|Genre||Roguelite and Management Sim|
|Platforms||PC (reviewed)/ Switch/ PlayStation 4 / Xbox One / Nintendo Switch / PlayStation 5 / Xbox Series X|S|
|Release Date||August 11, 2022|
Cowritten by Courtney Floyd
Developed by Massive Monster and published by Devolver Digital, Cult of the Lamb is a dungeon crawling and management sim game. The goal of this article is to explore what the game is doing and reconcile our faith with its content. This is the kind of game that requires a bit of a serious touch. Let’s dive in.
Violence: Gameplay involves killing creatures and sometimes other anthropomorphized animals. This act involves blood, and the skin flies off the victims to reveal a pile of bones. To progress the story, players must occasionally sacrifice loyal followers in rituals. Dead followers can decay and cause illness if left unburied for too long. Some characters are found in burned villages surrounded by bones, and players are told the Bishops killed everyone else. There is optional violence for those who choose certain doctrines throughout the game, namely murdering followers, extra sacrifices, and ritualistic fighting to the death. (We did not choose these doctrines and cannot speak to them further.) Cannibalism is also an option, which will be discussed in “Other Negative Content.”
Scary Images: Though this game is drawn in a cute art style, there are plenty of disturbing images and monsters. Dungeons are full of bones, burned villages, and runic symbols. One room of the map is full of characters who have been turned into golden statues. A dungeon houses mushrooms with humanoid forms inside, seemingly screaming. The antagonists, the Bishops of the Old Faith, are Lovecraft-like creatures with blood dripping down various parts of their bodies. The mini-bosses vary from bloated, oozing frogs to giant worms with rows of bloody teeth. When killed, one boss’ giant mouth folds open like a flower. The titular lamb levitates and bleeds from its eyes when engaged in a ritual, and the statues to gather devotion also host bleeding eyes.
Alcohol/Substance Abuse: Players can choose whether to engage in a ritual involving mushrooms that brainwashes their followers. The effects are psychedelic and imply being high. One potential doctrine gives extra points to those who engage in this ritual.
Sexual Content/Nudity: Players are free to marry as many followers as they wish, though the extent of these unions is the ability to kiss spouse(s).
Other Negative Content: Some followers ask the cult leader to feed poop to themselves or someone else, which the player can refuse. Other followers are suspicious of one another’s loyalty. When followers die, players have the option of feeding their meat to others or eating it themselves. In fact, one potential doctrine gives extra points to those who engage in cannibalism. Players have the options of intimidating, taking tithes from, and giving bribes to followers. Players have the option of putting innocent people in jail. Players have the option of choosing a doctrine to perform resurrections of dead followers.
Spiritual Content: This is a game about forming a cult, and it takes no strides to hide that. The player must give sermons at the temple, perform rituals, and gather devotion in addition to going on dungeon-crawling escapades, known in-game as “crusades.” Devotion is gathered by having followers worship at a giant statue in the camp or at smaller statues, called shrines or tabernacles. Players have the ability to send out “missionaries” to gather resources or more followers. They can even change followers’ appearances and names. This adds character customization but can remind players of how much hold the cult leader has over these followers. One buildable structure is called a “Demonic Summoning Circle.” In this circle, a demon possesses and strengthens a chosen follower so they can accompany the player on crusades. Pentagrams are a constant decoration, used as the floor of the temple and transportation points. Abilities are called “curses” and are obtained through in-game Tarot cards. The antagonists of the game are Bishops of the Old Faith, though their faith is never explained. When confronted, these Bishops ask the lamb to bow to them, and the player can choose to concede or not. When the player finishes a crusade, the screen says “Heretics Defeated, Cleansed the Nonbelievers.” Often, the protagonist’s eyes will turn completely white/black and bleed, and it will float in the air as if possessed. To create doctrines (discussed more below), the player must find the “commandment tablets” in dungeons. These tablets allow the player to level up their cult by choosing more doctrines for everyone to follow. In the final battle, followers are hung on crosses and tortured as the player fights.
Spiritual Content (Doctrines): Players make choices to determine how their cult will be run, and these are known as doctrines (also mentioned in other sections of this guide). These doctrines touch on five aspects of life: Afterlife, Work & Worship, Possessions, Law & Order, and Sustenance. Many of these doctrines are named after religious ideas, namely “Ritual of Enlightenment”, “Holy Day” (their version of Sabbath), “Extort Tithes”, “Belief in Materialism Trait”, “Belief in False Idols Trait”, “Belief in Original Sin Trait”, and “Belief in Absolution Trait.” Real world religions are never alluded to, and the majority of these doctrines only vaguely follow the ideas after which they are named.
Positive Content: Most positive content in this game must be made by the player. Despite the main character being a villain, players can choose how they want to interact with followers through doctrines and rituals. They can decide to create a cult of cannibals and sacrifice followers whenever they want, or they can choose to make everyone vegetarian and only sacrifice when the story demands it. Though this is not necessarily positive content in the game itself, it is a way for the player to maintain some semblance of their own personal moral code in spite of the game’s darkness.
It felt appropriate to cover this game based on its adorable aesthetic. At first, I wasn’t going to; the idea of getting involved in cult things isn’t very appealing and seems like a conflict of interest in a religious sense. But upon reflection, we weren’t given a spirit of fear, but of power, love, and a sound mind (2 Tim 1:7). It seemed that God is allowing this to happen, because the day it was released I asked to review it, and here we are. I went in to see if conceptions regarding God or Jesus would be toyed with, and what happened was I found an interesting game that did none of that.
