One of the interesting recent changes in the landscape of gaming is that slowly but surely it’s become more acceptable to criticize indie games. Not completely acceptable, mind you; there’s still plenty of folks who’ll line up for the chance to remind you that a game was made by one person, that it’s still an alpha, that you don’t know what “Early Access” means and so on. In fact, even the language we use still suggests that indie games should get a pass where AAA titles might not – “Early Access” sounds much better than “paying for a buggy, unfinished beta,” for example. Still, if a title is egregiously bad, you’ve got a chance to say so and get away mostly unscathed.
So I’m going to invoke that privilege now: Cults and Daggers sucks. It just does. It’s needlessly complex and broken in several key ways, failing to accomplish even the simple indie trick of cribbing elements that work from other games. Worse still is that it retails for $30. It’s just kind of a mess. Sorry, single-person development team, better luck next time.
Cults and Daggers is, ostensibly, a turn-based strategy game about founding your own secret religion and gaining followers, eventually using the power of your faith to unite the world and stop the encroaching darkness that threatens to destroy it. Your will shall be done through your disciples, leaders of your religion that can preach to the masses, help the cult gather resources or even murder other cults’ disciples. If you can’t get everyone together singing Kumbayah, well…the Old Gods are going to arrive and it’s not going to be pretty.
That actually sounds pretty cool, right? Kind of like the Dominions series, which would be a comparison to be proud of. Sadly, the game works its butt off to ensure you can’t enjoy a second of it. The questionable design decisions just kind of layer upon themselves to produce an experience that is hellbent against allowing you to have a good time.
First and foremost, the UI is disastrous, with tiny text against hideous backgrounds that render it largely impossible to read. The dev team must have really hated the idea of solid text boxes. As a result, even accomplishing basic tasks is difficult, and the game doesn’t provide you anywhere near the amount of information you need to make strategic decisions. Many of your cult leaders’ special abilities are completely unexplained in any way. Event notifications are strewn about willy-nilly, making it extremely difficult to tell why you succeed or fail at a given task.
The modern UI paradigm uses tooltips to provide information while maximizing screen real estate; Cults and Daggers just makes everything really tiny. It’s a death sentence for a grand strategy game, a genre where interface is king. This would be a very difficult title to get a handle on even if it was telling you everything you needed to know. It doesn’t. Good luck.
This, of course, assumes you can get the game to run at all. It crashes. It crashes a lot. It crashes for a variety of reasons – maybe you tried to play multiplayer, though see the following paragraph for why that’s not a great idea. Sometimes it crashes between turns. This is not, in fact, Early Access – though even if it was, this degree of brokenness would still be unacceptable.
This, by itself, is not irredeemable. I’ve played worse games than this…but I’ve had other people to play them with. Not so here. Cults and Daggers does have multiplayer, don’t get me wrong! It’s absolutely an option and you can partake in it. Thing is, it’s play-by-email multiplayer. Yes. PBEM. Old-school PBEM, where you have to literally flip key game files back and forth manually to play. In The Year of Our Lord Two Thousand and Fifteen, you are not capable of playing online against a friend you’ve got on Skype, you must instead pass game files back and forth as if you were walking a floppy disk between PCs. And that’s if the game doesn’t just crash when you attempt to make this work, because it probably will. Cripes.
So Cults and Daggers doesn’t really work. It fights you tooth and nail the entire time you’re playing (or trying to), you can’t even reasonably play multiplayer to take the edge off, and at $30 the price is simply too high for the experience. Dominions 4, a game that’s superior in every conceivable way, costs half that much. Yeah. I’m afraid this one’s not getting a recommendation.