I've had my eye on Cult of the Lamb for quite some time, as I've been convinced from what I had seen and played that this was shaping up to be one the better games of the entire year, and perhaps the top indie that 2022 could offer. But, that was all an opinion generated without actually having access to the full game. So, now that we're right on the cusp of launch, how have those opinions stood up? Well, let me be direct: this is a very good game, one that has an interesting and engaging balance of roguelike action and life simulation elements.
Now you might be wondering just how that combination works. Cult of the Lamb is a game split into two parts. There's the roguelike aspect that sees you heading into dangerous territories to face unspeakable horrors, all in the effort of defeating false gods that have imprisoned the ancient entity that gives you strength and powers. This section plays like The Binding of Isaac and other similar dungeon crawling roguelikes, as you have to eliminate threats, get new gear, all while avoiding damage and not falling in the heat of battle. The gameplay here is also crucial as it directly ties into the other main part: the life simulation area. This basically asks the Lamb to lead and grow a cult in the name of the ancient deity that protects and gives them strength, and therefore you need to recruit new cult members from your roguelike adventuring, as well as bringing back resources, gold, food, and so on, all so that you can continue to expand the size and impact of your cult to better be able to face off against the false prophets that once intended to sacrifice you.
The two areas work very well together as by bringing back new members and resources, you can build new things in your cult, or improve facilities and better provide for your subjects. And likewise, by doing this, you'll be able to use the faith and devotion that your followers generate to acquire new upgrades both for the Lamb to use when adventuring, but also on the cult itself to further improve it. The interesting part is that you can get to a point where the life simulation section almost becomes self-sufficient, as you can have followers running a farm, cleaning up after themselves, and producing resources all without the need of your assistance. You will still need to inspire them with daily sermons and rituals to ensure their faith isn't misplaced, else you will have to deal with mutiny among your cult members, and likewise, subjects are incapable of feeding themselves, so you will need to return to cook up meals to ensure starvation doesn't run rampart. But assuming these duties and chores are knocked out, you can get to a point where you can focus your efforts on simply adventuring and completing the original task of slaying the false prophets and freeing your protective deity from their grasps.
It should be noted that while this may not seem like much of a balance, it works both ways. Towards the start of the game, your cult will require more of your attention, as followers will lack the amenities to clean up after themselves, heal from sickness, farm crops and so on. This does often mean that the life sim aspect takes up more of your time towards the start of the game.
While I will say that the days in Cult of the Lamb feel short, and often by the time you've finished your daily chores followers will be gearing up to head to bed, the chores are generally pretty entertaining to complete. Some are presented in the form of mini-games and ask you to correctly time a button press in order to complete the task, whereas others, for example fishing, is more of a skill-based task where you have to keep a hook symbol within a moving bar by tapping a button. The point is, while it's only a part of what Cult of the Lamb offers, the life simulation elements are so well presented and well ingrained into the wider gameplay that you can get lost in just completing these.
But, if you do decide to venture into the big bad world, the combat and action gameplay that is presented is also incredibly well done. The controls are straightforward and easy to master, and yet, due to the variety of enemies and often large amounts of projectiles and threats on the screen at once, you will need to retain a lot of focus if you intend to survive. I will say that the roguelike random nature does once again cause a few problems here and there - as it does in pretty much every roguelike game - mainly because you could simply be on the backfoot from minute one due to a bad starting weapon, or poor Tarot Cards being drawn over a run (with these essentially being perks that make the Lamb more effective, for example by giving attacks poison damage, or by giving a percentage chance to neglect any received damage). This of course does work both ways however, as with a bit of luck, you could get all the gear and items that best suit your playstyle, but more often than not, you'll just have to adapt to what you're given.
All in all though, this is a truly wonderful game. It's adorable yet horrific, easy to understand and play yet challenging, and has a great balance between roguelike thrill and calming life simulation. It's also designed in such a way that you'll want to come back to it and to continue expanding your cult and undergoing adventures into the deep unknown. While Cult of the Lamb might occasionally ask you to do something a little unsavoury, for example killing an elder just because your cult members don't like old people, there's no denying that as a whole, this is a cute, daft, enthralling, and thoroughly brilliant game.