We all know October is the month where many gamers venture away from their typical gamer fare and into the world of horror games. I chose to follow this trend as well and add some spookier fare to my gaming, but I also wanted to look for something out of the norm. Something that had that creep factor and remained thematically fitting for “Spooktober.” Only, something which was also mechanically different and felt like something I had never played before. Then steps in Cultist Simulator and its new Dancer DLC by developers Weather Factory. I was immediately grabbed by the title and thought this might be the game I was looking for. I was 100% right, but I could never have expected what was about to happen.
This game throws you into the deep end from the start
As soon as I loaded into the game, things began at full speed! No tutorial, no vague instruction on the game mechanics or how to achieve your goals. Just a blank game board with a few clickable buttons. My first attempt at this game can be summed up as, “let’s click things and see what happens.” I was fumbling my way through the dark with a flickering flashlight. Even the title was misleading. When you think of most popular games with the word ‘simulator’ in the title, you would never think of a game which has dozens of different playing cards. Cards that you place within designated sections of a game board to make things happen and choose your fate. Maybe “Cultist Deck Builder” would have been a more appropriate game?
Not only was I blindly throwing cards around, but half of the actions I could take with the cards also had countdown timers. Nothing puts you under more pressure than a ticking clock, let me tell you! Alongside every action you take having specific timers and countdowns, but even the cards you gain throughout the game have time limits. All of a sudden cards I had been thinking of saving for later actions started disappearing into little grey dust clouds. I was dead and my first playthrough finished within 30 minutes. I was left dumbfounded staring at the screen. How the hell was I supposed to make any progress in this complicated game?
Everything changed when I discovered the pause button
I felt pretty stupid for a good five minutes. I was also off to a better start because every time you die, the game lets you choose a new “legacy” for your next attempt – a legacy is a character you choose to start out with, and they have one or two unique cards/actions to start your game off. Between the discovery of the pause button mechanic, and my legacy as a “Bright Young Thing”, my second try lasted much longer and was much more enjoyable. Whenever I got a new card I didn’t understand or had to make a difficult choice with, I could pause the game and think about it while reading the text on the cards more thoroughly. I finally pieced together how the game works and the rough idea of how to progress.
You can lay out all the different cards and action blocks however you would like, which makes it great for people who are very fussy with how they want their UI/game boards to be set up. Your board will have a range of actions/activities, including research, dream, explore, talk, etc. Then to take one of these actions, you take one of the cards from your growing deck and place them in the tile dedicated to that action. The timer begins and when it’s over you will either regain the card and some additional cards, or it will have changed into something else. Some cards you keep for the duration of the game, but many cards themselves will run out or disappear as the game goes on.
I had to quickly piece together the process for generating certain cards I constantly needed, such as health, funds, etc. It is also through the cards you obtain and the text that pops up where you piece together the story behind what’s going on, and also how you are creating your cult and what kind of members you attract.
There are many ways to “die” or for your playthrough to end. You can contract an illness and not have enough health cards to push through, you can run out of funds (there is a money tile that absorbs one “funds” card at regular intervals), you can be caught by detectives, and many more ways. I found I was dying most often for two reasons, not enough funds, or succumbing to despair. Every time you die, you choose a new legacy like I mentioned above for your next attempt, including choices like detective or doctor. I also got a chance to try the Dancer DLC, which was a unique legacy (helpfully called the Dancer) to start the game with, and that was probably my longest running and most successful attempt.
To say I have mixed feelings about this game is an understatement…
… yet I have no better way to describe the mental/emotional state I was left with after playing the game. Half of my time playing was spent frustrated, impatient, and trying to figure out what the hell the game wanted from me. To the point I was sure I was going to uninstall the game at one point and never touch it again, but I couldn’t bring myself to do it – I’m still left with this nagging desire to beat the game. It has presented such a unique challenge that I haven’t really felt from a game in a long time.
My cults also never made it much farther than the beginning stages. I managed to gather a few acolytes, but never pulled off any of the really big features your cult can do, like expeditions to new occult locations or summoning rituals and conversing with all sorts of supernatural entities. I was also streaming the game and had a few people come into the chat talking about all the cool stuff they managed in the late game, and I just want to get there and see what they are talking about. Even amongst my frustrations, hours passed by in the blink of an eye and before I knew it I had racked up four or five attempts in about six or so hours. Typically, that’s a sign of a good game when it can just absorb you into its world so wholly you forget the clock and the world around you.
Overall, I’d say this game is a really captivating game for those with patience. If you are a fairly methodical gamer, able to analyze your actions effectively, and willing to do the early game card grind, you will probably love this game. I still feel like I have barely scratched the surface, and can’t quite seem to shake the little voice in the back of my mind saying “try again, just one more time.” Will my lack of patience get the best of me though? Only time will tell!
Let me know about any crazy stories you have about Cultist Simulator in the comments below.
- Runs smoothly
- Intriguing story
- High replayability with the different legacies
- Confusing to start
- Fairly high difficulty level from the get go
- Music gets repetitive and a bit taxing