Game review: Cult of the Lamb for Steam

Way back in 2021, I did a review for the mobile version of My Friend Pedro and said that Devolver Digital games never fully clicked for me. I still hold that same opinion, but I keep giving their games a chance because as a publisher, they seem to be the most earnest and ethical folks in the gaming industry, and because they are willing to publish weird, original games instead of chasing the latest bestsellers.

Take Cult of the Lamb as a prime example, where the main character is an actual lamb being led to the slaughter to prevent a prophesied return of an evil god. One minute into the game that lamb is killed, only to be resurrected by the aforementioned god. He commands them to kill his enemies, build a cult, and free him from his eternal prison. It’s one part The Binding of Isaac mixed with Cult Simulator. On paper, that sounds fantastic.

In practice, the wonderful dungeon crawling bits are dragged down by the cult maintenance, and a large part of managing the cult being a drag falls on the industry-wide decision to have ridiculously accelerated day/night cycles. I hated that “feature” in Skyrim and Fallout. I hated it in GTA V. And in Cult of the Lamb, they decided to make an even faster clock speed while chopping the night into a ridiculously short quarter wedge of the in-game clock.

This isn’t helped by the fact that cult members age and die in days. So every attempt to build a cult big enough to open later dungeons is hampered by the need to constantly recruit younger cultists to replace the folks who are keeling over on a daily basis.

On the dungeon crawling side, you first start with only one area, Darkwood, open to explore. You go in to kill some of the old god’s people, gather resources, and face a mid-boss fight that unlocks one section of a four-section lock on the real boss’ door. Then defeating them makes the monsters tougher (which makes zero sense, but just run with it) and adds a new boss at the end called a Witness who is supposedly stronger than the god who formerly ran the place. (Ditto on the not making sense and running with it.)

Before I go any further, I need to emphasize that I stuck with the game to its first available ending because the dungeon grinding parts of the game are superb. I wasn’t fond of the hammer and axe, as they were both very slow to swing and left my little lamb open to sucker punches by faster attacking enemies. But I still stuck with them because there’s typically one or two rooms in each run to swap out starting weapons for something different.

As more dungeons are unlocked, new weapon types get added, going all the way up to a blunderbuss. In other words, a magical shotgun. You can guess which was my favorite. But I also liked using the swords, daggers, and clawed hands weapons. All of these can have magic abilities, like poisoning enemies, stealing health, spawning a homing ghost that chases down enemies, or just guaranteeing a higher chance of critical damage. All of these options plus a huge assortment of ranged curses make every run a delightful kind of slot machine where I almost always feel like I won a fantastic prize.

During each run, there are chances to find new cultists, either by freeing them before they can be sacrificed, or by defeating them and converting them to your cult. Every cultist can have up to three attributes, usually negative, but sometimes you get lucky and find someone who shits literal gold or who can level up their faith faster.

Back at the base, you then set up a shrine to collect their faith, and build a church to collect a separate spiritual currency. With the shrine, leveling up unlocks new facilities to build in your base. Meanwhile, leveling up with sermons in the church will unlock new combat abilities. (Including new weapon variants and new spells, most of which make further dungeon runs even better.)

Additionally, inside the church, completed quests can give out three pieces of a stone tablet, and with a full tablet, the eponymous lamb can declare new doctrines. These determine what the cult believes, and the choices are either be evil, or be good. Some are more practical, like choosing if you can feed your folks grass without penalty, or if they can eat each other without penalty. (Okay, writing it out like that, I realize that is still Good versus Evil.)

Within the church are also options to change the lamb’s “fleece,” or the cape that they wear. These are unlocked by taking side quests from NPCs. One wants you to fish for special seafood like squid, lobster, and crab. Another wants you to collect mushroom to unlock a psychedelic brainwashing ceremony. Each completed quest will reward you one piece of a four-part badge, and when you get all four, you can unlock a new cloak. I liked the version that added more damage with every enemy I hit. (Which resets to zero when the lamb gets hit. I frequently got that damage counter up to around 200 percent, and going into a boss fight, those kinds of numbers are real useful.)

