Cult of the Lamb is a rogue-like-dungeon-crawler/city-builder. Genres really are getting out of hand nowadays, and yet, that was the most concise way that I could fairly represent what the team at Massive Monster have put together. Backed by prolific publisher Devolver Digital, and with seemingly infinite access to their troves of marketing budget, this is one of the more memorable debut titles from a new studio in quite some time.
Cult of the Lamb is what would be produced if the creators of Happy Tree Friends decided to try and make an Animal Crossing title, the result is both awe-inducingly cute and delightfully wicked. Whilst it doesn’t nail everything that it is going for, the sum of parts here still leads to a unique and worthwhile time-investment, all wrapped up in some fabulous presentation.
I played the game on my Switch, thinking that the city-building would be perfect to play on the move or in bed, unfortunately my thoughts on the game might have been soured by this choice, but more on that later.
A woolly tale
The tale of Cult of the Lamb puts you in the hooves of the titular lamb, on your way to being sacrificed to a set of four deities. Once you are beheaded and presumably turned into a nice scarf for someone’s nan you awake in limbo. Before you in chains stands The One Who Waits, another devious looking but totally not evil and pretty chill guy. He offers you his crown which will grant you another shot at life, the cost of which is eternal servitude to him, and the quest of destroying each of the four deities to whom you were sacrificed.
So the story is nothing to write home about, but thematically it gives enough context for why you are committing the atrocities that you are.
Delightfully devilish presentation
There is an adorable and haunting menagerie of characters to encounter and indoctrinate as your spread your learnings far and wide. Each character has a great design, looking almost as if they’re ripped right out of a story book, accompanied by thick black outlines and each speaking in tongues as if they migrated from Spiral Mountain alongside Banjo-Kazooie. My personal favourite is the chef who is also a shrimp and is also in love with the giant snail he serves his wares from, I think. I do also like the tarot reader, with his deep, menacing grumbles to exercise caution after I’ve drawn from his infernal deck of cards.
The music on offer here has received some pretty high praise, however, none of it really stuck with me. It was far more ambient than I would have liked, admittedly this does help with the repetitive grind of dungeon crawling, but it doesn’t lend itself to sticking with me for any number of seconds after I’ve hit the power button on my system. Maybe that will change for me in future, but I haven’t been compelled to check the soundtrack out on Spotify unfortunately. I am in the minority here, so your mileage may vary.
From a UI perspective, I found that the text was a little small for my tired, old, eyes and some of the icons were less than clear, but through perseverance, I was able to navigate my menus quite efficiently. The main resources and meters you need to manage in your moment-to-moment play are all pretty clear, also colour coded for additional clarity.
Cultivating your flock
Your play time in Cult of the Lamb will be split roughly 50/50. The first half revolves around building up your cult, keeping your followers happy, well fed and faithful. The second tendril to your play time will be dungeon crawling in a rogue-like hack and slash adventure, not unlike Hades, and nowhere near the same standard.
Let’s start with the city-building first. This was my favourite aspect of the game, it was a satisfying process to grow my cult and spread the teachings of my cult “The Cult of the Capybara” – I suitably lost my mind when I realised I could recruit capybaras into my cult – lovely stuff.
Much like Animal Crossing, you begin your journey with the bare essentials – everything you need to get your cult off the ground. You’ll have a church, a shrine, a kitchen and a work station to be able to build from. Each of these has a specific function.
The church is where you can perform sermons and rituals such as sacrificing cultists or hosting a feast to build follower loyalty. These have a range of benefits and drawbacks which you’ll want to utilise throughout your time with Cult of the Lamb. If you’re running short on cash, you can exploit all your followers to gain some extra coinage, but this will be at the expense of some of their faith. Rituals can be much more sadistic than taking just their money too, my favourite was a “fight pit”, allowing me to match up two cultists, and have only the strongest survive. With enough happy followers you can also give your cult extra perks, like cannibalism, or ‘respecting their elders’ (boring).
The result is a neat system which feeds into itself over and over again, like some kind of devilish swiss roll.
