Have you ever dreamed of starting your own religious cult? I sure have. Who should people pray to? Well, me obviously; they should venerate and love me all day every day! But that sounds really like the average day in the life of an influencer, which is nothing new I guess. What about, then, starting a serious sect with sacrifices, laws, rules and a whole book of doctrine? Sign me up, Mr. Luciferus. Finally, my prayers (to myself, obviously) were answered in the form of one of this year’s massive indie hits: Cult of the Lamb.
The studio, Massive Monster, had already worked on several smaller games, like the decently fun 2D platformer The Adventure Pals. The success of their latest game might come as a surprise, especially if one reads the way the game borrows from various genres and puts everything together. The player will guide a lamb, saved at the last minute from being sacrificed by an apparently evil god. The lamb will be kept safe, even from death, if they will spread the god’s cult among the people.
The way the cult spreads is quite simple, requiring not actually going out nor paying for ads on Facebook. We will cross several levels of RPG hack’n’slash action, cutting down enemies and bosses, while converting whoever we come across to our religion. So far, things would not be very far removed from Populous or, more recently, a Black and White clone. But that’s not all Cult of The Lamb does, as a big part of the gameplay will be keeping our adepts happy and cozy in their little village.
Here comes the big Animal Crossing part of the gameplay, as we will have to stroll around the village, building homes and decorations. Often we’ll have to interact with each single adept, as to order them to do things or inspire them (as to keep them loyal). Obviously, unloyal and rebellious adepts will have to be dealt with accordingly. Smartly, the game allows us to also choose what kind of cult we want to be: outright evil or perhaps moderately good, or something in between? There’s a lot of space for choices and I liked the “law” system even more.
Basically, by collecting three pieces of a law tablet, we are allowed to put out more doctrine, as to guide our followers towards principles we care about. Perhaps we want them to focus more on work, perhaps faith, or even love. For each principle, the game lets you choose between two different flavours, which clearly allows for a lot of replayability over time should we want to create a custom cult. In this, interestingly, Cult of the Lamb reveals its weaker side right in the hack’n’slash, and slightly The BInding of Isaac inspired gameplay.
Indeed, going around killing enemies, collecting resources and saving villagers ends up being the “grinding” part of the whole game. It is required, so it’s not skippable, unfortunately, but it ends up distracting a bit from wanting to just go full-on religious mogul for our followers and decide and manage every aspect of their lives. To make matter worse, when you’re on a mission, the villagers may decide to revolt, leave, starve or get depressed. So you’ll have a constant reminder that you’d better hurry up.
Perhaps it would have been interesting to see even that part of the design automated, like deciding to send someone else to do the action part, perhaps with a tradeoff in resources. It would have allowed more freedom for the player to just concentrate on one single part of the game, instead, it’s a constant balancing act between keeping the followers happy and also going out to kill enemies and trying not to die. Sure, that’s also an interesting design but – as always – leaving the choice to the player is the way to go.
I am not really sure if the overall balance for Cult of the Lamb always works, as having a lot of villagers, especially in the first few hours, means having to do a lot of micromanaging while also being careful not to die or not gathering up resources in the hack’n’slash levels. But it is sure a very interesting melange of different genres which definitely seem to belong together. As for me, there is always space in my life for games which enrich that melting pot with different elements, especially if there are evil Lovecraftian gods involved.