But there’s also another fleece that draws four tarot cards at the start of a dungeon. Tarot cards add boosts to the lamb, like adding poison damage to attacks, adding some kind of damage to dodge rolls, granting extra life points, or just boosting weapon damage or attack speed. The only catch to the cloak is, after drawing those four cards, no more can be taken during a run. But given that most dungeons only let me draw three cards, getting all four at the start was pretty useful.

Finally, killing one of the old gods and taking their heart to the church unlocks extra powers for the lamb. There’s only four to choose from, so eventually you unlock them all. The most useful at the start is being able to “focus” and teleport back to the base instead of completing a dungeon run. That’s because you might need to come back to complete a quest for one of your cultists, or because you were just doing a resource gathering run to complete a new facility. There are other reasons too, but I’ll cover them in a bit.

The last facet of the dungeon runs are relics. These activate a special power that has to be recharged by killing enemies, so I tended to save it up until reaching the boss. Some are quite powerful and can take off half the boss’ health. Others might only do a little damage, but they can recharge quicker, so it’s safe to use them more often. But there are also fragile relics, meaning they can only be used once before breaking. A good example of this is a fragile relic that makes the lamb smaller for the duration of the run. The hitbox on their weapon is still pretty close to the same, but the lamb’s hitbox is much smaller, so it’s a lot easier to avoid taking damage. (Which was how I beat three of the four bosses without taking a single hit. Yes, I’m a fan of that relic.)

So, this is most of the gameplay loop covered. Go to the dungeon to grind for loot and cultists. Return to base to indoctrinate the cultists and set them to some kind of task. Maybe they will worship at the shrine all day to generate more energy, or work at a lumber mill or mine to generate base resources, or work the forge to make refined materials. In these kinds of jobs, they will work most of the day, only taking a few breaks.

BUT, there’s a whole other side of managing these guys, and all of it is a pain. Cultists need to eat, and to do that requires making a garden and mixing ingredients from that with meats collected in the dungeons. On my first run, I took the option to feed them grass without penalties because it was the most common resource. But even then, I frequently had a nearly starving flock because of that fast day/night cycle. I could never focus on or enjoy either the land management or dungeon running aspects because of that dreadful hunger meter.

It doesn’t help that most meals have penalties, and the few that don’t are so resource intense that they require many days of gardening and hunting to get the ingredients together. This is fine when you’re on the first and second dungeons and only need to maintain a few cultists. But after hitting the fifteen member mark, feeding them anything that isn’t a basic recipe is its own special level of hell.

Then there’s faith, which is just fucking annoying. I might be in the act of setting up a new shelter for my followers when someone will walk up and start shouting “HIYO!” while waving to get my attention. If I dare to ignore them and they walk off mad, the faith of the whole cult plummets because I don’t want to do mundane tasks for these ingrates. As for the actual quests? Here’s a short list of options I got in my first run:

Make that other cultist eat shit, because I think that would be funny

I want to eat a bowl of shit

Go pick flowers in a dungeon for me so I can decide not to give them to another cultist

Go get me some mushrooms from that dungeon so I can look at them

I don’t like that guy, so go put him in prison

I’m paraphrasing, but these are the kinds of pointless quests that I was being asked to do. The one about a cultist asking to eat shit is even more dumb because all cultists get deeply unsettled at the sight of a their own feces, and might even vomit if they see several piles in the same area, The guy who asks to eat a bowl of shit won’t look at the raw ingredient without a panic attack, but if I cook it on the griddle, suddenly it’s a tasty treat? Oh, and despite cooking it, that idiot is still going to contract a disease, forcing me to send him to his shelter or a healing bay so he won’t die. Either way, he’s not getting any work done, making the quest a punishment for accepting it.

