The gameplay of Heavenly Sword resembles a martial arts title focused on melee combat while featuring opportunities for ranged attacks. The main character, Nariko, uses a weapon called the "Heavenly Sword" which changes into one of three forms depending on what attack stance the player uses as part of a unique fighting style. Speed Stance, the default, provides an even balance between damage and speed, where the sword takes the form of two separate blades. Range Stance allows fast, long-ranging, but weaker attacks, with the sword resembling two blades, chained together. Power Stance is the most powerful, but slowest style, where attacks are made with the Sword in the shape of one large, two-handed blade.
For exploration and certain battles, the game also makes use of "Quick Time Events" (QTE). During a QTE, a symbol for a certain button or for an action such as moving the analog stick to the right or left appears on screen and the player must match what is shown to successfully complete the scene.