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Cult of the Lamb (CotL) is a new rogue-lite game developed by Massive Monster and published by Devolver Digital. Have you ever wanted to run and manage a cult? Do you have desires to serve an ancient, imprisoned god? Do you enjoy living alongside adorable animals that you can customize and name? Do you enjoy farming, cooking, and fishing? Do you wish you were a lamb that was resurrected from the dead? If any of these statements was answered with a yes, then it means Cult of the Lamb is the game for you!
CotL puts you in the role of an adorable, little lamb that was sacrificed in a religious ritual by a group of “bishops” to prevent the release of an imprisoned ancient god. What the bishops didn’t realize is that this is a rogue-lite game, and every time you die you come back to life even stronger than before. Thankfully, though, you and I are knowledgeable, and a little thing like ritual sacrifice won’t stop your little lamb.
The lamb is historically symbolic and has represented both suffering and triumph. The role you play in the game fits this perfectly. You start off as the last of your race and the last that can fulfill the prophecy, and, because of that, you’re killed to prevent it from coming to fruition. Your moment of triumph comes when you are asked to start a cult in the name of the trapped god, and you must start it up from nothing. Building and maintaining the cult is one of the main functions in the game, and I will cover that in more detail later.
There are two types of rogue-lites. Games like the Binding of Isaac and Enter the Gungeon feature complete runs where you unlock items or routes, but there’s nothing between runs. Then there are titles such as Hades or Children of Morta ,where in-between runs is a large portion of the game and drives the story-line. CotL is more akin to the latter. In the beginning of the game, a run into the wilds will last around 10-15 minutes, and much of your time will be spent managing your new cult. Meanwhile, the combat in CotL is action-based and features a variety of melee weapons and curses which are similar to other game’s spells or ranged attacks
Many rogue-lite games can be either too difficult in the beginning, or the repetitive nature of the runs gets to be tedious. CotL handles both potential issues in a fabulous way. The tutorial missions and beginning section of CotL are paced as perfectly as possible. While many games will overload the player with mechanics and then simply unleash you into the world, in my experience games designed this way handicap players by not building on their experience. Thus, in the end, advanced mechanics get lost or forgotten. CotL allows the player to get comfortable with each phase of the game before adding more onto their plate. The very first forays into the wilds are completed solely using melee weapons. After a few upgrades to your cult, you gain the ability to use curses and even to collect different materials.
You will use what you learn to defeat a series of mini-bosses which will open the pathway to the region’s main boss. This is where the CotL really shines, in my opinion, because, once you beat the region’s main boss, you can proceed to the next area (if you have enough followers in your cult) or you can return to the area you previously cleared. When you return to the area, you’ll find that the enemies have grown stronger, and what was once a short run to kill a mini-boss has turned into a multi-stage adventure with a rematch of the area’s final boss at the end.
After each mini-boss you’re given the option to continue deeper into the area and collect more rewards and materials, or you can return to the cult and keep everything you’ve earned. If you challenge and defeat the main boss again, you will be given another item to unlock a permanent upgrade. There are four of these upgrades for each boss, and, while they’re optional, they will help to give you an edge in future adventures. There’s a hub with doorways leading into the main combat areas and, ultimately, the gateway for your final encounter.
Cult management is what makes this a truly unique rogue-lite. Your cult is an active, ever-changing entity that needs constant management and control to keep your minions in check. Your cult members can be given tasks to perform, like collecting wood or stone, helping to build, farming, or just worshiping you to generate upgrade points. There is a nice level of control without being overly micro-management focused, so you can prioritize what you need, but it doesn’t require constant attention.
Your cult has three main statistics, and, while they’re overall ratings for the cult, they can be impacted by individual actions. These traits are loyalty, hunger, and sickness. Each of these traits will impact the productivity and happiness of your cult. Low loyalty can cause members to dissent, and dissenting followers can negatively impact other members or even choose to leave. So what makes cult management more fun? Remember that you’re the leader of a cult that’s worshiping an imprisoned god. So if a follower is dissenting, you can choose to imprison them in the stocks and “educate” them. If some gentle re-education doesn’t do the trick, you can feed the dissenter a healthy meal made from other follower’s meat. Yes, you read that correctly. You can harvest meat off of your dead followers and use it to really show that you’re serious. There is a wide variety of foods, and each one will provide different effects. You can even feed your followers a bowl of cooked poop, should you so choose.
Building also plays a role, and you start with a shrine and temple. The shrine is where followers will worship you, and as you collect points from worshiping, you will receive “divine inspirations.” Divine Inspirations unlock improvements for your camp, including buildings and decorations that will do everything from providing raw materials to improving follower morale. The temple, meanwhile, is the centerpiece of your camp, and it’s where you can perform sermons, rituals, and make new decrees that will influence your progression through the game. The points earned from sermons are how you earn your permanent upgrades for your adventures into the lands outside the camp, including weapons, curses, and health upgrades. The decrees are where customization plays a large factor in each run. There are 40 different decrees that fit into 5 categories, and you can only unlock 20 of them in any given playthrough.
CotL doesn’t have quite the variety of other games in the genre, but after 5-10 hours of gameplay, I had unlocked an admirable amount of content to make runs unique. Through the unlocks gained from the cult’s temple, you can get weapons that have status effects like vampirism and poison, and there’s a wide variety of curses that range from simple ranged attacks to spreading toxins over the battlefield. You gain upgrades during each run by finding tarot card seers, and you’ll be able to pick the one that best suits your run. And during your run, you can pick your path to customize which rewards and rooms you want to go through. This, in itself, is a huge quality of life improvement over other games as you aren’t as reliant on RNG to get the upgrades or materials that you need.
I have played dozens of rogue-lite games and have thousands of hours in the genre, so it’s rare that a new title in the genre grabs me like CotL has. CotL is not as refined as a title like Hades when it comes to the story and the voice acting, but the customization capability and the ability to pick your run and make it as long or as short as you’d like really “fix” some of the very minor issues I had with Hades. I have very few complaints about the game, one being that many of the mini-bosses and the final bosses felt very similar with their attack patterns. It’s minor overall, and in case you haven’t been won over yet, there are already two separate and completely free DLC packages to be released after launch to build upon this already great experience. I truly believe that Cult of the Lamb is a must-play game of 2022, and you don’t have to be a fan of rogue-lites to enjoy it or to appreciate what makes it unique.