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I’m obsessed with Cultist Simulator, even after it made me a cannibal

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My most well-loved save file has invoked a grim craving — and helped me understand why the game is so addicting.

Cultist Simulator | Weather Factory

Cannibalism was only the natural course for me. The Temptation of Sensation was easy, as my recently deceased father wrote wonders of the Red Grail, representing ascension through lust and hunger. Though I wasn’t quite sure what this all meant at first, I began to pursue the ultimate Sensation. I founded a cult, cleared out a book store and funded wildly dangerous expeditions. With myopic obsession, I answered a riddle that would unlock my more sinister appetite.

When I played the cards right, I started to crave the most forbidden flesh. And that save file is still going. (For now.)

Cultist Simulator is my current “one more turn” game, pre-ordered on a whim out of morbid curiosity — and morbid the game is, as it’s a Victorian horror RPG about cults, sacrifices and ungodly desires. You become an anti-hero cult leader pursuing one of several Temptations for inhuman greatness, following the glorious Lore of the world’s dark rumblings.

While I kept dying and restarting early on, which is common in this game, I was too hooked to give up. This time, I fell into a rabbit hole that kept me in this single life for no less than eight hours, including one session running into the wee hours of the morning. I woke up exhausted the next day, but I still sought a conclusion to my obsession.

Cultist Simulator’s card game format is partially to blame. While in real-life card RPGs, your impending fates creep on you per turn — and you may avoid or forget about them, innocently or not — everything works on a timer in Cultist Simulator. You often pause and fast-forward to micromanage your quest, cult and curses, or else face the consequences. In short, Cultist Simulator leaves no questions about your obstacles’ urgency.

Serving the themes of mystery, cults and the disquieting unknown, Cultist Simulator leaves tempting gaps in information. Even as you scratch your head about how to proceed, figuring out which cards go where and what you’re missing, the game gently guides you without giving too much away, allowing an aspect of discovery. It’s addicting work because, as long as you put in the effort and learn from mistakes, you’re always rewarded in some manner. It’s an approach that Weather Factory’s developers likely learned from their old work with Sunless Seas, and while it’s risky on paper, it leaves players wanting to explore the world.

An extremely tame board.
Cultist Simulator | Weather Factory

And like with Sunless Seas, it’s extremely easy to fail if you aren’t paying attention or get unlucky. You die and restart many times, starting from scratch each go with only better intuition about the game and its world.

Suffering and failing so routinely only made my successful save file that much sweeter. Between my wild micro-management skills and the draws of curiosity and achievement, I’d created a wonderfully delicious pursuit, and I refused to give that up.

This is how I knew I was obsessed: In the week or two in which I’ve been playing Cultist Simulator, in every game, a certain riddle has been the snag I’ve hit. My Desire, a card required for optimal victory conditions, hadn’t seen much change, as it required a card earned through a randomized riddle only solved by finding a specific piece of Lore through books. I dried out a book store, sent out crews on dangerous expeditions and visited lucid dreams before I found the Lore I needed.

There was nothing more satisfying, in my many hours with the game so far, than the moment the piece snapped into place alongside my Desire card. When it leveled up, the art and description morphed into something more menacing.

When the game asked if I could fulfill my Desire, a familiar icon appeared within the prompt, begging me to consume a specific type of card: “A Human Corpse.” I chose a nameless follower to devour, and the Desire card leveled up, bringing me one step closer to ascension. And then, the prompts kept returning.

That was how I turned into an insatiable cannibal. As I moved forward and feasted, trying to defy the odds and turn that Desire into something more meaningful, Cultist Simulator left me insatiable, too.