Roguelikes are no stranger to religious fervor. The Binding of Isaac offers a demonic twist on Christian themes that presents endless opportunities to wield holy artifacts against poop monsters. At first glance, Massive Monster's new game Cult of the Lamb seems cut from the same cloth. The core conceit of building up a cult and striking down spiritual leaders matches the vibes of Isaac, but Lamb takes more inspiration from games like Moonlighter. It uses the combat of an endless procedural dungeon crawler to enhance its other systems, winding towards an achievable goal. Like most games published by Devolver Digital, Lamb has style for days, but the gameplay systems at its core can't seem to coalesce into something that inspires cultish devotion.
Building Your Cult of the Lamb
Cult of the Lamb starts with your death. You play as the last lamb sacrificed in a genocidal attempt to null out a prophecy. A demonic savior pulls you back from oblivion and lets you wield the power of suggestion against the animal folk that populates the surrounding areas. In exchange, you must use your newfound flock to establish a cult, gather strength, and cut down those who smote you in hopes of reviving your dark master. While there are bits and pieces of worldbuilding beyond that scattered through the game's limited dialogue, the story goes where you expect it to and doesn't present many surprises.
Your lamb also meets a few helpful NPCs along the way, but no one character sticks in the memory for more than a second. It also feels like there was an attempt to build up a cast of shopkeepers a-la Enter the Gungeon, but that doesn't pan out as the game continues. Cult of the Lamb has a powerful premise, but none of the citizens seems to mind that you're sacrificing and brainwashing followers down the road, and you seemingly do little to hide your murderous intentions. The result is a passive environment that fails to react to your goings-on in any meaningful way.
If Cult of the Lamb were a pure action game, this lack of narrative cohesion wouldn't really be a problem, but the other half of the experience is a social simulator/idle game hybrid that really needs that type of investment to function correctly. As is, forcing followers to toil through the night, sleep on the ground, and eat food made from grass feel like decisions made to raise and lower stats rather than crimes committed against the gullible and the desperate. Lamb makes token efforts at trying to get you to care about your followers by letting you name them, customize their appearance, and give them gifts, but it's all for naught. The entire cult aspect feels like a numbers game that feeds the part of your brain that keeps you playing long into the night without realizing how much time has passed. I guess there's some irony in that.
Combat of the Lamb
Cult of the Lamb is easy to devour in multi-hour sessions thanks to an addictive gameplay loop that never lets up on progression rewards and bars filling to the maximum. It helps that the roguelike combat is a fantastic iteration of what's come before. Your cult leader can wield a melee weapon and a curse, which here means a demonic power that functions like a magic attack. From daggers that summon homing ghosts to ichor bombs that leave a poisonous trail, there's a lot of variety here. Dodge rolling to avoid attacks and laying in with a combo is always satisfying. Anyone who's invested in a top-down roguelike in the past will instantly feel powerful as they take on the enemy cultists and hellion-like creatures standing between you and victory.
Even in the half that works, Cult of the Lamb does stumble over some issues that plague new roguelikes time and time again. The combat arenas and map design all have very similar layouts from run to run, making it easy to predict where rewards like new perks and extra chests show up. Each stage is also pretty short, but a run consists of several levels strung together with a Slay the Spire-esque map that lets you pick between gaining more resources or fighting through more waves of enemies. It felt trivial to pick paths with little to no resistance at times, which let me get to boss fights quickly and at full health. Considering that the game is already pretty short when compared to others of this style, the fact that you can easily luck your way to victory on occasion robs the combat of some of the lethal edges that makes other roguelikes so engaging.
Once you beat one of the four big bosses in Cult of the Lamb, their area remains open for exploration, and it seems like the game wants you to go on repeat runs to gather resources and face more considerable challenges. I didn't find much reason to do this, even when a follower asked me to for a sidequest. When I did a victory lap, I could feel my forward momentum grinding to a halt, especially if I was doing it simply to grab something I needed for a crafting recipe. Cult of the Lamb is fun to play, but that fun is shallow and depends solely on discovering how to make your cult more efficient and gather better weapons for combat. At the end of the day, without all the bells and whistles that come with the progression, that addiction falls apart, and you'll wonder why you spent so much time building cots and performing rituals.
Cult of the Lamb Review | Final Thoughts of the Lamb
With so much focus placed on the idle game-inspired cult building system, whatever value Massive Monster could have mined from their theming is sacrificed on the altar of a meaningless grind. It's possible that someone may find value in naming their followers after their friends or decorating their cult's home base just to their liking, but those systems feel like fluff to me. Combine that with a combat system that feels solid but overly familiar, and you have a final product that people will play through and forget about in 10-12 hours. There's nothing inherently wrong with that, but it does feel like a shame considering the stylish visuals and dynamite premise on display. Cult of the Lamb's hero asks for ultimate devotion from their followers, but I would be hard-pressed to see anyone following that example in the real world.
TechRaptor's Cult of the Lamb review was conducted on PC via Steam with a copy provided by the publisher. The game is also available on PS5, PS4, Xbox Series X|S, Xbox One, and Nintendo Switch.
- Fun, familiar top-down combat
- Stylish presentation
- Addictive loop of meaningless progression
- Idle game hooks that feel empty
- Unresponsive, hollow worldbuilding