Before I even started playing Cult of the Lamb, I knew I was going to love it. First off, we've got the cute art style going on, so that box was ticked immediately. Plus the conceit of a simulator about running your own cult is hilarious and fresh in its own way.
I think us roguelike and simulator fans can agree that both genres are having something of a renaissance right now, and Cult of the Lamb manages to hit every note in perfect harmony. Now maybe it's the antidepressants talking, but playing through it has been some of the most fun I've had with a game all year.
Part of the worry with having a game with so many different elements is that the player could start to feel overwhelmed — the base-building sim, the punchy roguelike gameplay, the fishing, Knucklebones, and all of the side quests could start to feel like a lot after a while, but they never did.
Instead, each element fed back into the core gameplay really nicely, like bringing characters items to unlock the different cloaks that gave you power-ups in combat, or powering up your followers to get greater rewards when you sacrifice them. What's more, I found that having so many different types of activities always kept things fresh while still keeping me moving towards to ultimate goal.
Hades' lasting impact
Hadeshas been an undeniable influence on games over the past few years, especially when it comes to the roguelike genre. The hub world in the Underworld felt so alive, because between each run you could come back and decorate, see what's up with your favorite characters, and see things gradually change over time through the story. Your cult in Cult of the Lamb feels even more alive, in my opinion.
While Cult of the Lamb's combat isn't quite as complex as Hades', it instead throws its weight behind the simulation side of things. Using the "crusades" as a means of gathering materials to then return to the main action of the cult — where you'd often have to put out metaphorical fires that ignited while you were gone — is a genius design choice.
With the different weapon and curse types, there was enough variety to keep things fresh. As much as I love Hades, I also tend to be a creature of habit, which means I stick with the one or two weapons I really like in the post-game and just run with those.
I prefer faster weapons like daggers and swords, but I appreciated that the game made me try the axes and hammers, because that's not something I would have gone out of my way to play with if I had the choice. It made me slow down and change my combat style, and it's cool that a simple change like limited weapon choice could open up that half of the game in a whole new way.
Focus on fundamentals
I think what it comes down to for me is that you can feel how much the idea of fun was at the center of Cult of the Lamb's development. There was never a moment in my whole playthrough where I was over what I was doing, and wanted to get back to what was next. I would finish one of my crusades, or catching fish to feed my followers, or earning some extra coins in Knucklebones, and then I would be excited to get to do whatever was next, every time.
That to me is what makes for a perfect gameplay loop — constant immersion because I'm not only enjoying what I'm doing in the moment, but because I also have something to look forward to.
I'm an "out of sight out of mind" kind of person, so it was literally like I was constantly re-falling in love with every aspect of the game when I remembered it existed. That feels silly to admit, but it speaks to the game's ability to scratch some kind of primal, child-like itch in my brain. That's good game design for you.
Cult of the Lamb isn't a game that's going to revolutionize the games industry, but it will stand out as one of the greats in its respective genres, and can hold its own with the best releases of 2022. It's one of those games that I'll be reaching for to replay every few years, and I look forward to trying a new build next time around.