Setting up expectations before eventually breaking them, is what makes a lot of forms of media, characters, and stories incredibly intriguing. The concept of “gap moe” comes to mind where cute or adorable characters do very disturbing things, or vice versa. This gap, created between outward appearances/expectations and what you get in the end/reality, is what, generally speaking, keeps people entertained. This also applies to concepts outside of the cutesy anime aesthetic, of course. A good Mystery story, for instance, will always keep you guessing before it surprises you.
This way of setting up expectations and then surprising the reader, player or viewer is probably what good writing is about – and also what good (game) design should aim to do.
In a cutesy game like Cult of the Lamb, the developers and the marketing team actively play with expectations set through its art style while promoting darker cult-like themes. Obviously, this is to garner attention and to make people have a good experience overall thanks to concepts such as “gap moe” and the like.
But this leads to the question: Does Cult of the Lamb actually deliver a good experience outside of this or does it solely rely on cute uwu animals doing disturbing things to try to appeal to the player?
Developer: Massive Monster Publisher: Devolver Digital Genre: Roguelite, Indie, Action, Management, Colony Sim, Dungeon Crawler Release Date: August 11th, 2022 Reviewed on: PC Available on: PC, PS4, PS5, Switch, XB1, XBS Copy was purchased.
Cult of the Lamb is probably one of the most anticipated games this year. It’s a colony sim/management game in an action-roguelike sheep’s clothing. As a titular lamb, you’re fighting against the Bishops of the Old Faith who have slain your kin and tried to sacrifice you to secure their victory. Little did they know that this is what brought you closer to The One Who Waits, the being whose resurrection they intended to stop. Now, it is upon you to raise a cult in The One Who Waits’ name, get stronger, and beat the Bishops to free the shackles of the one that gave you a new life.
Right from the get-go, you can feel the charm of the game. It’s an incredibly adorable dungeon-crawler experience with many facets to it. On your “crusades” against the Old Faith, you fight enemies and explore the map before eventually ending your run with a lot of loot in your pocket.
This loot is then invested into buildings back at your base. On your crusades, you’ll rescue followers that you then indoctrinate into your cult. As you tend to their needs, your cult grows bigger, you unlock new buildings and you will choose doctrines.
Doctrines really add to the whole cult theme, essentially cementing your personal values into what your cult is about. Do you want to respect your elders or do you want to reward sacrificing or even murdering those boomers? Do you declare a day of rest or do you make your followers work through day and night? Across five categories, each with four choices, you have the power to form a cult unlike any other and that’s incredibly powerful from a game design perspective.
At the same time, you have the choice of sacrificing followers to a tentacle monster so that you get stronger… or you let them live so that they generate devotion via prayers so that you can unlock buildings and perks.
But with a lot of these management/colony sim elements, I kind of yearned to play other games that do it better. The management systems that are in place are lacklustre with a lack of feedback, boring tasks, and little to no control or insight over what your followers are doing at any given time.
Being able to assign schedules or to change people’s diets would have been a neat feature. Having a detailed overview of traits, jobs, and needs would have also been good. It’s just lacking a lot of things that make other games in that regard.
On its own, the management is definitely lacking but luckily, there is also the combat, right?
In your quest against the Old Faith, you embark on many a crusade. Combat itself takes a bit of time to get used to. You only have one attack button, one dodge button and one spell button, so it’s not that hard to learn… but perspective and range kind of made it a bit hard to estimate when you’d actually hit an enemy and when you’d swing air.
At the same time, you start off with a random weapon and a random spell. These can range from powerful axes and swords to incredibly useless weapons, such as daggers. To further get my point across here, I’d have to mention that every weapon knocks away enemies but the dagger has low range, low damage and high attack speed.
So, while you wanna hit them a lot with the dagger, you won’t be able to because you knock them away so much with each swing, making this weapon utterly useless. This balancing issue is something you’ll see with spells as well, sadly, and I would have loved some tweaks to it – but it’s a month past release and I’m not sure if anything will happen to it anytime soon.
The same stuff also applies to the claws: They’re interesting weapons but most of the damage comes from the last hit in the combo but you seldomly will get to that point, actually.
Overall, I did have fun with the combat but only when I hit certain combos of tarot cards (perks/boons) and spells/weapons.
Tarot Cards will most of the time give you stat-ups but you can’t stack them like in Risk of Rain and there isn’t really much there that changes how you play the game. Instead, you just want more cards because “more is better”. If you have fewer cards, though, beating bosses and enemies get tedious, which is a shame. Getting a 2x attack speed multiplier with a slow weapon like the hammer was insanely fun though! It’s just that you don’t have that every run – and there isn’t really much else like it, sadly.
So, in my opinion, Cult of the Lamb isn’t a good roguelike and it isn’t a good management game but the combination of the two parts kind of makes up for it. If it was just the combat, I’d hate the game. If it was just the management, I’d hate it, too, actually. I enjoyed the management and decoration and the life sim aspects (with the fishing and gambling minigames) a lot more than anything else but if you ask me if I’d recommend the game or not, I’d be conflicted.
Whilst playing, this has been a great experience for me. Runs are only about ten minutes long, there are some accessibility options, and the soundtrack by Riverboy is probably among my favourite game soundtracks now. It’s just that the combat kind of sucks and the management systems also are lacking.
I think my main issue with Cult of the Lamb is that once the novelty or the “gap moe” effect wears off… it’s just a somewhat okay game. It’s not great but it’s not bad either. Throughout the game, I felt like playing other games, like Curse of the Dead Gods or Graveyard Keeper. I don’t think that a great game would make me want to play something else.
Again, I enjoyed this game, so I will recommend it to you but I need to play a heavy disclaimer on it. It’s a very short game with balancing issues and there are a lot of aspects of it that just feel unpolished or lacklustre. If you wanna play a great Roguelike game, check out GetsuFumaDen: Undying Moon or Hades. If you want to play a great Management game, think about Rim World or Oxygen Not Included.
To sum it all up, Cult of the Lamb is not great in either aspect but the story, the humour, the art style, and, for the most part, the soundtrack is what kept me playing. I do recommend trying it out but be aware of issues that I’ll get into in another post that at times frustrated me… a lot.