Every once in a while there are game companies you just fall in love with. For me, it has been Lucas Arts for their old adventure games, Blizzard since Warcraft III and Bioware since KotOR.
There's just something that happens when games start out with a great story and then add gameplay and level design in that order, as opposed to starting with gameplay, adding levels and finally slapping a story on it to tie it all together.
I was a fan of the first Mass Effect. The story was thrilling, the combat system was good, the morale system was…well, it was a morale system. It was a good game, but it had some big flaws. I never finished it, and the one single reason for that was the vehicle they forced me to drive on every bloody mission. The Mako. How I hated the controls for that. If only they could let me do all my fighting on foot and focus more on the story.
That's exactly what they have done. The vehicles are gone, Mass Effect 2 is a shooter, and has put all its effort into being a better shooter than its predecessor.
Instead of overheating, you now have to worry about ammo, cover is alpha and omega in firefights now, and if you play like I do you'll finish every level with about 2 bullets to spare.
It may be just my imagination, but the AI of my teammates seems to have improved a great deal as well. They move seamlessly from cover to cover where I tell them to advance, making it easier to reliably flank enemies.
It's not all gold and green forests, however. The morale system still gives you a choice between a light and dark side, one making you seem naí¯ve and the other an arse. I find myself wishing the developers had heard the dark side explanation in KotOR. Being a sith there didn't mean you were evil for the sake of being evil, there had to be a goal.
In ME2 I'm working for a company with a troubled history and whenever someone confronts me about it, I can choose to say "I'm not with them at all" or "I trust them in everything they do". Where the hell is the "I don't trust their motives, but for now their goals coincide with mine" option?
It is clear that this is a Bioware sequel to a Bioware game from the way the story plays out. I played KotOR2, the Obsidian sequel to the Bioware game, where they tried to simply repeat everything people liked about the first game, the result was that damn near every member of your squad became a jedi or sith if you talked to them enough.
ME2 is not as eager to please, it holds key people from the first game a bit back, letting you play for a few hours before seeing them all. When you do, it's not guaranteed that they will all like you. It's things like this that make you feel their characters have depth and that you are controlling the protagonist in a novel. It is this sort of thing that makes you appreciate the people you do find.
The looting system has also received a redesign. Instead of throwing guns at you everywhere you now loot them once and can equip them to your entire team at the same time from a weapons locker. You can also change your own stats by swapping out pieces of your armour, and still design how it's all supposed to look separately. It's slightly deeper, giving a bit more freedom to build the character you want.
I would prefer a better morale system, but the goods of this game far outweigh the bads. This is everything that made Mass Effect great improved and everything that made Mass Effect bad removed.