It's the Little Things That Matter In Mass Effect 3S

The Earth is burning. Mankind stands on the brink of extinction. And all I can think about is how pretty I'm going to make my future space gun look. And how much I like an old friend's new haircut.

The Mass Effect 3 demo I caught at Gamescom came in two distinct parts, one a combat section showing the game's more balls-to-the-wall features, the other a slightly less balls-to-the-wall section setting up the game's story.

First up, the combat. The floaty, over-the-shoulder basics of the last two games remain unchanged, but the whole thing looked a little more involved. Players taking cover can now do a few extra things like roll out, and some melee kills come courtesy of a swish cinematic kill where Shepard whips out his/her omniblade and stabs an enemy in the heart.

Behind the scenes, a few additions to the gunplay and team command I saw were a more nuanced upgrade system (you can now level up individual traits and specific ammo types rather than general fields) and a workbench, upon which you can customise your weapons with new parts, tweak their stats and even change their appearance.

During this combat sequence, fighting Cerberus on an alien planet, Shepard kills a bunch of guys, encounters a mech (which if you can kill just the driver you can take command of) and shows off the game's increased verticality, with more stages now spanning different levels and including more things like ladders and long drops. Not that they made a great difference to the action, but they do help in breaking up the feeling that the game is an endless parade of flat corridors.

The other stage I saw was the game's first, on an Earth in the midst of the Reaper invasion. And while all the explosions and collapsing buildings and sombre orchestral pieces were just fine, at the end you get a look at Ashley, your old Space Nazi friend from the first Mass Effect.

Her new look has been shown before, but this was the first time I got a real good look at her. She seems much nicer now. Not that you really speak to her, but her makeoever, which includes a dramatically more feminine haircut, makes her seem friendlier. More pleasant. At least towards humans (disclaimer: she may still hate aliens).

From these two stages, it was nice to see that despite being lumbered with the shell of a game that's nearly four years old, enough additions and tweaks have been made to make the game interesting on a level beyond just wanting to see how everything pans out in the end.