Cult of the Lamb revolves around growing a cult, and taking part in cult practices real and mythical, while destroying the cults and the Bishops. The game itself does not glorify the cult. The game also does not toy with making fun of God, or any other religion’s gods. It is simply a cult simulator with cute aesthetics that remind me of Gravity Falls.
Players begin as an unnamed lamb being led to die. Upon awakening in the afterlife, The One Who Waits gives the lamb power to take revenge on the Four Bishops, some Lovecraftian-like creatures who claim deity, for locking away the lamb’s new boss. The lamb can use a weapon and curses while it fights. The weapons available are randomized at the start of the dungeon, or “crusade”. It can be a sword, dagger, ax, hammer, or claws. Each has a different strength and speed stat. Curses can range from shooting one projectile, or three, an AOE stun attack, tentacles or ice going in a straight line, or temporary invincibility. During my time playing, I got more good seeds than I did bad. What really amps up the run are tarot card effects. Players will find a room with a friendly creature offering the choice of three special traits. These provide more diverse runs, offering things like damaging enemies when the lamb rolls, to being stronger in the daytime. There are more cards to be collected in the game through purchasing or doing side-quests, and they are worth retrieving.
The goal of the crusades is to travel through four regions and defeat the Bishop at the end. Since this is a roguelike, no run will ever be identical. Unlike a game like Binding of Isaac, these dungeons are smaller, going through ten-to-eighteen rooms before reaching the end. The contents of the rooms vary, from resources, to shops, to combat with special benefits. Players can choose which room to go through, giving players the option of a pure resource run or a pure combat run. The runs can be upgraded by the activities done during the sim segments. The experience overall comes across as a great roguelite for beginners, like my wife. She enjoyed this part almost as much as the sim portion.
The management sim part is where the player returns after each crusade. Players are tasked with keeping the cult members from being sick, hungry, or doubtful. This can be fulfilled in a myriad of ways. The first is how the “church” is run. Daily “sermons” can increase faith. Players can upgrade the crown from the parts received after killing the Bishops, and can change the lamb’s fleece by completing various side quests. The fleeces offer great risk/reward mechanics to make the game interesting. My favorite was the purple fleece that gave me an extra heart for every tarot card I found, at the cost of losing all my items if I died.
"Hope was in the absence."
Rituals are another option, and at the cost of enemy bones perform many stat boosts. And finally, there are doctrines which steer the cult toward either a greater evil or lesser evil path. Players can choose twenty doctrines out of forty, earning them by finding tablet fragments from members leveling up, or treasure chests. Outside the church is a statue that cult members pray to. The devotion becomes points for upgrading the camp. Upgrades are necessary things like housing, farm plots, resource spots, and stat-increasing monuments. There are also decorations to spruce the place up.
The interesting thing about Cult of the Lamb is that both sides of the game impact the other. The Bishops are locked behind doors that require a certain number of followers. As previously mentioned, the devotions gained from followers during “sermons” give upgraded weapons and curses. The management side can be played with for long amounts of time before a crusade is required. Followers will ask for things, and their rewards supply the lamb with nearly as many resources as one dungeon run.
Outside of dungeons and the camp are a few special locations unlocked by finding certain characters in each of the four dungeons. Five bonus areas give extra resources and items for getting the fleeces. There’s even a nice fishing minigame among them. But the best minigame is called Knucklebones. The goal is to have the highest number of nine dice on the board. It gives some money if won, but honestly, the fun of the game is its own reward.
At the prospect of cannibalism, the images of blood, and the sheer amount of likeness to Happy Sugar Life, we felt put off by the game. The cognitive dissonance felt almost too much to handle. And we had already read up on the game beforehand. Our mission to find what good this game had in it was pushed to the limit. And it was only after we stopped trying did it finally occur to us. Hope was in the absence. This is a dark game, but there is an unofficial morality to the choices and the kind of cult you can make. You don’t have to make everyone a cannibal, you don’t have to marry every member, and you don’t have to brainwash everyone. Those are choices that are not necessary for beating the game. Instead, you can become a vegetarian, respectful, faithful commune. At the end of our run, the members worked together, respected the elderly, mourned the dead, cared about matters of justice, and abhorred violence. The cult becomes what you make it.
Let’s be clear: this isn’t a game of good versus evil. It’s clear from the beginning that this is a game of warring religions, neither of which is righteous. The Bishops are vying to keep control just as much as The One Who Waits wants it. And the means to the end is the same as theirs: Using poor, vulnerable anthropomorphic people. You never get a full picture of what the Old Faith really is, they only talk about it. They simply want to keep the status quo. To some, the lamb can be seen as a revolutionary. But what is perhaps the most important change is how the game can end. And it is in the player’s hands.
Now the glaring question: is it worth it?
There’s no denying or compromising the truth; there are pentagrams, eldritch horror, and occult themes. Dealing with these things may not feel right. There is a difference between playing a game and actually being in a cult. But the fact of the matter is it could have an effect on players. If anyone feels like they’ll miss out on a good game, then they have this content review to know what the game is all about. It shouldn’t be taken lightly. But something can be said for the cute art style dulling the sharp cult-y tone. As anticlimactic as this may sound, the answer falls on the player. Go with your conscience on this one, and be led by the Holy Spirit.
The Bottom Line
If you're on the fence about playing this, then don't hurt your conscience, but if you do, wait for patch fixes.