Cult Of The Lamb: The Kotaku Australia Review

Believe me when I say I won’t go hard for a game if it isn’t one that truly astounds me. Blows me away. Gives me an experience I couldn’t get anywhere else.

That was the case with Cult of the Lamb.

Developed by Melbourne-based studio Massive Monster, Cult of the Lamb entwines the design of a dungeon crawler with a town management simulator. It’s published by Devolver Digital, a company known for taking a chance on some delightfully strange titles.

At first glance, I knew I would like Cult of the Lamb. The art style perfectly combines cute and creepy, and the concept alone hooked me. Of course, when you are presented with a game concept that sounds great, it’s just the beginning. However, it’s the execution that seals the deal, and I can say with confidence that Cult of the Lamb executes on its ideas with clarity and a sense of mischievousness.

In 2022, it’s hard to think of design ideas that haven’t already been done to death or are entirely unlike anything else. And, truthfully, I can’t say that Cult of the Lamb is totally unlike anything I’ve played before. I just used two well-known genres to describe it a paragraph ago. Instead, it’s a masterful convergence of the multiple genres it plays with, done in ways that make it a unique and special experience.

I finished Cult of the Lamb in about 18 hours on Day 90. The consensus is that it takes roughly 12-25 hours to complete. Here’s my experience with it.

Look at me. I am the cult leader now

Cult Of The Lamb: The Kotaku Australia Review
Image: Devolver Digital / Kotaku Australia

You start your game the way any typical day would start: moments from being put to death by a group of four all-powerful, putrid beings. However, that all changes when a fifth putrid being, The One Who Waits, decides to take a chance on you. They task you with bringing an end to the four god-like Heretics that sought to destroy you while also running a cult. A cult… of the lamb, one might say.

As mentioned earlier, the art style. Love. It’s easy enough to make a game’s characters and environment look adorable, but to then shake that up with the addition of awful nightmare creatures within that same art style? Mwah. Chef’s kiss.

Despite the horror of it all, though, there are still moments to stop and enjoy just how cute parts of the game are. The follower forms you collect along the way, sometimes through the dungeon crawling and sometimes bought from other areas, are all so lovingly designed—even the ones which act as ‘chibi’ versions of genuinely yucky-looking beasts.

The 2.5D graphics give it an almost Paper Mario feel, but the bursts of colour and stylistic choices in moments like rituals and sermons make the world feel complete. As you collect more decorations for your cult, it’s entirely up to you how cutesy or cursed you want the land to look. Fill it with flowers? Yes, do this. Cover it with the bones of your enemies? Yes, this is also possible.

Taking care of my cult more than I take care of myself

Cult Of The Lamb: The Kotaku Australia Review
Image: Devolver Digital / Kotaku Australia

On that note, let’s start with the part of the game I probably spent the most time on: cult management.

When you first found your cult, the surrounding area is filled with rocks, trees, and berries—what a place to start. Then, you can begin to build your cult through harvesting and dungeon crawling. As you grow your cult by amassing a following, more items and upgrades become available as your followers passively accrue Devotion.

But alas, it’s not entirely passive. You will not succeed if you simply leave your followers to do their business. They are, unfortunately, not very smart. If you leave them to fend for themselves, they will die.

cult of the lamb review
Image: Devolver Digital / Kotaku Australia

Cult of the Lamb is not afraid to play with gross concepts. You’re well within your rights to feed your followers Bowls of Poop, but you probably shouldn’t because they’ll get sick. The corollary to this is that some sicko followers will actually ask you to make them eat these excrement dishes, which is very funny to me.

The ability to name and customise your followers is one of the many things that makes Cult of the Lamb so special. Similarly to pets, making your followers unique is what ends up endearing them to you. Giving my followers names like Goofy, Paddington, Ugly, and Sonic (and later Sonic 2) made them feel familiar to me, which made it all the harder when they eventually got old and died.

The graveyard in my cult is easily the nicest looking part of the place, and for good reason. It’s the creatures that I rescued, indoctrinated, fed (poop, sometimes, but only consensually), cared for, and let grow old that would help me rise to power. It’s strange that I felt so connected to these little creatures, but I did. And I loved it.

Cult Of The Lamb: The Kotaku Australia Review
Image: Devolver Digital / Kotaku Australia

Something else that stuck out to me is that there was a solution for every problem and misstep in the game. For example, if you left your cult for too long and your cultists grew unhappy with your leadership, simply give a little sermon. Have a little feast, and talk to your cult followers. One of your cultists is dissenting? Just throw them in jail and re-educate them for a few days. A cult member is sick? Put them to bed to rest up, or nurse them back to health in the health station.

That’s what I did, at least, but another great thing about Cult of the Lamb is you can be any kind of cult leader you like. With the stone tablets you collect throughout the game, you can declare new doctrines, ways of life that allow you to rule however you like. I, in my opinion, was a nice cult leader (with the odd bit of sacrifice where necessary). Doctrines are yet another way the game lets you make your experience truly yours.

Cult of the Lamb can be stressful at first, but it gets you into the swing of managing a cult very quickly without overwhelming you. Multiple trees must be levelled up: the cult, the doctrines, the weapons, and the followers themselves. These trees all link together in a way that doesn’t overwhelm you. Instead, they overlap, benefitting each other over time, which is an impressive feat.

As your cult grows and improves, as does your ability in your crusades, so let’s talk about those a bit.