The workstation is where you can build anything you desire, from cosmetic decorations like a skull lantern, things to make your followers happy such as better sleeping quarters, or resource generating behemoths like the humble farm. As you grow, these can all be upgraded to become more efficient, and there is an amazing sense of satisfaction when your cult becomes almost sentient with a level of automation to make Ronald McDonald himself proud. Until this happens however, there is a lot of manual work to be done, from cleaning up poop, to harvesting your farmland by hand. This might put some players off, however, if you can stick with it, the pay off is pretty great.
Followers then pray at the shrine to give you devotion, which is used to unlock more stuff for your cult. As the meters are managed, keeping your cult clean, faithful and well-fed, devotion also grows. This can lead to a cycle of doing your daily sermon, farming, feeding and gathering faith, only find that it is time to repeat that process again.
I was hooked. Somehow, my own cult had indoctrinated me.
Come forth, to graze hell
Now when you start to need more resources and followers to grow your cult further, that’s when you can begin your ‘crusade’. This is a combat-focused dungeon crawl where you gain power ups, new weapons, and eventually face off against a boss. Each dungeon corresponds to one of the four deities at the start of the game, culminating in a boss fight where you can, and will rip out their heart, yum.
Each of these biomes has their own hazards and variety of foes to overcome and each run is generally short enough to keep your attention, usually lasting no more than 10 minutes. The environments here are fairly uninspired given that you are dealing with eldritch beings seemingly harnessing limitless power. Unfortunately, variety is lacking. You go to a rainy one, a forest one, another forest one, and another forest one, but this time with bugs.
As you start each run, you are randomly given a weapon, used to swing in a typical fashion, and a curse, a limited use magic spell, usually a projectile attack. What follows is a by-the-numbers action game, consisting of three buttons, attack, spell and a nice feeling dodge roll, complete with i-frames. Use basic attacks and status effects, sprinkle in a curse or two, dodge when needed and taking down the various nasties you encounter along the way – rinse and repeat. The combat is nothing special, but nothing noteworthy either, for me, it was a means to an end, and doesn’t make me want to play over and over like other games in the genre.
Each boss is suitably gross-looking, sometimes incorporating bullet-hell projectile waves which the i-frames certainly helped out with. Much of the time though it is more viable just to tank hits from the boss and wail away, eventually resulting in victory. The game wasn’t too challenging for me, although I did only play on the recommended difficulty level – if I cranked this up, I may have had to be more cautious with my play. For me though, the city-building was where I was having the most fun.
If you come to Cult of the Lamb solely looking for a rogue-like action game, I’d recommend looking elsewhere, try out Hades or Curse of the Dead Gods if that is what you fancy at the moment.
Poor frame rate, the eighth circle
My main gripe with the title was the technical performance. It pains me to say this, but it really is a deal-breaker. I would recommend holding off on this on Switch until a patch is released that stabilises performance.
The most notable issue is the frame rate. The game suffers some serious frame dips when a lot was happening during crusades, and it even caused two hard-crashes when it got a little too crazy. This was made worse by the fact that these were the times when I was having the most fun. One time I accrued a build of cards allowing me to effectively spam my curses when entering a new room, it made the system chug dramatically until eventually it decided to give up altogether.
The framerate issues really hampered these combat sections, ultimately making this half of the game far less rewarding than I can imagine it would have otherwise been.
The problem doesn’t stop with the crusades however, as I gained 20+ followers, all going about their daily work, the frames dropped significantly too. This is less problematic here where there is less reliance on input times (with the exception of cooking), but still frustrating nonetheless. Between days the game also struggles. Every time the sun was to rise, there would be a slight 5-ish second freeze as my progress hovered in limbo, would I get to the following day, or would I be booted to the Switch home screen?
There are also other bugs that are still to be ironed out in an upcoming patch – my temple would disappear, cultists would be unresponsive, or somehow free themselves from jail with no option to put them back – its these little things which really dampened my experience.
Somewhere in Cult of the Lamb is an awesome game, beneath a layer of bugs and soil lies a relic which is truly memorable. At the moment though, I can only say that there is this potential there, the performance issues need to be addressed, but once they are, I can recommend this. For now however, keep an eye on the patch notes which are coming, and save your money until then.
I was drawn in by the stellar presentation and dark humour, but there is a lot more than I expected in here, particularly on the action side. If you’re a fan of rogue-like games, or city-builder games, or ideally both – there is a lot here for you to enjoy, if you purchase on a system able to handle it.
Hail the lamb.