Faceoff! God of War vs Heavenly Sword

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This weeks edition of Faceoff pits two of Sony’s premiere action/adventure titles against one another. In one corner we have God of War, a franchise three titles deep, with a fourth (and supposedly final) title hitting store shelves in March 2010. And in the other corner, we have the underdog title, Heavenly Sword, which didn’t recieve the amount of praise and support it should have from the media and gamers considering it’s quality. Many people accused the title of simply being Goddess of War, because on the surface, the titles looked very similar, but anyone who has played both will testify to how very differenct they both play and feel.

Once again, we’ll be comparing the games in the key categories of Story, Controls, Gameplay, and Graphics. Who will emerge victorious? Let Faceoff begin!

STORY:
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God of War – Kratos is a man with a mission. As leader of the Spartan army, he was betrayed by the God of War Ares after offering up his soul to the god in exchange for giving him the strength to battle an adversary that was killing him. Ares grants his wish, and Kratos ascends to the ranks, until a fateful encounter at a village he is raizing to the ground opens his eyes to the truth. Kratos vows vengeance on the god that betrayed him, and his quest begins, taking him all over Rome, and even through time itself. He battles many a mythological creature, from Cyclop’s to Medusa and even the greatest of all gods, Zeus himself.

As a character, Kratos embodies pure, unadulterated rage and hatred. He is singular in his focus to take down Ares (and any other gods who get in his way), and he will do whatever it takes to reach his goals. In combat, he is a brutal warrior, having been grafted with a weapon called the Blades of Chaos, which are seared to his wrists, and connected to chains, allowing him to use them in close and mid to long range combat.

Despite his singular focus, there is a depth to Kratos, and even a bit of humanity hidden beneath his ghostly ashen skin (I will not explain why his skin is ashen for those that have not played the games, but it is significant, and Kratos is often referred to as the Ghost of Sparta). Throughout the three released titles in the series (God of War, God of War 2, and God of War: Chains of Olympus), we are given glimpses of that humanity, but for the most part, we regularly see Kratos decapicate, crush, and dismember his foes.

While his motives remain understandable, he is hard to relate to for the most part as a human character, because, in reality, he really isn’t one anymore. His brutal dispatching of countless enemies (human and mythological alike) is a bit of a wall.

For those that want to indulge in their rage, however, there is no better character in gaming. There are a plethora of supporting characters that Kratos encounters on his journey, though they generally don’t stay in the tale long (barring a few key characters like Zeus and Athena). Fans of Greek and Roman mythology will most certainly get a kick out of seeing the dark interpretations of these classic characters. The story plays out like an epic Greek or Roman tragedy.
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Heavenly Sword – Nariko is the daughter of Shen, leader of a clan of people who’s task is to protect an ancient weapon of great power called the Heavenly Sword. The sword was once welded by a man of great power, who saved the clan from destruction many years ago. The sword was then passed down from generation to generation for protection, until a prophecy stating that in the year of the Fire Horse, the owner of the sword would be reborn, and once again claim what it his, and save his people from the tyranny of Lord Bohan, an evil King who ursurped the throne from his father decades before.

Time passed, and the year of Fire Horse came. Master Shen and his wife prepare to give birth to what they expect to be the rightful owner of the Heavenly Sword. The baby comes, and it is a girl. The clan is crestfallen, and look upon Nariko as a curse. Her mother dies during childbirth, and she is raised by her father in the ways of combat.

Despite the clan’s misgivings, upon Nariko’s 23rd birthday, Shen gives her the Heavenly Sword to protect, as many a generation have done before. She is cautioned to never use the sword, as only the chosen one can weld it without being drained of his lifeforce. In one fateful moment, however, Nariko is forced to use the sword, sealing her fate.

As a character, Nariko is excellently realized. She is intelligent, cunning, and a fierce warrior, even before she uses the Heavenly Sword for the first time. She is beautiful, with long, firey red hair, and a slim figure (though not voluptuous, like many female game leads before her). She is loyal to her clan and father, despite how they both treat her, though the person she loves the most is Kai, a girl she rescued years ago, and raises as a sister.

