Baa-baa-baa-baa baa-baa-baa-baa leader.
Have you ever wanted to start your own cult? Maybe you looked at L Ron Hubbard or Sun Myung Moon and thought to yourself, “Hey! I could do that!” Well, it’s time to test out your cult management (lamb) chops with Cult of the Lamb – a cute 2D roguelike from Melbourne developer Massive Monster.
The game throws you into the hooves of a soon to be sacrificed lamb, put to death for the crime of an ancient prophecy. The last of your kind, the four Bishops of the Old Faith have wiped your kin out wholesale in an attempt to prevent the return of The One Who Waits: death himself.
Of course, when you’re trying to stop someone from reaching the big man downstairs the least sensible thing you can do is send them straight there. Soon after our little lamb is reincarnated and tasked with spreading the good word – and that word is death. Death to the Bishops who sent him to meet The One Who Waits. You’ll spend your time in Cult of the Lamb in one of two ways: either crusading out into an action roguelike dungeon delve a la Hades or spending time farming and tending to your flock like in Stardew Valley. While both sides of the gameplay coin are robust, you’ll soon find one much more draining of your time.
The time spent hacking and slashing your way through enemies, while seemingly the intent of the game and the main driver of the story, often takes a back seat to the demands of the cult. Early on you begin to become acutely aware of the passage of time – every single minute is more time away from the cult, and more of a chance for something to go wrong. Spend too long away and you’ll have dissenters in your midst, spreading misinformation about their glorious leader (that’s you).
That’s not all that can go wrong either. Eventually followers will succumb to the rigors of time, and slip into old age. From there you’ll only have a few more days with them before they drop dead right where they’re standing. Your other followers, seemingly confronted with their own mortality will begin to mourn and, in some cases, throw up all over the place from their sheer grief. This can then cause a chain reaction of mess throughout the flock that, if not cleaned up quickly, will spread disease and can even cause more followers to cross that rainbow bridge.
Acutely aware of this ever-present danger, you’ll then push to rush through levels – and occasionally dialogue, oops – quickly to get back to your cult and tend to their needs. The combat itself doesn’t inherently have the kind of skill expression you’d find in Hades or the like, so in some ways this bit of extra tension works for the game. For me though, it just left me not wanting to spend a lot of time off exploring or fighting and detracted from the overall experience a bit.
It doesn’t help then that the actual combat is flat too. There’s a reasonable range of weapon types, from the quick dagger through to the hard-hitting but slow hammer, but most combat will revolve more around attack spamming than combos or well-placed attacks.
You’re given a new weapon and curse, the games spells, at the start of reach run with very infrequent opportunities to collect others as you go. This means that if you get stuck with a weapon type you don’t like then, well, too bad really. It doesn’t help then that the slower, wider-hitting and higher damaging weapons just seem to perform far better than their smaller counterparts. This can lead to situations where your run is doomed from the start, with a bad weapon really suffering against some enemy types and bosses.
The cult management aspect of Cult of the Lamb is clearly the main focus, gameplay wise, and it also happens to be where the game really shines. I always enjoyed arriving back home to work away at the next upgrade to make my followers’ lives that bit easier. Better sleeping quarters, fancy gifts – all in the name of keeping them happy and productive. Defeat a big boss, one of the four Bishops, and your followers will even throw a little welcome home party for you before trundling back off to their work.
While it may sound a little humdrum, it was these moments that provide the warm and fuzzies – seeing my first follower Patrete the rabbit, who was still alive when the credits rolled, always brought a smile to my face. Having an attachment to your little gaggle of devotees is further reinforced as most of the ones you’ll encounter are “freed” from the bosses that the Bishops have transformed them into. Once defeated you can rescue them, sending them back to your flock to toil in your name.
Once they’re back home – and freshly indoctrinated – you can put them to work on your farms, in your resource generating lumber yards or mines or even put them to work worshipping you and generating devotion at your altar. This devotion is one of your two primary upgrade resources and is used to unlock more building types or other cult related buffs.
The other resource is also generated from your followers and harvested when preaching your daily sermon from inside your church. This resource, faith, is arguably even more important than devotion as it increases the power of weapons and curses you find on your journeys. Consequently, it’s pretty important to keep your flock in good shape lest your long-term progress start to suffer.
While the cult management gameplay is great and the action-roguelike elements are good, the place where Cult of the Lamb really shines is the soundtrack. Holey moley, what a fantastic suite of tunes. From the gentle, airy music that plays while tending to your flock through to the more ominous and energetic ones that play as you carve through dungeons, the soundtrack is an absolute standout.
With a stellar soundtrack a tight story and a fresh take on the farm management sim, this is an enjoyable — if short and sometimes shallow — ride. I rolled credits in just shy of twelve hours on normal difficulty, and that was with a fair chunk of time in the middle devoted to my devotees. While your mileage will undoubtedly vary, Cult of the Lamb is an easy recommendation – now excuse me while I get back to vibing to River Boy’s banging soundtrack.
Cult of the Lamb was reviewed using a promotional code on Windows PC via Steam, as provided by the publisher. Click here to learn more about Stevivor’s scoring scale.
12 August 2022
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