A lot of action games have this weird disconnect between loot and skill. Loot tends to overshadow skill to the point where optimized builds can crush powerful bosses through wild flailing. The opposite is true of Driven Out. There’s no armor to lighten blows, no flaming sword to increase your damage, no magic to take out enemies from afar. Driven Out only gives you a sword, a save mechanic, and a reassuring pat on the back before throwing you to a horde of towering knights and armored bears.
The premise comes without dialogue. You play a peasant farmer interrupted from her chores by a mysterious device falling from the sky. Using the device makes a copy of the farmer, acting as a checkpoint. Before you can take your discovery to the local market, a black knight appears, trips, and drops his sword. Without any training, you take up the sword and start killing everything in your way.
Combat is unique and, paradoxically, simplistic. Every enemy has three attacks: overhead swing, middle swing, and a low blow. It's easy to read incoming attacks, responding is the hard part. Stepping out of reach avoids damage, but puts you out of attack range. The gameplay loop focuses on blocking attacks and counterattacking.
You block in the same way enemies attack. If any enemy aims low, you block low to avoid damage. This is especially intuitive with a controller as you respond with the orientation of the four face buttons. For example, you press A on an Xbox controller (or X on a PS4 controller) to block low. You attack in the same way, slicing overhead, across the chest, or dragging your sword into an uppercut like a Dark Souls Black Knight. It’s a delightful merging of controls and animations, that brings the same kind of satisfaction as VR controls.
You counterattack by blocking in time with the damage frame, stunning the enemy and increasing the damage of your next attack. Mastering the counter is tricky, but the stun animations are satisfying, and I felt legitimate pride every time the blue stun bubble appeared. I thought I would master the counterattack, but there is enough enemy variation and difference in attack speeds that I never felt totally confident going into a fight.
Driven Out excels at making you feel vulnerable. You only have three hit points, three mistakes before you start over from your last checkpoint. Enemies are intimidating, many have double or even triple your health pool, encouraging you to counterattack for double damage. Moreover, taking a hit often launches you back. This makes enemies, especially the armored beasts, feel extremely powerful, but also provides some breathing room after a mistake. Bringing down these massive enemies feels great and gives Driven Out a unique take on empowerment fantasy.
While combat is undoubtedly satisfying, I had two small issues. First, fighting two enemies from the same direction is the worst thing that can happen to you. Driven Out is all about timing. You cannot avoid taking a hit when enemies physically overlap and layer their attacks. I only experienced overlapping enemies once, but it was a frustrating experience.
My other gripe comes from enemy attack patterns. It seemed the strategy for a few enemies, particularly the armored bears, was more reliant on counterattacking than reading their attack patterns. For example, when a bear low swipes, you can respond with an attack and still have time to block before the bear's next high or low swipe. However, the bear’s middle swipe is so fast that it interrupts your attack before the hit. You can’t reliably guess the bear’s attack pattern and you can only counter the speed of the middle swipe with a perfectly timed block and counterattack.
As you might have guessed, you’re going to die, a lot. That’s where the mysterious device comes in. You can create a copy of yourself. This acts as a checkpoint, but if you’re close to the device when you die, you’ll respawn without a game over screen. You must use these checkpoints wisely because enemies can destroy them, deleting your most recent save (and sending you back to the previous checkpoint if you die). Additionally, you have a limited number of checkpoints per boss. I believe killing a boss releases blue orbs that recharge your checkpoints. This made for an extremely tense scene when I was out of checkpoints and had to kill two armored bears, an armored ram, and a druid with less than three mistakes.
After watching the trailer, I envisioned Driven Out as a 2D Dark Souls, but that doesn’t do it justice. Driven Out brings a unique blend of skill and tension to the action fighter genre. You are the ultimate underdog, an unarmored, unskilled nobody facing knights, beasts, and other abominations. There’s no other way to say it, Driven Out makes you feel like a badass.
TechRaptor previewed Driven Out on PC via Steam with a demo provided by the developer.