My family sort of centers around this town in Southern Ontario called Burnt River. During the ‘80s, a cult named the Ant Hill Kids led by Roch Thériault operated near it. Before you go looking them up, just a warning: it’s definitely one of those cults. Some incredibly disturbing stuff happened. Their compound was actually right next to my grandfather’s cattle ranch. Anytime a cow went missing, he went over to talk to them. Don’t get me wrong, they never stole one that he knew of, but you have to ask people if they’ve seen a cow recently. But, I mean, stealing a cow or two would have probably been more innocent than what they were actually found to be responsible for.
As a skeptic, I don’t really understand cults. When someone tells me they’ve got it all figured out, I’m not going to disparage them, but they probably know about as much as any of us here on Earth does: not all that much. So, I don’t understand how anyone can convince anyone to sit through weird rituals and abuse for that long. There’s a quip somewhere in there about the Catholic Church, but I’m going to show uncharacteristic restraint.
In any case, I’ve had no interest in running a cult. Sounds too much like raising kids. However, no one has given me a rocking crown and evil powers like in Cult of the Lamb. I guess what I’m saying is: I could be swayed.
When the lamb comes to raise, the end of days, the end of days
You play as the last sacrificial lamb who was… sacrificed, presumably to avoid being sacrificed in a different way. Rather than die, you’re sent to The One Who Waits, an old god who asks you to start a cult and sends you right back to get revenge. Feeling a bit malicious, you do exactly that. You gather followers who power you up through their faith and then set out on a crusade to kill the Bishops of the Old Way and release your sinister benefactor.
It’s this amazing mix of dark and cutesy. You dance with your followers, keep them fed, watch them become friends, then just sacrifice them for your benefit. I found it hard not to get wrapped up in the malice. Maybe I don’t care about Gods, but I do care about myself, so forget that other guy and worship me. I’ll go out and bring back bones so we can have a feast.
Cult of the Lamb is split between tending your flock and plumbing the four dungeons. It’s a rogue-lite, yes. Don’t run away, though, it’s maybe a bit less dependent on luck of the draw. A bit.
He of hungry, he of blight; she of hunger, they of might
Your typical rogue-lite has you powering up through luck or currency. You either bring your experience back to spend on upgrading your abilities, or you draw them from a chest or a literal card draw. That’s all generalizing, of course, there are many approaches to Rogue-lite progression, but those are probably the most rote.
Cult of the Lamb instead uses the cult-building aspect of the game to power you up. You collect faith and worship from your followers. The former is used to power up your lamb, and the latter allows you to upgrade your compound. Your followers are rather mindless. You can get them to toil away and collect resources, but you can’t get them to feed themselves. I once saw a screenshot where it looked like there was a cook, but I was pretty thorough in my playthrough, and I never saw hid nor hair of one.
You also need to keep their faith up by delivering sermons and performing rituals. Rituals range from marriage to sacrifice. You can have a bonfire or feast, or you can take your flocks’ money. No, you don’t have to be really evil, but it’s not a bad idea to be a little evil.
If faith drops too low, you wind up with dissenters who walk around raising questions about your word. How dare they? You can either re-educate them or murder them, but letting them walk around isn’t a good idea.
God, if I have to die, you will have to die
What this means is that you can’t spend all your time on your crusades. You have to return before your cult falls apart. Getting to the end of a chunk of the four areas doesn’t take very long, but then you wind up with famine, and it becomes a rush to reach the end boss so you can feed your children. The two sides of Cult of the Lamb work together quite well, and while the mechanics exist in two completely different rooms, it doesn’t feel terribly jarring when you have to keep setting out and returning.
For that matter, the rogue-lite part of the game is pretty straightforward. Combat is largely dodge rolls and swatting, there isn’t a huge variety of weapons, and it’s largely just a matter of replenishing and retaining your health to fight the big bad. I wasn’t martyred all that often, and part of that was because I spent so much time tending to my flock. By the time I completed the game, I had unlocked all personal and compound upgrades. It never became a walk in the park, but it never felt like I was just repeating things constantly.
Sacrilege, sacrilege, sacrilege you say
I’m not really sure there’s much room for too much complaint against Cult of the Lamb. It knows what it is, and there’s not a lot of fat. I did run into some issues with interactivity. For example, if I wanted to throw a body in a hole, I had to first drop the body, pick it up again, and then the hole would let me fill it. I also kept on interrupting cultists accidentally, which annoys them. You only lose, like, a paltry one faith for the act, but I’m a Canadian. Interrupting someone makes me feel uncomfortable and apologetic.
It’s also easy to get too far ahead with your cult. When I mentioned I maxed out upgrades on my lamb, I did that after defeating maybe one boss. Just sermonize every day you’re not out slaying false prophets, and you’ll get there in no time. Sacrificing followers get you there even faster, so it raises the question of why even do it.
But those are pretty small complaints, and part of the reason for that is Cult of the Lamb doesn’t overstay its welcome. Maybe 20 hours, and that’s if you take your time and enjoy your worshippers.
It wins big points for its aesthetics, being successfully both creepy and cutesy at the same time. The music is decent, and I especially loved the song that plays during the side game with dice that I can’t remember the name of. It’s knuckle something. Knucklebones. I actually had to load up one of my recordings because my brain isn’t a team player.
In any case, Cult of the Lamb didn’t exactly rock my world, but it was a pleasant-as-hell surprise. It’s easy to be charmed by its world, its writing, and its dark humour. I think now that I’m done with it, it’s going to be quite a while before I fire it up again, but I definitely enjoyed my time with it. That’s it. It’s solid but not godly. Now, if you have a moment to talk about what is godly, allow me to put forth this assertion: Me.
This review was conducted on a release candidate provided by the publisher.