We’re not entirely sure why lambs are offered to the Gods as ritual sacrifices, but we’d wager it has something to do with how darn cute they are. If you’re going to slaughter a creature in the name of a God, it may as well be one of the cutest on the planet.
Cult of the Lamb merges these two things together: unbearable cuteness and gruesome rituals. It features a cuddy assortment of critters straight off the pages of an Animal Crossing fan’s sketchbook and places them in a woodland cult with hard labour, rituals, sermons, and blindsided loyalty.
You play as the last lamb on earth, spared at the hand of a merciful deity. In return, our cheery bipedal bovidae must establish a cult, amass followers, and reap the spoils of their devotion. This angers a quartet of oligarchs, who then set about spoiling your plans by turning up unannounced during crusades (quests), before duly appearing as bosses – with each ruling a different realm.
Like many modern games, Cult of the Lamb is an amalgam of two genres – randomised top-down dungeon crawling, and survival/resource management. Our fearless hero, armed with a newfound crown that bestows mighty abilities, heads into randomised dungeons formed of several rooms with branching paths. At the start of a crawl, two randomised weapons are provided from an increasing pool, and it’s then a case of clearing out small rooms of enemies before choosing paths. Some paths lead to a new follower, while others will provide building resources. It’s worth taking into account how many mouths you currently have to feed, and what kind of requests are on the agenda.
Combat is fast-paced, using a now traditional roll ‘n attack set-up. The crown grants projectile attacks along with charged close-range manoeuvres, and enemies give an indication when they’re about to attack, providing a cue to roll out of harm’s way. Health top-ups are common, and while making headway towards a boss, tarot cards can be found with modifiers, such as increased damage when weak or poisoned blades. If you’re lucky, it’s possible to become delightfully overpowered before heading into the final boss room. And if combat proves too tricky, an easy mode is available. Boss battles lack innovation, with most reusing common enemy designs, but they can be satisfying to kill if you arrive at their door with little health.
Once back at the cult, it’s then a case of putting the spoils to good use. If you saved a soul they must be indoctrinated, too – a process allowing for customisation, right down to animal breed. A cult of mice? Don’t mind if we do. They can then be assigned a role within the camp, including worship, with devotion required to unlock new structures such as outhouses, confession booths, and vegetable plots.
At the start of the game, the church’s grounds are surrounded by trees and rock piles ready to be stripped for resources. Once depleted, it’s then a case of creating mines and choosing how many followers should spend their days toiling away. Their hunger and cleanliness must be kept in consideration too, requiring meals to be made almost daily, and poop ‘n puke swept away.
The cooking aspect isn’t too demanding – seeds are commonly found, and farming only requires a few button presses. Gathering wood and stone can be a slow process, though, making some upgrades time-consuming to acquire. If you stray from the hallowed grounds too long, you may find that follower loyalty has started to wane, or one or two have become sick.
Indeed, they’re a reasonably demanding bunch – they’ll often approach with mission objectives, ask for certain decorations or structures, or may have the suspicion that a fellow follower is up to no good. One even asked us to head back into an already conquered realm just to find their friend. If their faith is lost, some harsh punishment will put them on the right path – a prison is one of the first constructibles. Failing that, followers can be sacrificed in a ritual that impacts the entire group, mostly for the better. New rituals slowly unlock, and occasionally a follower will demand a certain one be performed.
The balance between management and crusading in dungeons is handled well, especially once more locations unlock on the map such as a fishing hole – with its own quests to discover – and the chance to play a dice-based mini-game with a former mentor. It isn’t uncommon at all to take a half-an-hour break before heading back to the dungeon hub – a location that also assists in tracking progress.
The marriage of two popular genres, alongside the unique premise and the delightfully grim tone, makes for a vastly compelling experience. The various unlock paths can be scrolled, revealing what delights can be expected, and there’s a long list of structures to construct. This is a game that knows how to reward players for their time. Visually it’s pleasing too, using well-drawn 2D sprites to create an inviting world.
If you were to break Cult of the Lamb down and scrutinise the two core components, you may be wondering where the innovation is – Nobody Saves the World managed to do a lot more differently. It’s the merging of components where the expertise lies – together they form something far larger, and greater.
Devolver Digital’s Cult of the Lamb is out now on all formats. Developed by Massive Monster.