The world can always use mystic mystery, and none know better than indie studio Weather Factory. Headed by two alumni of Failbetter, known for its Victorian horror game universe Fallen London, the developer lets players be the tip of the occult arrow and start a cult in the card-based role-playing game Cultist Simulator, out today on PC platforms.
In Cultist Simulator, instead of being a lone wanderer within a world, the player is the driving force in a dark quest to ascend beyond mortal ability. You can figure out what drives you, with end-game Desires such as Enlightenment, Power and Sensation, and you uncover lore that helps you learn what it takes to achieve such. Along the way, you need to earn money to stay alive, try not to be driven insane (or ill) and avoid the Suppression Bureau, which deeply disapproves of the influences you are in touch with.
Cultist Simulator exists with the influences of Fallen London and Sunless Seas, absolutely, but it shows an evolution beyond these résumé points. As a card-based RPG, it’s hard not to see parallels between this and renowned genre classic Arkham Horror; it draws on the feeling of inevitability and doom. But this time, with an in-game timer (which is pause-able for management purposes) and plenty of random events, there’s no room for error, nor dancing around the rules. It’s do or die.
More importantly, it improves on these games’ tendencies to leave out gaps of knowledge without actually removing this infamous trope. Cultist Simulator knows it’s confusing and complex, but it invokes this with increasing difficulty at the appropriate times. You’ll trip your first few play-throughs, but the early and mid-game becomes a breeze as you figure out how to grind out your necessities.
The combination of convoluted actions and gameplay speed can, of course, kill the immersion from time to time. It’s frankly difficult to manage a job or two, a nosy prosecutor, a cult, your health, your sanity and your raving desires at the same time; each intrudes onto your board occasionally with timed prompts, begging for something to quell it. It’s a frustrating and obtuse experience to start, but once you walk, you run. It mostly requires a little bit of practice and a lot of patience.
Fans may fall further into the game’s details with the deceptively intensive lore (not to be confused with Lore, which is an actual, essential in-game mechanic). What scraps Cultist Simulator reveal as you progress suggests that there are grander forces at play, and for players that love to dig, there’s plenty of dirt. A small community has already popped up around it, trying to bring together the pieces of story suggested throughout the game.
Cultist Simulator is a welcome release for genre veterans, and perhaps for newcomers as well. It may be a little intense for some, as frequent failure isn’t always savory. But for players looking for a fresh take on card RPGs, or just another Victorian horror game, Cultist Simulator hits a sweet spot that will bring willing players into a quest for enlightenment.