Nariko has depth and grace, even when slaughtering hundreds of Bohans troops. Her actions are always in service to the story or her character, and she is, ultimately, one of the best new characters in gaming.

Kratos and Nariko are so different, it’s actually rather hard to determine who is the better character. Kratos is pure rage, while Nariko is pure gracefulness. Kratos is out for revenge, while Nariko is looking out for her people, despite the fact that most of them see her as a curse. Both are strong willed and cunning.

I’ll have to give the edge to Nariko in the character department, simply because she is more relatable as a human being than the agent of chaos that is Kratos. It ultimately depends on what your mood is for that day.

CONTROLS:
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God of War –
God of War controls like dream. The control scheme is intuitive, with a straight forward button layout broken up into strong attacks, medium attacks, blocking, dodging, and magic. Switching between magic and alternate weapons is a breeze, as is moving around the environment and battling enemies. This can easily be attributed to the fixed camera angles, which help keep the action cinematic, and frees the player from worrying about camera positioning while navigating or in combat. As far as action/adventure games go, God of War is one of the best controlling series out there.
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Heavenly Sword – Like God of War, Heavenly Sword features a fantastic control scheme, that is also intuitive, with a button layout rather similar to God of War with strong attacks, medium attacks, blocking, dodging and specials. The game also features fixed camera angles, although the player is allowed to pan the camera left or right with the trigger buttons on the controller. Controls are responsive, and pulling off combos are a cinch (which I’ll get into in the Gameplay section).

Overall, both games feature excellent controls, and they simply tie in this category.

GAMEPLAY:
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God of War –
This is where the differences in God of War and Heavenly Sword really become apparent. The God of War series features combo based fighting, utilizing strong attacks, and medium attacks in various combinations to pull of a wide variety of moves. Each weapon also has it’s own set of unique moves to learn. Despite many calling the game a “Hack n’ Slash,” it hosts surprising depth and variety in it’s combat and gameplay. Pulling off the various combos is incredibly easy, and very rarely do you perform an action you did not intend to.

The scale of the game is absolutely phenomenal, especially taking into account that it’s running on the Playstation 2  hardware. “Epic” is the best word to use when describing the scale of this title. Draw distances are amazing, the variety of locales and locations Kratos visits throughout just one God of War game is staggering.

God of War 2 features the most variety of gameplay, with a richer, more impressive set of moves and abilities (such as the ability to counter-attack enemies, which was absent in God of War 1). No other action title out there has a sense of scale like God of War. Even the PSP version (Chains of Olympus) featured impressive scale and scope.

Combat is visceral, as Kratos is simply an unstoppable force, decimating all in his path in showers of blood. Even though Kratos’ main weapon are the Blade of Chaos, which are attached to chains seared to his wrists, allowing for close range and mid to long range combat, Kratos finds other weapons and magic to use throughout his journey like the Blade of Artemis, Fist of Zeus, and a plethora of magic spells. Boss battles are challenging and often clever, as are the numerous puzzles that show that Kratos is more than just brawn; there’s a brain ticking away up there as well.
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Heavenly Sword – On the surface, Heavenly Sword looks a lot like God of War. This is primarily due to the fact that the Heavenly Sword can split into three distinct parts, each with it’s own style of combat. The ranged stance will break the sword into two, attaching them via chain, which Nariko can flail around to attack enemies from a distance, and it instantly recalls the Blades of Chaos that Kratos uses.

The power stance has the sword completely whole, and Nariko welds it almost like a great broadsword, with long, powerful strokes that deal incredible damage to enemies. The speed stance, which is Nariko’s default stance, has the sword in two pieces, and Nariko is able to weld them more nimbly and with better agility and control. Each of the three stances have their own set of combos to learn and unlock as the game progresses.

The stances are controlled rather intuitively, and are easy to switch between. By holding down a shoulder button, Narkio will switch to that stance. Letting go of the button will return Nariko to the default speed stance. Because of this, players are able to string together unique combos using the three stances on the fly. They can go from ranged, to power, to speed, to ranged again in a matter of seconds.

