While getting to see a substantial chunk of Mass Effect 3 gameplay during last month’s E3 provided a glimpse into some of the story elements and combat upgrades BioWare has implemented, it left us with one feeling: I want to get my hands on this game.

Thankfully, as announced by Electronic Arts, Mass Effect 3 was on hand at Comic-Con and we were finally able to give the game a go. Read our hands-on preview to find out what’s new, what’s changed, and how the game plays.

Set during the mission featured heavily in the promotional material for the game, this Comic-Con demo put players in the midst of Shepard’s escape from a facility with a female Krogan in tow. Essentially, this mission involves moving the female Krogan up several levels of the facility whilst facing off against groups of varied Cerberus soldiers. The level design and the foil of the mission are standard Mass Effect fodder, but it gives a good sense that the formula for success is being preserved.

To assist with the combat portions of the demo, BioWare was kind enough to start players off with a generous selection of character points to spend on the abilities of their Sentinel/Adept/Soldier. While the upgrading of abilities is still preserved in Mass Effect 3, this time around there are several options for players to choose from in order to fine-tune their specific abilities’ characteristics. Typically this breaks down into two branching paths — one that usually favors damage and the other that is more tactics or time based.

Say for example you were leveling up your grenades in the traditional manner — first by increasing their capacity and then damage. Now you come to the fork in the road where the player must decide whether they want more damage or more ammo to be available to them. It’s a subtle feature, but it does hearken back to the claim that BioWare was going to be putting more RPG elements into the game — something that was notably absent in Mass Effect 2.

Mass Effect Comic Con Demo - Combat

With abilities equipped and leveled, players were then able to get into the nitty gritty of Mass Effect 3: the combat. All of the usual suspects were on display — squad commands, weapon choices, and abilities — but all took a back seat to getting that first omni-blade swing in. Though the weapon does feel a bit overpowered at times (Sentinels dual wield omni-blades!), this isn’t a cure-all for your Cerberus woes.

In an effort to combat just running up to enemies and locking into that assassination animation a la Halo: Reach, BioWare has introduced at least two enemies who are “immune” to your omni-blade strikes. The first, a soldier that comes at you with a space-age version of a riot shield, and requires a more tactical strategy and prevents rushing up for close-quarters action. The other, an enemy that discharges energy when struck, can be killed with two omni-blade strikes, but at the sacrifice of your protective shield.

Yes, the omni-blade is awesome, and it does sometimes feel like the answer to all your problems, but it isn’t going to be the best option for every situation. At least at this point, it seems that BioWare really is designing the AI to give Shepard more of a challenge.

Getting to fool around with the Mass Effect 3 mechanics, menus and combat was enough to prove that this is BioWare’s attempt to satisfy all fans of the series. It featured some RPG elements for the ME fans, and fast-paced combat for ME2 enthusiasts. The level might have been fairly rote, but it did hint at the storyline of the female Krogan — something fans are dying to know more about. If anything, this demo made the delay into 2012 even that much harder to bear.

Do you think that BioWare’s “ability tree” sounds like enough to satisfy those fans that were disappointed by Mass Effect 2’s lack of RPG elements? Are you most excited to get more of the Mass Effect storyline or experience the revamped combat?

Mass Effect 3 releases March 6, 2012 for the Xbox 360, PS3, and PC.