OK, that’s it, I’m done. Last Cultist Simulator post! I have not exactly, technically, beaten the game, but I have mostly “solved” it, in that I’ve gotten far enough to hypothesize an eventual game winning state. I might have this save file to leave to my grandchildren to finish, but I know it can be done. Like Fermat’s Last Theorem, I only have so much room in the margins for notes.
I have to move on to other matters pretty soon anyway. Mrs. Penguin has tired of washing pentagrams off the bathroom mirror. My cat is so freaked out that he won’t drag home any more of his dead prey for fear I’ll start offering sacrifices. I see a news story about a robbery and my first tweet is “They must have had eight Knock and Lantern to pull that off!” Nobody in my social circle has understood a word I’ve said in days now.
Not to mention that this game is cutting into my horror movie time. Here it is October, and I barely have time for my annual horror movie month-long marathon because I’m too busy playing Cultist Simulator, which admittedly feels like an interactive horror movie at this point.
I’m going to drop my final insights, and then, little grasshoppers, you are on your own!
Oh, and look at my board state. You see how much easier it is when you keep things organized? Everything has a logic to it. I see screenshots of the rest of you with your cards all mixed together in a blob, and I know right away that you’re one of those people ahead of me in line at the store who pay in cash with wadded-up bills you keep in your sock. Ew!
I think I broke the Hunter mechanism!
I don’t mean I “beat” it, I mean that I might have accidentally exploited a bug. What I was doing was grabbing the Weary Detective card and holding it while I unpaused the game, just to see if this suggestion works and isn’t patched. Well, it did, all too well. The little investigation dialog appeared, sucked in a Mystique card, ticked down and did nothing. I opened it while it was running, thinking I’d just spawned another Hunter. Nope, nobody home!
The little yellow TARDIS didn’t go away, either. It has stayed on my board ever since, with no ‘eject’ button, no number of cards inside, no reactivation. Weary Detective has likewise sat idle. Look, I’ve generated enough Notoriety to lose three times:
He doesn’t seem to be hungry anymore. Maybe this has something to do with my move to new headquarters, which has activated “the Benefits of Privacy” a couple times to eat a Mystique, but outside of that I play in a lawless anarchy. Fine by me!
Bookstores eventually sell out
After that, your new source of books becomes Expeditions AKA Vaults. You send cult members to raid Vaults and they bring back goodies, IF they survive. It’s actually the same thing as sending party members to raid a dungeon. Each Vault is discovered through Exploring a bit of Secret Histories lore, which you can keep getting indefinitely from the Mansus. You then need to find out what attributes this Vault needs to crack it, send Disciples with those attributes and some cash, they beat it.
How do you find out Vault attributes? It will tell you while you’re raiding it and watching the wrong cult members die. You can send a Pawn flunkie to go die horribly while you find out the Vault needs Knock and Lantern and Grail and then send those. Or look them up in the Wiki.
So you get these “Way” dealios to hop and skip through the Mansus, and pick cards out of there. About nearly a third of the time you get a Secret History. Feed the Secret History fragment into Explore. New Vault. Send cultists. They loot and almost always bring back yet more books, along with a few other toys. You crack and study the books while repeating the rest of the cycle.
What, did you think you were done studying Tomes of Ancient Lore when the bookstore and auction house literally ran out of stock? Ha ha, you were barely in kindergarten then! Not only do you have at least that many more books to read from Vaults, but all of them eventually require a separate language translation.
You will have to learn eight languages to read all the books, some of which are a pain to track down. And each Mansus step gets you so many Vault locations around a locale, so you have to advance to the next step of Way cards and then keep grabbing Secret Histories from there until you have all those Vaults, and so on.
Cultists can get hurt and die
Not only that, but it comes about that you only get so many cultists! Yep, unique characters don’t come back when they die (unless they do with another Rite I haven’t found yet), so you’d better take care of the ones you have. Sew them up when they get wounded. They have more of a tendency to get hurt on Vault raids if they don’t have the right Discipline aspects for that Vault, so choose wisely. You even run out of Pawn-class randoms eventually.
Not only that, but I wantonly experimented with a Winter Disciple on Cult business and she killed another one of my cultists! Yes, this can happen. To this game’s credit, when you lose a cultist, you do feel bad, if for no other reason than that’s one less soldier in the ranks to complete the game.
More than one way to upgrade Lore
This one drove me crazy: How to advance? I picked Grail willy-nilly and then as I desperately fanned through books I found the other Disciplines all stacking up fast while I could barely find Grail Lores to upgrade. It was then I discovered subversion!