Damn, this lamb is tough as hell

cult of the lamb review
Image: Devolver Digital / Kotaku Australia

The combat and dungeon crawling of Cult of the Lamb is simple yet effective. It’s also integral to growing your cult and progressing through the game. Each of the areas, Darkwood, Anura, Anchordeep, and Silk Cradle, feel unique to one another and provide different things in terms of items and followers.

The combat mainly involves attacking, cursing, and dodging. Dodging is vital, though something that I rarely do in other games. Here, I found myself doing all the fucking time. The combat aspect of Cult of the Lamb was surprisingly difficult, even on Normal mode.

It reminded me a lot of another game that I loved and found myself dodging in more than usual, Death’s Door. The combat stylings of both these games have a similar philosophy: basic but not boring. The biggest difference is that while Death’s Door has weapons you collect over time, Cult of the Lamb‘s weapon choices are an absolute gamble.

Cult Of The Lamb: The Kotaku Australia Review
Image: Devolver Digital / Kotaku Australia

When you start a crusade, you are handed a random weapon and curse. As you level up through sermons and rituals, you can attain new flavours of weapons. Not new types! New flavours. You’ll start dungeons with a random selection of a claw, a dagger, a hammer, an axe, or a sword, but the level-up mechanic opens the door for poison weapons, vampiric weapons, and godly weapons—same dealio with the curses, which are just little magic attacks.

While this can be irritating for players who may only want to use one specific weapon, I actually liked that the game forces you to get better at all kinds of combat. It also gives you more of a reason to search every nook and cranny of every room in these dungeons, which can then lead you to find the Tarot Cards in the game. Oh yeah, that’s another thing.

cult of the lamb review
Image: Devolver Digital

There’s also another, more minor mechanic of Cult of the Lamb: light deck building. Throughout the game, you’ll come across Tarot Cards that act as buffs through dungeon crawling. These are collectable not only during your crusades through random encounters but are also bought from the various unlockable areas.

While it’s not a traditional card game in the same ilk as Card Shark, it does add a refreshing take on the usual dungeon crawling experience and also adds even more artistic flair to a game that’s already frequently bursting with aesthetically pleasing imagery.

But what about outside of the cult?

Cult Of The Lamb: The Kotaku Australia Review
Image: Devolver Digital / Kotaku Australia

Well, there’s a little old thing that instantly makes any game a certified banger: fishing. Yes, there is a large fish man that teaches you how to fish. And an extra mini-game. And some light hallucinogenic-taking. And there’s Plimbo, my Quirked Up Weird Boy of the Week.

Outside of the dungeon crawling and the cult management, Cult of the Lamb includes a whole bunch of extra little things to do that all add to the experience and work together to improve your cult. So while it may sound like there’s a little too much going on, I found once again that it wasn’t too much that I was overwhelmed. Rather, it was surprisingly a very find-things-at-your-own-pace experience.

Cult Of The Lamb: The Kotaku Australia Review
Image: Devolver Digital / Kotaku Australia

When I started KnuckleBones, the mini-game introduced by Ratau (who initially helps you start the cult), I was dogshit at it. However, similarly to the rest of the game, I got better and better at it. While it isn’t an integral part of the game, going through dungeons and meeting new NPCs that challenge you to KnuckleBones is a neat little side piece of Cult of the Lamb that adds yet another little thing to do when you’re not fighting baddies or making sure your flock doesn’t die. The feeling of flipping of Klunko and Bop when you throw some dice around? Very rewarding.

There are quite a few little side quests and activities you can do outside of the cult that ultimately helps you in your rule, making the gameplay constantly twist and turn in a way that I found quite refreshing.

The conclusion

Here we are, at the end of the review. As I said at the start, when I like something, I really really like it. If I hate it, I shut up. If I don’t like it that much, I say very little.

However, Cult of the Lamb is a very special game. It contains multitudes of things I enjoy on their own and sews them into an experience that works together in harmony. In addition, the soundtrack by River Boy does what any good video game score does: stand on its own as great music while also fitting comfortably in the background.

When I picked up Cult of the Lamb, I didn’t want to put it down. I still don’t want to. While I’ll admit that the post-game in its current state isn’t fully fleshed out, Massive Monster has confirmed in their roadmap that additional free content will come to the game at a later date, which is an exciting prospect given what’s already on the table.

I will say that I ran into a few bugs and glitches here and there in my gameplay, but nothing game-breaking. The beauty of the technology we have today is that a few review-stage bugs can easily be cleaned up post-launch, so there are really very few to write home about. I can’t, in good faith, punch an indie game down for having the rare visual bug when I’ve had such a fulfilling experience, you know what I mean?

Cult Of The Lamb: The Kotaku Australia Review
Image: Devolver Digital / Kotaku Australia

All in all, Cult of the Lamb is an enormous and enriching gameplay experience that has so much to do without feeling like you can’t do it all. It ticked almost every one of my boxes, convincing me that this game was made for me, personally. The story of this game is simple to follow yet remains mysterious throughout, and the game itself never acts like something it’s not. Cult of the Lamb is cute, silly, and morbid, and it knows it.

If you’re a fan of the weird, the wonderful, the whimsical, and the wacky, you will find a very special place in your heart for this very, very special game.

I sure did. Praise be to the Lamb.

Cult of the Lamb is available from August 12th for PC and Mac, Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4 and 5, Xbox One, and Xbox Series X|S.

This review is based on the PC version via a code provided by the publisher, and was played using an Allied Gaming Tomcat-A Ryzen 9 5900HX RTX 3070 Gaming Laptop.

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