Now this is what I call immersion!
In the past, Bioware has shown a tendency to surpass itself whenever developing a sequel (remember how much better Baldur's Gate II was compared to I - and the original Baldur's Gate was already excellent). Well, compared to this second installment, the original Mass Effect now seems like a typical space-RPG/Shooter.
Having played the original game will not only help you better insert yourself into Commander Shepard's boots (you can actually import your original character form the first game - choices and all) - but also appreciate the improvements more.
Mass Effect 2 is darker and (without spoiling it) the choices harder to live with. Combat has been streamlined, with tactical decisions (using cover, taking the high ground) now being more important, without the game loosing its shooter character though.
Both the visuals and the sounds are exquisite. Not only are the graphics really impressive (and I am running WinXP so that is DirecX-9 mind you) and the sounds dramatic but the voice acting and dialogue integration should be taught in game-design seminars.
In this second installment there is no actual inventory to speak of (more on this later), loading times are shorter and better concealed (remember those endless elevator rides? Now forget about them), and accessing your special abilities menu has been simplified.
In a true Bioware tradition, the available companions all come with their own special abilities and personal stories to explore.
The selection of armor and guns has been reduced. There are about 15-20 guns to choose from and very limited loot. The guns I do not mind. Personally, I'd rather have a small number of well designed and fun to use guns at my disposal than a myriad of guns that in the end make no real difference (I am looking at you, Borderlands?).
Having said that, I missed the thrill of looting and upgrading my equipment (not to mention having a real inventory). I mean, that is a great part of the fun in any cRPG! I am not holding my breath but maybe one of the upcoming DLCs could take care of that?
And if I am to open the improvements-request file, how about speeding up those minigames in the next patch?
Finally, you also get a personal apartment aboard Normandy (an excellent idea introduced in Fallout 3) which you can equip with various ornaments and personal items (from fish for your aquarium to a...space-hamster - I call mine Boo).
As for the DRM scheme used, the game does contain SecuROM but (similar to Dragon Age: Origins and Fallout 3) it only uses a disk-check. Mass Effect 2 neither requires any online activation nor does it limit the numbers of its installations. It is not the best solution possible but it is a compromise I can live with. If you still find this objectionable, you can now make an informed decision.
All in all, I found Mass Effect 2 to be a beautiful RolePlaying Movie of a game, an immersive cinematic-action shooter with limited loot and more story than equipment choices. In other words, Mass Effect 2 may not be a pure cRPG or a cRPS experience (Dragon Age: Origins and Fallout 3 still rule those segments) but nevertheless it is an experience well worth its admission price.
Go for the light-sensors Boo! Go for the light-sensors!!
(no, I am not explaining that...)