So if you can’t find another level 8 Lantern, use a Level 8 Moth instead. You have to put the substitute in first, the second Discipline you put in will be the output. Everything else works like normal Lore upgrades, after that, you still have to cough up challenge cards when it demands.
Seven out of the nine Lores run in a cycle of these subversions. The Study dialog will tell you which Lore subverts the one you’re trying to upgrade, but that’s only helpful to upgrade to the subverted Lore! You have to test the Lores out to find out each one’s subversion companion, with two stand-alone exceptions which I think you can figure out by now.
Real forehead smacker there, I couldn’t advance for the longest time and thought I was doomed.
Cultist Simulator becomes so much easier when you rank up!
You want your home cult Discipline to be racked up to eight at least, because that’s when you can upgrade your followers to the “godly” rank of Disciple! That is not actually godly, only rank 5 or so to start, but compared to how they were formerly as useless as an inflatable dartboard, a 50% chance to accomplish anything feels godly!
Once you have cultists that can actually do things with a reasonable chance of success, you can handle more of those annoying chores that come up like ditching Evidence, snuffing your Notoriety, stealing more loot, kidnapping prisoners you will need to advance through the Mansus, and all kinds of handy errands. All the deadly threats from the early game become trivial once you have Disciples.
You can also upgrade cultists from your chosen Lore Cult Discipline up to level 10. And you can enhance your cultists a couple of levels by giving them gifts, which are Tools from Vault raids. Later on with Tools, items, Lores, and the occasional Influence you get off the Mansus or other sundry acts, you will be able to assemble the 20+ of a Discipline’s power in one dialog enough to start casting Rites, which gets to summoning more powerful minions that can also do your bidding.
By the way, just because a cultist specializes in one Discipline doesn’t mean you can’t also rank them up in other Disciplines too. You’ll notice after a cultist gets into a few scraps, they’ll accumulate other Discipline aspects from their scars. You can rank them up in other Disciplines to decent levels as well, and then have dual-class Vault raiders that can handle anything!
SO, my new proposed theory of Cultist Simulator:
- Don’t do any cult stuff in the early game!
- Study to improve stats
- Talk about Lore to gain Acquaintances, then leave them that way.
- Stay on the buy-books-and-study plan for a million turns while you keep enough resources to keep body and mind together.
- Once you have a big stash of Lore fragments, you have the luxury of picking the one where you’re ahead!
- Now start your cult, upgrade your followers, and finally get to the fun stuff.
That’s right, it turns out the best way to conquer this already grind-heavy game is to play even grindier!
Final Summation : INDOCTRINATED!
Cultist Simulator is not a completely perfect game, not for everyone. But I have to say it again: The most original game I’ve played in decades, completely engrossing, as satisfying on the last glass as on the first. I’ve been just challenged enough without getting too frustrated, and have found that the clues the game gives you actually do help just enough to prod you along. It could still use a few tutorials. But I’d rank this game at least a 9/10:
- Immersive, story-rich concept
- Top-notch writing!
- Excellent music
- Artwork that carries the aesthetic without overwhelming it
- Inventive mechanics
- Fully fleshed-out universe
- Open-ended enough that even the grind isn’t too bad
- Still discovering cool new tricks (oh, just wait until you can start playing with Rites!)
No wonder it’s won awards and critical praise.
And for those of you who find this game so Lovecraftian that it practically beats Lovecraft at his own game: There is definitely another, separate, source of inspiration for Cultist Simulator. Namely real-life occultism / esotericism.
All the actual occult history that split off from Alchemy at the Age of Enlightenment when science defined itself as separate from magic. Your Madame Blavatsky, Ouspensky, Jack Parsons, Eckhart Tolle, Giordano Bruno, Heinrich Agrippa, Rasputin, Mr. Crowley, John Dee, and Anton LaVey. Your Thelemites, Gnostics, Rosicrucians, Hermeticists, Kabbalahs, Theosophers, Tantrics, all those fruit loops. Cultist Simulator carries several references to all of them, in sly and witty shout-outs. It shows that the author clearly did his homework.
Have a dance through everything in the above paragraph, then come back to “Occultist Stimulator” and read through some of the book descriptions and synopses that pop up in the dialogs. It’s really spot on!
Perhaps I am an impartial judge of this game, because I’m a freelance blogger in COVID-19 2020 America, when it feels like Western civilization is in a battle for its soul, on the cusp of a potential Dark Age, and I am in a mentally-focused line of work. A game that plays with thoughts, daring to give them such a concrete existence as a physical card which you can manipulate, feels like the right game for this quarantined, worrisome time.