My favorite roguelikes are the ones that give players the tools to break the game. The Binding of Isaac is on the top of that list — I’ve crashed the game too many times to count at this point. Cult of the Lamb is absolutely not one of those games. It’s much tamer. But by combining its own roguelike action with town-building (more cult-building, really) mechanics, it’s already set itself apart.
A lamb in a hard place
My demo of Cult of the Lamb at PAX East 2022 started with the game’s titular lamb being led to the slaughter. Animals are sacrificed to keep some old god locked away, but being sacrificed instead sends this lamb straight into that god’s arms. It resurrects the lamb to be its conduit in the world and starts a cult in its name.
That’s what’s happening in the background of Cult of the Lamb. As far as I could tell, it wasn’t that important. Once the lamb is brought back and given power through the old god’s dark crown, I was pointed to some monsters to kill — and to the first part of the game that really impressed me.
Cult of the Lamb is deceptively fast-paced. I found that dodge-rolling around (which you can do as much as you want) makes me zip around much faster than just walking. I quickly got into the habit of rolling around enemies’ attacks before hitting them with a quick combo from my sword. I didn’t stick to that strategy during my whole demo though. Eventually, new abilities and a new weapon made me want to switch things up.
Over the course of runs, players can pick up new abilities and weapons, all of which drastically change gameplay. Picking up a dagger, for instance, immediately changed my attack move set. However, it came with the added bonus of summoning spirits that flew into enemies whenever I destroyed a pile of bones. I wasn’t able to see any other weapons during my time with the game but I’m excited to see how they can mix combat up further.
What Cult of the Lamb doesn’t have are any character stats to change or passive items to stack. It’s a bit flat for a roguelike in that way; the only ways I could change my run were by picking up new weapons or new abilities. I wanted a bit more out of the game’s combat, but it made up for that letdown with its cult-building features.
After defeating a boss to finish up my run, I was given a small animal citizen to indoctrinate into my cult. The game then brought me over to my cult’s site, a small area filled with natural resources, as well as the newest recruit. I was able to customize them as much as I wanted before commanding them to start harvesting materials.
Like so many other town-building games (my gut reaction is to liken this bit of Cult of the Lamb to Rimworld), the goal here is to automate everything. I was told by a member of publisher Devlover Digital guiding me during my demo that whether it was cooking food or gathering materials, players would want to gather up enough cultists so the cult itself became a well-oiled machine of praising an old god and gathering materials.
Those materials — which were just twigs and rocks as far as I could tell — could be used to build different structures for my cult. I only got to make a small kitchen where I could cook food for my cultists, but there was plenty of space for more buildings to go. I wasn’t able to build them, but press materials show tents for cultists to live in, weapon training camps, and naturally, temples and statues to pray at.
But collecting those materials to make new structures and cook food for my cultists was essential because one of the most important parts of any cult is keeping its members happy. Each cultist has their own stats; things that they are good or bad at or things that they especially don’t like. My lone cultist, for instance, really wouldn’t like it if I sacrificed another member.
Sadly, I wasn’t able to sacrifice any of my cultists to the old God during my demo. It’s especially a bummer because Cult of the Lamb‘s combat isn’t what makes it unique. Incorporating town-building mechanics into its gameplay loop is just the wrinkle that could make the roguelike really stand out from its peers though. I can already see myself playing the game, unable to tear myself away because I need to build one more structure for my cult.
Cult of the Lamb is set to release sometime this year for PC, PS4, PS5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X/S, and Nintendo Switch. The game can currently be wishlisted on Steam.