Cult of the Lamb review – The most pleasant brainwash

Brad Norton
Cult of the Lamb cinematic

Through its many deeply gratifying gameplay systems and an intoxicating charm that forces you to care about every single action, Cult of the Lamb wraps its wonderfully grotesque tendrils around your mind and makes itself near-impossible to put down.

For a game all about gathering a cult and accruing wealth in its various forms, Massive Monster’s newest indie title, Cult of the Lamb, does an exceptional job of warping your brain so nearly every waking thought is fixated on those goals.

Over the 20-hour journey from downtrodden leader to omnipotent god, Cult of the Lamb kept me utterly obsessed. Calling it quits on a session is no small feat when you have a fledgling campsite to optimize, endless resources to acquire, food to cook, sermons to give, and followers to keep satiated. It’s this finely tuned juggling act, for the most part, that captivates as great roguelikes often do.

While performance issues occasionally halted progress and an abrupt conclusion put a stop to any late game aspirations, forging your path through the chaos and ensuring your ragtag group thrives out in the wild makes this endeavor well worth your full attention.

Cult of the Lamb: Key Details

  • Developer: Massive Monster
  • Price: $24.99 USD / £19.99 GBP / $37.95 AUD
  • Release Date: August 11, 2022
  • Platforms: PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X | S, Nintendo Switch,  PC

Cult of the Lamb trailer

Follow the leader

On the surface, your objective in Cult of the Lamb is fairly simple. Grow your very own cult to gain power as you take down a handful of evil foes looming over four distinct regions. The more followers loyal to your cause, the more tools at your disposal to grow said cult further and continue the cycle.

Amid fast-paced exploration sequences fueled by roguelike randomization, you’ll hack and slash through increasingly difficult rooms, timing dodges, counter-attacks, and powerful charge-up abilities. In doing so, you’re rewarded with a mix of currencies, building materials, and even seeds to grow your own fruits. Regardless of what you’ve grabbed along the way, rest assured it’ll help you in the game’s arguably more challenging other half.

When you’re not battling pesky creatures and overcoming possessed bosses, you’ll be spending your time at the home base of your design. What begins as a desolate field can soon be transformed into a bustling town full of unique characters.

Cult of the Lamb sermon gameplay
Keeping your followers happy, but also in line, is the key to success in Cult of the Lamb.

Progression is more or less tracked through the number of followers under your spell and their general satisfaction. As you venture out in the wild and complete various quests, you’ll happen upon more lost souls in need of commandment. It’s your job to grow this makeshift family, support them with all the essentials, but most importantly, keep them in line with the ideals of your cult.

This is done in a number of ways. First is through harmless daily sermons. Here, the charming lamb protagonist works its magic to boost overall faith in leadership and bolster each cult member’s dedication. Next is through more individualized methods, be it gifting followers items found on your travels or simply hearing their confessions. And the last, most devious option, is through a broad mix of rituals, some benevolent and some outright evil.

Rituals are extremely powerful effects allowing you to manipulate your cult. Don’t want your followers sleeping for the next three nights? There’s a ritual to force them awake and keep them working against their will. Your entire camp is on the verge of revolt due to poor living conditions? There’s a ritual to temporarily brainwash them while you get your act together. One of your most beloved followers is deathly ill? Rather than curing them as any kind leader would, there’s always the option of performing a gruesome sacrifice and using their remains to feed the rest of camp. Yeah, it can get dark.

As a by-product of this intense balancing act, one that evolves a great deal in no time at all, you begin to grow a rapport with your cult members that’s deeper than you’d first expect. Assuring your followers feel confident in the cause and remain happy with your choices as a leader provides more than just a numerical benefit. It’s the smiles throughout camp and the celebrations after big battles that fuel you to further grow and improve your quality of life across the board.

A glorious, chaotic symphony

Throughout the early game in Cult of the Lumb, as you find your footing day by day, there’s a near-perfect balance keeping you on edge and a tremendous cadence in which new elements are added to the equation.

It’s a constant challenge just trying to keep afloat, but never one that crosses that line and overwhelms. For each new setback, multiple new systems may open up enabling you to regroup and strengthen your camp from there. For each new enemy in your way, increasingly powerful weapons and abilities soon become available to keep you on course. For most of the experience, it’s a turbulent rollercoaster of highs and lows as you navigate the brutal world around you.

Cult of the Lamb buildings
With dozens of buildings to place, many of which you’ll want multiple of, there’s a great deal to keep on top of.