This makes combat feel very open and freeing, allowing the player to tackle enemies as they see fit. Blocking is done automatically by simply not pressing the left analog stick when an enemy attacks. This is different from God of War’s button blocking, but only takes a short while to get accustomed to.

Adding even more depth to the combat are the three different enemy types. When an enemy attacks you, often they will glow three colors: Blue, Orange, and Red. Blue attacks can be blocked and countered by the speed and power stance. Orange attacks can only be blocked and countered by the power stance. Red is an unblockable attack, and players must dodge to avoid taking damage.

Battles will often throw many of these different types of enemies at the player, so they must use varying tactics in order to defeat all the enemies, which makes combat feel fresh, and not as repetitive as it could be. A combat mechanic called “After touch” lets players guide an arrow, object, or person with the motion controls, or analog sticks.

The game will go into slow motion and it’s incredibly satisfying when you deftly guide an arrow into the forehead of an enemy.

There is also a special ability system in play with three levels. On the HUD, there are three circles that will fill up when you defeat enemies. When a circle is filled, you can pull off a stage one special, which is determined by what stance you are in, and how close you are to the enemy.

Let the second circle fill up, and you are able to perform an even more powerful attack, also dependent on what stance you are in. Let the third and final circle fill up, and you are able to pull off a devastating maneuver which will often take out all enemies in the nearby vicinity.

In a few chapters, players are also able to play as Kai, using her skills at the crossbow to help Nariko and the clan. These segments are very fun, and serve to break up the sword combat sections with Nariko. Using  After touch really helps these segments as well.

The scale of Heavenly Sword isn’t nearly as large as God of War, and, despite having some depth to the combat, God of War ultimately has more variety in gameplay. Heavenly Sword’s gameplay is fantastic, and certainly inspired by God of War, but the Ghost of Sparta edges the lovely Nariko out in the end.

GRAPHICS:
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God of War –
Despite being released on the aging Playstation 2 in 2007, God of War 2 is a tour de force graphical feat on the hardware; quite literally pushing the machine to it’s limits.

Draw distances are amazing, environmental detail is beautiful, and the sense of scale is unbelievable. The first time you see the Titan Atlas, and realize that you have to traverse him to reach your goal, is simply jaw-dropping. Character models are very detailed, and the lighting model is wonderful. Art design goes a long way in game development, and despite being on older hardware, God of War 2 still stands as one of the best looking games out there. It proves that you don’t need to master HDR and bump-mapping to have a phenomenal graphical gaming experience.
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Heavenly Sword – It’s a no brainer that Heavenly Sword is visually better than God of War 1 and 2 on the Playstation 2. The Playstation 3 exclusive features unprecedented facial and motion capture animation, and the level of detail in the backgrounds, character models, and draw distances are amazing. It is quite literally possible to mute the TV during one of the in engine cutscenes, and still read the lips of the characters (I’ve done this, and it is incredible). This is due to Andy Serkis (of Lord of the Rings fame), and the team at Ninja Theory developing and utilizing motion capture equipment that was capable of amazing accuracy, especially in the facial animation department.

Interestingly enough, while the environments in Heavenly Sword are gorgeously rendered by the Playstation 3, they don’t have that fantastical air that the God of War titles have. Sure, textures, and lighting are excellent, but traversing the Steeds of Time in God of War 2 is an experience that Heavenly Sword just doesn’t have a comparison to.

Realistically, Heavenly Sword has the better graphics, but God of War has the better art design. And hey, come March 2010, God of War 3 will be hitting the Playstation 3, and is looking absolutely stunning, and goes beyond evening the field with Heavenly Sword.

God of War 3 - Playstation 3 - March 2010

God of War 3 - Playstation 3 - March 2010

CONCLUSIONS:

This was a rather tough decision to make, because I love God of War and Heavenly Sword dearly. They are, without a doubt, two of my favorite action/adventure titles of all time. Nariko, in her first outing, managed to engage me in so many ways. The story is fantastic, even though it’s not as epic as God of War, the supporting cast is excellent, with phenomenal performances by the entire cast (most noteworthy being Andy Serkis as King Bohan, and Anna Torv of  Fringe, as Nariko), and the combat is satisfying and full of surprising depth.

