As a sequel to Mass Effect 1, I think Mass Effect 2 is just a bit better. It's more refined mechanically, for starters. The controls are more smooth to control, character movement is nicer. The gunplay is more snappy and reaponsive than the first game's shooting, with a wider variety of weapons. The different types of weapons was really nice, and it was fun to experiment with.
My main complaint though is that weaponry is tied to class, and throughout the entire game, I wasn't able to use a sniper because of the weapons I chose. I suppose this will make any replays of the game more interesting since I get to experiment more with the more distinct classes, but it was kind of a disappointment to experience after playing the first game and having every weapon at my disposal.
The world's in this game are a lot better designed than in the previous game — it's actually fun to shoot people in, while also being pretty to boot.
Story wise, I love that the premise is specifically set up to feature an element of distrust. It forces the player to be with party members that do not fit their own alignment, with the Illusive Man acting as a shady figure for demanding orders. The motives of both Cerberus and The Alliance line up for the game, and it fits the more morally gray universe. l Unlike the first game, where things felt purely black and white with decisions, some decisions were a hard decision to make with moral implications on either side. Though, for the most part, they end up treating it black and white regardless.
The characters are much more of the highlight with this game, with almost every character feeling fleshed out and likable. It's a testament to the game's writing that I get emotionally upset at even minor characters dying off screen that I once talked to in the previous game, or in this game, and it all feels natural. The main characters are, of course, the highlights here. Tali's questline ended with me falling in love with her character and tearing up for her, transforming her turn into one of my favorite characters. Kasumi, who's a DLC character, is just incredibly personable and gels well with Shepard in a very nice way. Mordin is a strange, fascinating man with a horribly unethical past that he begins to regret the more you talk with him about his actions. Despite that, he's one of the more silly characters, with silly eccentricities, and has had me giggling at some of his dialog. Garrus returns and he's almost doubled down on his sense of justice, only for Shepard to intervene again before he goes too far. A lot of it is very good stuff, even the things I didn't mentioned.
I think the only couple of characters I've had a problem with have been Ashley and Liara. Ashley seemingly has zero trust in you, despite everything you've been through, and her motives in not joining you feel a bit forced. Liara is the character that has the most dramatic change in the entire game from the previous game; she undergoes a dark transformation in order to stay alive, and begins to deal trading information. Apparently this gets detailed in a comic, but with what we got within the game, none of what this character did was appealing to me. She was a rather naive and shy girl In ME1, which was a nice change of pace from the rest of the cast, even if I found her to be rather boring. In her DLC, her and Shepard have a back and forth with one another, and being that I never romanced her and simply stayed friends, none of this banter felt like it was these two characters. It was a comedy routine that I don't think the Paragon Shepard has ever done, and it just felt extremely off. The rest of the characters were lovely though, some of the best character writing I've seen in a while from a game. Even if I found some of their actions reprehensible, they felt like very real people, which is not always the case with games.
A lot of the game's missions I later found out were DLC were some of the major highlights of the game. I can't imagine this game without most of the DLC. It almost makes me wonder how bare the base game was when first released. The DLC makes up a ton of really nice missions that flesh the game out into feeling much more in line with Mass Effect 1, but doing it in a more streamlined and constructed way. World exploration is back, and although much more linear, still gives the nice sense of exploration that was provided by the Land Rover in ME1. The DLC characters add a nice flavor of missions that were fun to go through.
The final act of the game was really interesting in that, if you weren't careful, your team members could die. And I think as a concept, that's really great. Going into Mass Effect 3, I can only hope to see those actions come back.
I think overall, Mass Effect 2 is fantastic. I feel like the series, once I finished Mass Effect 3, would be really nice to go through again with a replay.