But refusing to do any cult quests results in an even larger drop in the whole cult’s faith than just ignoring quest givers. I mean seriously, everyone is so upset that I told shit eater no? I got to the point of unlocking the third dungeon when I decided to start a new run. The first time, I really tried to make all my doctrine choices toward helping my flock become good. But the second run, I decided, and I quote, “Fuck no! Fuck these fucking fuckers!” I then named my second cult KillUall.

First, I unlocked murder as an option, and then instead of eating grass, I chose to unlock a faith boost for cannibalism combined with a faith boost for elderly cultists being killed before dropping dead of natural causes. Each time I murdered a cultist, I harvested their flesh to feed the others.

Expanding on my evil reign, I would refuse any quest that I thought was pointless, then wander over to the shrine to bless enough cultists to balance out the lost faith. There’s supposedly a loss of faith for murdering a follower in broad daylight, but I just murdered old folks and blessed the rest of the flock to recover their lost faith. I started calling this, “Bless you, for I have sinned.”

Lest I forget, on the gardening side of things, it is possible to set up buildings so that cultists can plants seeds, water plants, add fertilizer, and do most of the tasks of gardening on their own. IN THEORY. In practice, anyone you set up for the job will do one or two tasks and then call it a day. So the whole plot of land set aside for gardening may need to be watered, but that lazy bastard will water three plants and then wander off to chat with a friend. You can’t feed fifteen cultists off of that kind of work ethic. So while I tried to get them to work in the first run, in the second, I just did the gardening myself.

All of this leads to my final choice of the game. After defeating the four bosses, “One Who Waits Below” said I had to come to his prison to give back his crown and die for realsies. But to do that, I needed twenty followers, and I only had fifteen. I ran through two dungeons to get more, and three died back at the base from old age, leading to a crisis in faith. Even in a totally evil cult, I was penalized by my special snowflakes having to look at a dead body longer than ten seconds. That is not an exaggeration or hyperbole. Ten seconds looking at a corpse and their faith is shaken. What. The. Fuck.

Each time I got partway into a dungeon to grab new followers, I got message pop-ups that someone had reached old age or died. This went on for the better part of an hour, making me progressively more angry. So, I finally got twenty followers, ran to the prison’s shrine, and walked up to my god. He then teleported all of my followers into cages, implying that he’d be killing them along with my lamb. I looked at the helpless people crying for me to help them, and I said “Been a real pain knowing you fuckers, now fuck the fuck off.”

I’ll tell you something else: I actually saved the game right before entering that portal because I figured I might do the other ending, just to see what the last boss fight was like. But then I got to that anticlimactic ten second ending, and I decided to just YouTube the fight. Not even the promise of a three boss fight with a two-phase final boss could convince me to play it any more.

The scoring is easy this time around. I’m giving Cult of the Lamb 3 stars because it easily earns 4 based on the variety found in the dungeon crawling. I even liked the fishing mini-game, and I usually find those to be rather tedious. But every time I started to have fun, my flock reminded me how lazy, petty, and useless they were, serving only as a busted keyring to help me open the doors of the higher-level dungeons.

This is another Devolver Digital title that wasn’t for me, but I can confidently say that I’ll continue to pick up titles from them. There are at least two coming this year that I want to try, and another that got pushed back to 2025. They may not completely work for me, but their offerings are still way more original then companies who would rather chase trends than have faith in their developers to try new ideas.

Cult of the Lamb tried some new things, and while one half of the game was a swing and a miss for me, the other half was a good time that I really enjoyed. So maybe you’ll try it and find you like both halves. Either way, Devolver Digital games are priced far more reasonably than AAA publishers, so there’s no harm in trying it out. Oh, and they have a free demo, so you can dip your toe in the blood before jumping in to swim.

That’s it for me, y’all. Happy Easter, and I’ll see you next time for more reveiwy goodness.