Cult of the Lamb hands-on: Animal Crossing meets the dark arts

Cult of the Lamb hands-on: Animal Crossing meets the dark arts

Enlarge / You know the sweet old nursery rhyme: Mary had a little lamb, but then the devil brought him back to life and forced him to create a murderous cult.

Return / Massive Monster

when i first played cult of the lamb, which releases on August 11 on PC and all major console families, I figured its demonic pitch originated as an inside joke for its development team. Perhaps the creators of Massive Monster sat down to watch the likes of management simulation of animal crossing Y The Simsthen he thought that the only way they would get through those games is by making a deal with the devil.

They then went ahead and made a simulation game where players do exactly that. After spending 90 minutes playing the game’s extended demo, provided by its publishers at Devolver Digital, I’m inclined to think that their choices in tone, art direction, and Sim-Meets-Satan gameplay were the right call. (Currently there’s also a free public demo, available on Windows and MacOS, but it’s much shorter than the one I’ve tried.)

the one who waits

It seems like a trustworthy entity.  Let's make a deal for our soul.
Enlarge / It seems like a trustworthy entity. Let’s make a deal for our soul.

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cult of the lamb It begins with the game’s hero, a Disney-style cartoon lamb, being led to his slaughter as a form of religious sacrifice. But death is just the beginning in this game. In the afterlife, you meet a mysterious subterranean beast cloaked in chains, simply called The One Who Waits. You have the choice to rise from your grave, grow a cult full of devoted followers, expand your mastery of the demonic arts, and defeat a host of monstrous rivals. You can answer this call in one of two answers: “yes” and “absolutely”.

A look at my underdeveloped cult.  Notice that two of the characters have socialized and become friends.  This can change their attributes in useful ways, but they can also be saddened if one of them dies of a gastrointestinal illness (which can happen).
Enlarge / A look at my underdeveloped cult. Notice that two of the characters have socialized and become friends. This can change their attributes in useful ways, but they can also be saddened if one of them dies of a gastrointestinal illness (which can happen).

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After fighting through a top-down, ZeldaA similar sequence to killing your previous captors, a similarly demonically inclined guide teaches you how to find, free, and convert unlucky forest creatures. The formal cycle of the game begins with his lone follower being assigned basic tasks on an expansive plain that his cult calls home: gathering resources, building structures, tending farms, and so on. Once your follower is engaged, enter a door that leads to a series of randomly generated battle rooms, where you’ll advance your kill list, gather rarer resources, and more easily find and recruit impressionable animals to join your cult. .

Assigning chores, giving gifts - all in a day's work as a cult founder.
Enlarge / Assigning chores, giving gifts – all in a day’s work as a cult founder.

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Take them back to the village, and that’s when you start cosplaying a cult leader from the game in earnest.

Everything you need to become more powerful revolves around maintaining the faith and loyalty of your cultists; the former can be mined and drained from each cultist as a kind of ectoplasm, while the latter sticks around as a more permanent “experience point” meter. The time between demon hunting battles can be spent performing faith-sapping services, spending one-on-one time with cult members to make them happier, or learning and solving the side quests they ask.

Another day of teaching the good word.  Today we learned a ritual where I can kill one of my followers to claim rare items and resources.  Everyone seems to agree to the plan!
Enlarge / Another day of teaching the good word. Today we learned a ritual where I can kill one of my followers to claim rare items and resources. Everyone seems to agree to the plan!

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That is one way to save on resources.

However, unlike ordinary RPGs, you have a choice besides being useful. Maybe you are not interested in certain cultists, or maybe you missed the window of time to help them solve problems like starvation, illness, or loss of faith. (The longer you are adventuring and fighting, the more adrift certain followers can become on the cult farm, as indicated by a constantly running day and night cycle.)

Early in the game’s skill tree system, cult leaders learn that they have the option to directly sacrifice their followers, which can bring rare rewards to their cult. This may cost him some of the admiration of his other followers, but from what I can tell, smart cult leaders can still balance their emotional needs while feeding their thirst for blood and power.

Each combat encounter is randomly generated, and your hero begins each one with randomly assigned melee and ranged attacks.  The game's skill tree decisions can give you more options in terms of weapons or other completely different perks.
Enlarge / Each combat encounter is randomly generated, and your hero begins each one with randomly assigned melee and ranged attacks. The game’s skill tree decisions can give you more options in terms of weapons or other completely different perks.

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cult of the lamb could have invented a half-battle, half-simulation ecosystem that sounds much simpler or drier, and without the satanic undertones, the game feels a lot like the 1991 SNES classic Act. The developers, artists, and writers of Massive Monster deserve credit for making this game fun to talk about, watch, and ponder; its cult management systems lean toward brutality in ways that make sense but add mechanical fun to the question of how players can advance as cult leaders. One of the game’s skill trees asks a brutal question early on: Would you rather build beds for your followers, or develop the ingenuity to build disease-reducing tombs? At first, you can’t have both. Decisions decisions.

But this game does more than just improve the mechanics of another game from decades ago. While its randomly generated battle levels are clearly inspired by Binding of Isaac, cult of the lambThe upgrade system requires careful selection of the cult’s farm region, in terms of resource management, skill tree decisions, and even side quests to unlock more “Tarot cards” (which are randomly shuffled and dealt during battle matches to increase your chances of winning). survival). A series of unlockable village outposts near your cult add everything from fun new characters to side quests and mini-games, including a clever touch-reel fishing mode and a tricky and surprisingly engaging twist on Yahtzee.

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