Cult Of The Lamb - Join The Cult
PS4, PS5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X|S, Nintendo Switch, PC
My infatuation with the roguelike genre stemmed from the sense of liberation – I was allowed to fail with the knowledge that failure brought its own reward. With that reward came the ability to utilise lessons, recalibrate my world view, rebuild my character, and start again. It has been an experience that has, for the most part, reaffirmed the essence of humanity. As a parent to a pre-school-aged child, the mechanics of a “quick run” that afforded me small gains for my character were equally as valuable to me as the longer goal-orientated missions to collect certain resources that facilitated more significant future progress. They provide more than a Soulslike game where failure seems more accustomed to building immunity to failure’s emotional drop-kick.
There is nothing I’m going to be able to say to review Cult of the Lamb that every other video game journalist will have already delivered to you in a concise morsel for Metacritic, so I am happy to provide this to you early. It is a fantastic local development that ambitiously and successfully delivers a game worthy of The Year Of Our Roguelike 2022 and also decides to don brass knuckledusters and punch Animal Crossing in its cozy kawaii face.
I hooked a controller into my PC and just fell in love with its rebellious aesthetic. I preordered it on Switch. I almost preordered it on Playstation too.
The reason? I started roguelikes at a very specific time in my life, and their constant reaffirmation of purposeful failure has served me well and helped me navigate my own acceptance of vulnerability as an individual. With this experience and authority, I can characterise Massive Monster’s contribution to the genre as follows:
If roguelikes reaffirm several important lessons about our own failures and humanity, Cult of the Lamb reaffirms the real but misunderstood experience of matrescence – the severing of pain, a (re)birth into the world, the juggle of a newfound identity, and the heavy knowledge that you will never be enough for everybody.
And it has been the most comforting and relatable roguelike that I have experienced to date.
With every follower found and willing to be indoctrinated, I saw the brief moments of compassion, tenderness, acceptance and even love between the Lamb and the to-be-discipled. Once brought home to my little commune of Herburghehblurgh and subsequently indoctrinated, these critterous follower gain the benefit of identity, purpose, strengths and flaws that are effortlessly predetermined. Your followers can be tasked with gathering, constructing, building, or just simply vibing (which I admit a lot of my followers tended to do because I just cut down every tree in the early game). Location growth is made by unlocking new buildings and decorations that personalise your commune. Meanwhile, cult growth is made through investment in sermons for quick loyalty gains, rituals for follower stat-boosts that recharge after cooldowns, and doctrines that can assign further aspects that reflect your own personal virtue ethics.
It is enviable, to be honest. Because while your follower has immediate glorious purpose, your fleecy avatar does not. It has to take the life it once knew and quickly acclimatise to the role of protector and provider. And this is where Cult of the Lamb shows its true demonic delight, as time continues in your commune while you are out seeking gratification in your vocation. I cannot begin to express my horror when I was out smacking cultists with demonic gauntlets and I looked to the left hand side of my screen and goddamn Follower Bretrety announced that they were starving. This resulted in me making progress decisions in the randomly-generated dungeon being based solely on events that were not even happening in the dungeon. While I tried to build my identity (whether it was into the person I was before or something new that I wanted to explore), the commune’s needs called to me and my response was understandably obligated.
From a design perspective, it is gratifying that the dungeon gameplay is relatively straightforward, with melee weapon, curse (with refill gauge), and dodge being the only significant arsenal needed to traverse through the game. I could count on one hand the number of times that I died in normal mode, making its careful pace a nice change to quick-responding games like Hades and Dead Cells. But the ease of this gameplay allowed me to typically complete a run in 8 minutes (12 minutes if I decided to cut all of the grass), and return to my followers to meet their needs. Sometimes I would find myself waiting until my followers went to sleep before deciding to go back for another dungeon hunt and I had to almost laugh at myself in reflection on how long it has taken me to play this game and write this review in between my daughter’s sleep cycle.
That duality of purpose is a common feeling for first-time mothers, and expresses something that is difficult to articulate – that there is simply not enough space to “become” in an environment where you are expected to be “done”. Matrescense is a tempestuous experience of physical, hormonal, psychological and social transition and Cult of the Lamb shows a lot of that existential juggle between the person that you are trying to intrinsically become, and the frequent necessity to put that on hold to meet the needs of those that genuinely need your love and attention and support.
There were moments that I felt this to my soul, with a depth that Devolver Digital probably did not anticipate.
But what made me appreciate Cult of the Lamb was not its ability to just throw a mirror in front of me and declare “HA RELATE TO THIS YOU BREEDER”. In an important addition to the lived experience, it demonstrates the success that can be found with the right support, and its support cast are a menagerie of discovery just waiting to be experienced. Whether it is your first interaction with Ratau as the experienced mentor who has “done this all before”, Clauneck who bestows on you little cards that uplift you, or Haro who is just a spectacular meta-expert on the game as a construct, each character unlocks another avenue of support for your cuddly ovis.
Cult of the Lamb is a spectacular treasure to the genre that I will continue to play as a welcome distraction from other roguelikes and village sims. I have found comfort in the relatable. I have treasured reassurance that I don’t have to have it all figured out to feel whole and that the mess of mistakes is okay.