essentially two parts to working with your cult: taking care of them, and using them. A lot of facilities you can build are there to keep them happy and healthy. Things like proper beds to sleep in, farms to grow food, proper bathrooms to keep them sanitary, etc. The more you take care of them, the more their faith grows, meaning they’re less likely to grow disillusioned and revolt. Now why would they revolt? Well, that leads us into part two.
Some aspects of having them help you are mutually beneficial, like granting sermons and collecting their prayer to slowly unlock new upgrades. But if you want to speed up things a bit, you could always sacrifice one of them to get a significant bump to your next upgrade (or maybe you just wanted one less mouth to feed). Maybe you want some support on your next crusade, so you make a demon possess one of them for the day. Perhaps the supplies you’re collecting yourself just aren’t cutting it, so you send them off on dangerous quests likely to kill them just to get some more stone. They are but another tool in your arsenal, if you so choose.
What I like about this is that it’s not purely a matter of whether you wish to be good or evil. The game won’t judge you either way, and no matter where your heart lies there are reasons to go with both angles. A more selfish player does have motivation to take care of them, as a larger flock means more gains from your daily sermons, and individual cultists will level up as you spend time with them, granting even more devotion and performing better at any jobs you send them on. A more benevolent player may need to risk a few members to ensure you have enough resources to provide food and shelter for all, and if an old member is too old to help otherwise, will die soon anyway, and wishes they could still help in any way, is it really so bad to grant their final wish and send them off to the great beyond in style?
The end result is a fun little back and forth, where you’re collecting materials so you can build up your base so your cultists can empower you further so you can make longer trips into more dangerous places so you can build your base up further so you can… well you get the picture. It’s an absolute treat to see two styles of gameplay so beautifully interwoven like this, and I can’t wait to try out the full game when it launches on July 11, 2022 for Switch, PS4, XBox Series X, and Steam.
Preview build provided by Devolver Digital for PC. Screenshots taken by writer. Featured image courtesy of Devolver Digital.