A few weeks ago, I wrote about how I felt 2022 lacked a standout indie game. Not that there weren't any good ones, but there weren't any that had fully grabbed the zeitgeist. There was no Hades, no Valheim. Nothing that had grabbed 2022 by the scruff and had planted its flag to say 'this year belongs to me'. Since that article was written, we have had Stray and Cult of the Lamb. Stray captured our imaginations but felt a little short-lived, so it feels a little close but no catnip. The next challenger is Cult of the Lamb, and while I haven't played it myself yet, it does move in the right ways to be this year's Hades. Why? Mainly because it is Hades, only with Animal Crossing thrown in there. But it might be the latter that pushes Cult of the Lamb over the edge.
While The Last of Us Part 2 took the major plaudits, it feels like 2020 belonged to Animal Crossing: New Horizons and Hades. Both are games that you could essentially play forever, and when the pandemic gave us nothing but time, they were the games of the moment. Neither excelled purely because they could be played over and over again, but because of what else they offered under the surface. Cult of the Lamb inverts this idea.
Hades had a fantastic cast of characters and you developed your relationship with them fight after fighter. Most roguelikes ask you to complete the game as fast as possible, but Hades does not. It wants you to fail over and over again – failure is but a part of victory. Failure is rewarded with greater slices of the narrative, and God Mode helps underline this. Animal Crossing doesn't have pass/fail in the same way, but it similarly survives off the backs of its cast. In Animal Crossing, you get ten random villagers, though once you get to five you can start being more selective. Even then, you can replace different villagers throughout your time on the island – this is where Cult of the Lamb comes into play.
Animal Crossing: New Horizons doesn't let you choose villagers as well as we might like. You need to consistently ignore villagers for them to go away, and even then, the replacement is a random roulette unless you dabble in the black market. We saw players stuck with ugly or annoying villagers who resorted to locking them in their houses with fence posts, repeatedly hitting them with nets to annoy them, or chasing them with an axe. Getting a bad villager, especially in your initial five, brought out some creative sadism. Cult of the Lamb fully endorses this.
While I'm yet to play it and embrace the catharsis myself, Cult of the Lamb lets you sacrifice villagers as you progress through the game. It's a blood cult, you see, and blood must be spilled. While Animal Crossing is a cute and wholesome experience, we saw many fans making it darker with Wicker Man recreations, murder scene dioramas, and sex dungeons. Cult of the Lamb indulges this darker side of us. It knows that what we really want, when a villager is being particularly annoying, or irritating, or is taking a slot that rightfully belongs to chubby Roald the penguin, is to kill them. In Cult of the Lamb, we can.
Hades captured the spirit of 2020 – we were locked inside with no escape. So Valheim represents 2021 – we wanted to work together to rebuild. Cult of the Lamb strikes into the public sentiments of 2022 – maybe things would be better if we just killed everybody.
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