This intense narrative is met with an equally intense presentation. Mass Effect 3 is more atmospheric and darker in tone than even Mass Effect 2 was. You hear more expletives and raise your voice in desperation far more often, and the environments you do battle in reflect the rising pitch. An ominous storm encroaches, giving battle an even greater sense of urgency. The sheer darkness of a subterranean ruin enhances the sense of danger. The blue and rose bands of light that periodically stretch across the screen may seem old hat after Mass Effect 2, but the trick remains effective. That blue is also the color of Garrus' eyepiece, Liara's skin, and a harvester's glowing lights. That rose is the color of Wrex's armor, Mordin's forehead, and the Normandy's war room terminals. Both hues are used in the game's various interface elements, which makes other colors more effective when used. Witness, for example, the starkness of Jack's black-and-white ensemble and how it contrasts with the rich colors around her.
These are exquisite details, though other details come across as a bit sloppy in comparison. The frame rate stutters on occasion. Camera movement and viewing angles occasionally go askew; the camera might jitter in weird ways during cutscene transitions, or focus on a wall instead of the character speaking. A scripting error could force you to restart a mission should an event not trigger properly. And if you play on the PlayStation 3, you could run into a crash or two. These flaws stand out because Mass Effect 3 is otherwise such an elegant experience.
It's also packed with action. The basic third-person shooting is the same as Mass Effect 2's, though it has been given a few minor tweaks. You can now deliver a charged-up melee attack, for example, and slide around corners while still in cover. Such mechanics don't drastically change the flow of battle, which is still occasionally sullied by returning Mass Effect combat quirks: occasional cover glitches, unintelligent friendlies that crouch on top of crates, and enemies that thoughtlessly tumble against walls and end up going nowhere as a result.
On the other hand, the improvement in level design is remarkable. Unlike the previous game, Mass Effect 3 isn't about "take cover behind the obvious barriers, shoot the enemies that predictably emerge, and then do it again." Combat areas are more expansive and some enemies are more aggressive, so not only are you given room to move about, but you must use that space. One such enemy is the banshee, which destroys you in a single grab if you let it come too close. These shrieking horrors join charging brutes, dogging you in tandem in a memorable combat sequence and providing a challenge the previous games lacked, at least on normal difficulty.
And so you can't always trust a single cover spot to provide sanctuary--not when you have three guys in humongous robot suits blindsiding you. You sprint and tumble about, sliding into cover and using cryo ammo to freeze a creepy cannibal before smashing it with a powerful shock wave. As you level up, you eventually make choices on how to upgrade your powers. Do you increase the Pull ability's recharge speed, or do you learn to launch two Pull projectiles at once? Don't assume that Mass Effect 3's missions are all about guns and space magic, though. A pistol isn't much help when you traverse a virtual space made of neon cubes and floating platforms. Facing an old nemesis isn't a battle of guns--it's a battle of wits.
Nevertheless, you do a lot of shooting, and Mass Effect 3's primary customization element is in its huge supply of guns and the large number of modifications you can make to them. There are five weapon types and loads of choices within those types, each with its own pros and cons. You find weapons and mods in mission areas and can purchase them from vendors on the Citadel or from a terminal on your ship, the Normandy SR-2. You don't just need to consider your play style when choosing weapons prior to battle--you also need to consider how their weight might affect your ability to perform biotic and tech skills. The heavier your loadout, the less often you can send the bad guys flying into the air.