Ensuring you’re always on your toes is the game’s day and night cycle, with a clock plastered on your HUD at all times to keep you both well aware and anxious. As Cult of the Lamb operates on this quick daily rhythm, you’re forced into making snappy decisions and completing your crusades as fast as possible. Take too long on a quest and followers will lose faith. Spend more than a few nights away from camp gathering resources and some of your most loyal cultists may fall ill. In doomsday scenarios, a handful of poorly timed decisions or in some cases, just a lack of definitive action can all but ruin your best-laid plans, leaving what remains of your cult in disarray.

That pressure never leaves your mind, even deep into the journey. It’s constantly there to remind you that if things go awry, it’s a steep climb back to some semblance of normality. Thus, you’re frequently looking for ways to optimize your processes. Whether it’s generating more food sources, automating tree harvesting, or even just building new shrines to amass some extra faith, every little thing helps, and before long, the hours will be flying by as you get lost in this flow-state while seeking to improve.

Hosting a sermon with your followers soon turns into two quick rituals. Those rituals then lead to cooking a dozen meals so no one goes hungry. Cooking those meals then leads to cleaning up camp if your dreadful recipes poison those who indulged. Before long, the sun is rising and you’re doing it all again on repeat.

The cycle is neverending if you look to make the most of every situation. It’s here where Cult of the Lamb is truly brilliant.

Late-game shortcomings can spoil the illusion

Where the majority of the game shines is unfortunately where the final sections fall short, however. Depending on how meticulous you are during the earlier stages, you may soon begin to effectively overpower Cult of the Lamb’s balance on release.

At roughly the halfway point, a lightbulb moment occurred where I realized I was no longer weighed down by that aforementioned pressure. With just a few over-tuned rituals and the right buildings dotted around camp, I quickly found myself unconcerned with once-precious resources. In the span of just a few in-game days, minutes in real-time, you can go from barely scraping by to a life of luxury, all but eradicating any form of challenge from the remaining hours and therefore, removing some of the fun too.

With limitless gold at your disposal and endless resources for new buildings, the snowball quickly rolls out of control.

Cult of the Lamb gold ritual gameplay
One particular ritual outright removes gold from the equation as your pockets will always be overflowing.

As a result, before I’d even opened the doors on the final region, I had essentially capped out on things to do outside of the final boss. With all rituals unlocked, all doctrines set in stone, all combat and home base upgrades acquired, unlimited food, unlimited gold, followers only ever dying through old age, and a never-ending pool of resources coming in from my optimized lumbermills and stone mines, all that remained was one final test of strength.

Without spoiling anything, although this final obstacle doesn’t end the game in a traditional sense, Cult of the Lamb nonetheless reaches an abrupt conclusion. Unlike many similar titles in the genre that cater to a more ambitious endgame, this title falls short in that regard.

Beyond customizing the aesthetic of your cult, there’s nothing much to do once credits roll other than starting from scratch if you want to relive those glory days on the rise to prominence. At launch, the game’s replayability is certainly limited. While it is a roguelike in some regards, it’s worth tapering expectations in terms of just how much value can be squeezed out of the experience.

So although Cult of the Lamb draws you in and holds your full attention for most of the game, the latter stages could do with another balance pass and the conclusion leaves a lot to be desired.

But with that said, even through the 20-hour experience, it’s already clear just how vast the game can become over time with expected developer support. With more areas, NPCs, rituals, quests, weapons, and a solid late-game loop, there’s no doubt this game could be enjoyed for years to come.

Cult of the Lamb gameplay
With all boxes ticked and nothing left to strive for, there’s no incentive to go on even one more crusade after the final boss.

Also of note, our early PC build encountered a number of issues during the playthrough, some worse than others. Dialogue boxes displaying random lines of code and odd frame rate dips can be overlooked easily enough, but double-digit soft locks were rather frustrating. Many times during Cult of the Lamb, whether it be when chatting to an NPC or indoctrinating a new follower, all HUD elements would vanish, making it impossible to move on from the current spot.

In a game where the clock is constantly ticking and timing is vital, it was always a bummer losing even a few moments and having to manually restart.

Beyond those fixable gripes, the lack of a substantive endgame, and a handful of balancing issues, there’s a wonderfully fun time to be had with Cult of the Lamb. Despite its dark themes and violent tendencies, a charming, joyful experience awaits under the surface.

The Verdict – 8.5/10

Reaching that flow-state where the game’s many interlocking systems are firing on all cylinders is well worth putting up with any hardships along the way. With proper support moving forward, Cult of the Lamb has all the potential to grow into something truly special from this foundation, much like you can on the journey contained within.

Reviewed on PC.