In the end, however, the Ghost of Sparta ultimately beats out Nariko due to an epic sense of scale(in both story and locales), fantastically diverse and realized fantasy setting, epic boss battles, surprising twists in the narrative, and most importantly of all, excellent gameplay with variety, depth, and pure visceral action.

It looks like “age before beauty” won out this time, because even the extra horsepower of the amazing Playstation 3 couldn’t hold up against remarkable game design and art design. Sure Kratos has three games under his belt, but even taking a singular title (like God of War 2), and stacking it up against Heavenly Sword, I think the result would be the same. This was one of the hardest Faceoff’s I’ve written thus far, because the victory was only by a few hairs.

WINNER:
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God of War (series)

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9 Responses to “Faceoff! God of War vs Heavenly Sword”

  1. They’re both very good games. Though I do prefer the characters from Heavenly Sword, I think God of War is technically the “better” game. I just wish the villains had more personality/quirkiness. Zeus and the gods seem rather bland, almost like cardboard cut out villains, when compared to King Bohan and his cast of crazies. Good article though!

  2. I agree, I think the characters in Heavenly Sword are more, theatrical, for lack of a better term, while the characters in God of War are, well, stoic, and godlike.

    King Bohan is one of the best villains in gaming.

  3. ninjawanda Says:

    Good article. I’d personally would’ve picked HS as the winner but ofcourse that’s because Í’m a huge fan, and never have I finished or even played a God of War game for over 2 hours.

    • Thanks!

      I’m a huge fan of Heavenly Sword as well, but I highly recommend playing God of War for longer than 2 hours.

      The combos and magic skills you get as you progress are awesome, and the story is surprisingly good, with plenty of twists and turns.

      God of War 2 is, so far, the best of the series, although the PSP Chains of Olympus is surprisingly fantastic as well, although much shorter than the other GoWs (about 6 hours).

      As awesome as Heavenly Sword is, I still think God of War beats it in the variety and gameplay department.

      For me, it’s kind of hard to like one, but not the other. They are in the same genre, and both do it justice. It’s just a shame that Heavenly Sword didn’t receive the praise it deserved because it came out during the time period when EVERYONE was hating on the PS3 and every game released on it, even if the game was quality.

  4. Well i can’t really see how you could even compare the controls. I have played both games and I can say that god of war has far better controls. After finishing Heavenly Sword for the first time I was trying to think of why god of war was better, so I got out my ps2 and started playing GOW again. Thats when I realized that the controls for GOW feel just right and are absolutely perfect. I honestly did not like the controls for Heavenly Sword. The combat in GOW is so smooth and responsive, unlike Heavenly Sword. It’s a clear winner.

  5. I think the controls in Heavenly Sword are very fluid and responsive. GoW may be a hair more polished, but overall, I never had to fight with the controls to perform my combat maneuvers in Heavenly Sword.

    I think both games have smooth, responsive combat. God of War has more moves, in the end, I think, due to the different weapons you get, and I think overall, combat in God of War is better. But Heavenly Sword is no slouch.

    Both are great games, and deserve to be in any action/adventure game fans library.

  6. I personally would have made Heavenly Sword the winner but I’m biased because I’m a HUGE fan.
    I’ve never played god of war and don’t really want to it’s too brutal for my liking.
    Heavenly Sword is elegant and beautiful and very cinematic (I’m also a big movie fanatic and HS’s cinematic aspect appealed to me.)

  7. GoW would have been my choice as well. As another commenter pointed out – GoW is perfectly-controlled & as you mentioned, completely unbridled.

    I feel like Kratos is a comet screaming through empty space obliterating anything in his path – and we get to ride on his back hoping not to lose our faces. You can only hope to hold on during a GoW game – and you get to wipe the floor with every and anything that comes in your path.

    There is nothing like that in gaming – nothing that conveys so much raw power. To me, that firmly plants Kratos amongst gaming’s true greats.

  8. This was a great review. GoW 3! LOOKS KICK ASS! If Heavenly Sword can’t even match up to the ps2 gow graphics then it is screwed when GoW 3 comes out 😛

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