I’m always a sucker for great art direction and animation style, especially when it comes to indie games. So when I first laid eyes on Cult of the Lamb after excellent marketing from Devolver Digital, I knew I was in for a treat with this creepy but cute gem. Massive Monster’s newest project, Cult of the Lamb, is a hybrid roguelite dungeon crawler and management simulator that has you playing a young lamb meeting his doom by The Old Gods. Immediately after, you are revived by an imprisoned demon known as The One Who Waits, who strikes a deal with you. You now have to pledge your allegiance to this mysterious being by starting a cult under his name and release him from the shackles bound to him by The Old Gods.
“Cult of the Lamb features some of the best indie game music of the year.”
The game is divided into two main sections: exploring dungeons and building up your cult. I felt that both of these had been excellently executed, intertwining with one another perfectly in a way that feels almost impossible. The way in which you go from one gameplay style to another never felt disorientating or jarring. Instead, it offered a genuinely refreshing take on an often tired genre.
There are a total of four dungeons to explore – each led by one of The Old Gods – and these contain a variety of enemies, loot, resources, and followers. Each dungeon is procedurally generated, which ensured that they never grew stale or repetitive. It’s a staple of the genre, but Cult of the Lamb makes it work in its favour considerably well. The procedural generation never felt derivative or dull, with each area featuring a lot of artistic flair and impressive detail.
During combat, you wield a combination of melee weapons such as swords and axes and curses that allow you to summon eldritch creatures. Frankly, this is one of the game’s best features, as it makes fighting such a hectic yet extremely rewarding experience. Visually, combat can look spectacular, especially thanks to the game’s terrific art style. It also plays incredibly well, featuring crisp and smooth animations, with each attack feeling impactful.
Fortunately, for those who are perhaps worried Cult of the Lamb may be a tad tricky, there are several difficulties to choose from. I greatly appreciated this, as having the option to play at my own pace was preferable. Additionally, if you don’t find the dungeon crawling as intensely fulfilling as I did, or perhaps are more interested in Cult of the Lamb’s other gameplay style, then fear not. Each dungeon never overstays its welcome thanks to its procedurally generated elements and satisfying difficulty levels.
It also helps considerably that they’re accompanied by some of the best indie game music of the year. From a purely superficial standpoint, it is clear that a lot of work has been put into making the dungeons as visually and artistically incredible as possible. However, I did feel as if there could have been a little bit more enemy variety and complexity in terms of abilities and weapons. Extra content is already in development, so it’s more than possible that these issues will be alleviated post-launch.
“There is a surprising amount of customization you can do with your followers.”
The other side of Cult of the Lamb is of course the cult management gameplay. The way that developer Massive Monster has managed to weave together the cult management portion with dungeon exploration is nothing short of perfect. The satisfying transition from one gameplay style to another is achieved by locking levels behind how many followers you’ve accumulated.
This mechanic forces you to actually attend to your little animal worshippers, which in turn places a far greater importance on each one of them. Of course, it goes without saying that this makes both sides of Cult of the Lamb’s gameplay feel impressively fleshed out. There is also a surprising amount of customization you can do with your followers, including changing their colour, species, appearance, and name. While you’ll likely never get as attached to them as say a fellow islander in Animal Crossing: New Horizons, it does help to give them a little more personality.
Furthermore, beyond the superficial, I found there to be an impressive amount of depth and complexity to the cult management portion of Cult of the Lamb. For example, each of your followers has needs which need to be attended to. Balancing these never felt like a numbers game, or indeed a tedious chore, but rather a fun puzzle for you to crack.
Because the game manages to make you actually care about each follower, you’ll find yourself actively encouraged to improve their overall happiness. Of course, if you don’t care about these adorable fellas, you’ll still be forced to care for them as their happiness dictates how devout their belief is. The higher their faith the more upgrades you’ll be able to implement, so you better get cheering them up.
“The way that Cult of the Lamb integrates its gameplay benefits from managing a cult into the dungeon-crawling gameplay is phenomenal.”
The depth of the cult management extends beyond simply adhering to the needs of your followers. For example, you’ll have to contend with troublesome followers – which you can fortunately sacrifice – who can eat their own faeces. Weird, I know. All of this is presented as being rather innocent and cute thanks to the game’s cartoonish visual aesthetic and anthropomorphic characters. It alleviates some of the stress commonly associated with running a cult and puts it all through a rose-tinted filter. Imagine if Black Noir’s visions from The Boys became a video game about running a cult. You get the idea.
Without simply listing all of the game’s best features, there are a couple of other standout aspects. The way that Cult of the Lamb integrates its gameplay benefits from managing a cult into the dungeon-crawling gameplay is phenomenal. For example, you can conduct daily sermons that unlock permanent upgrades. Similarly, you can use doctrines to dictate your followers to achieve different results. It’s quite satisfying watching as it all blends together and makes the entire experience far more fulfilling as a result.
“Suffice to say, Cult of the Lamb attempts to fuse together so many different gameplay ideas and it does so excellently.”
Unfortunately, not everything is perfect in Cult of the Lamb. I found there to be a handful of moments in which it felt the game was actively fighting against me. During the dungeon crawling segments, there would be wildly fluctuating difficulty spikes that would often ruin an otherwise successful run. While of course, the nature of rouglite games dictates that certain aspects are reliant or even based on chance, it never felt particularly fun when my luck seemed to run out. It wasn’t always that the game was too difficult. In fact, some runs were so easy I felt myself getting a little bored.
Additionally, managing your followers every day can get a little taxing. While of course, the tedium that comes with management games is often par for the course, in Cult of the Lamb there were often moments of repetition. It’s alleviated by the sheer joy and complexity that comes with the plethora of mechanics behind Cult of the Lamb’s management gameplay. Nevertheless, some repetitive gameplay is to be expected.
Fortunately, there is the occasional side activity for you to enjoy when you’re not fighting monsters or running a cult. These include a relatively fun dice minigame and the obligatory fishing one too. You’ll also meet some genuinely interesting side characters with some exquisite back stories, who add a lot of colour to the proceedings. Suffice to say, Cult of the Lamb attempts to fuse together so many different gameplay ideas and it does so excellently. Not once does any element of the game stick out like a sore thumb, but instead feels natural and genuine.
“With a colourful picture book aesthetic, a bopping soundtrack and engaging narrative, this is a cute indie game that you don’t want to miss.”
Cult of the Lamb is a one-of-a-kind game that bravely fuses action roguelike combat with management simulation mechanics. Though it doesn’t reinvent the wheel with any of the two individual elements, it proves that two drastically different genres can be blended into one cohesive experience. It touches upon some dark themes related to religion and death, but also wraps it up into a lighthearted and comedic experience. With a colourful picture book aesthetic, a bopping soundtrack and engaging narrative, this is a cute indie game that you don’t want to miss.
Cult of the Lamb is available right now for the Nintendo Switch, Xbox One, Xbox Series X/S, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5 and PC.
*Disclaimer: Reviewed on PC. Code was provided by the Publisher.
Cult of the Lamb Review
Cult of the Lamb wonderfully fuses together management simulation elements with fast-paced action roguelite combat. If the colourful artwork alone isn't enough to entice you to try out this phenomenal game, then the fantastic narrative about indoctrinating cute animals into your cult might just do the trick.