Finally beat Mass Effect 2. It is a great game that didn't disappoint, and I tend to be pretty picky.
At first I was worried when I heard that Bioware was going for (their words) a "Call of Duty" combat experience. I'm a CRPG fan, ever since I blew up the Master with my Turbo Plasma Rifle in the original Fallout. I like my character sheets and statistics and formulas. Mass Effect had that, albeit highly distilled, but still recognizable. And Dragon Age, another Bioware game, still clung to those CRPG roots.
But Bioware pulled it off. I wouldn't compare Mass Effect 2 to CoD. That would be an insult to the former. This game has a solid FPS element but it also has oh so much more.
This game is cinematic with a capital C. It's not the bad kind of cinematic, in which you're forced to endure minute-long summon spell animations or ham-acted cutscenes. It's the good kind of cinematic, in which your dialog interactions are conveyed with quality voice-acting and camerawork that reminds you of what you see in movies. The character animations are interpolated a lot better between lines; the first one had annoying animation stutter (Dragon Age also has this.)
There really isn't anything bad I can say about this game. Ok well maybe some of the story elements aren't explained as well as I would like, but the lead writer is writing a prequel novel and some comic books to take care of those plot holes. And there some iPhone game that explains where two of the characters came from but I heard it sucked so I'll pass. And the planet scanning thing can get repetitive, although I enjoy the ka-ching sound whenever I scan a huge lode of minerals.
You don't have to play the first game in order to play Mass Effect 2. You also don't have to eat with utensils. The first game is awesome in itself, and many (MANY) decisions you make will carry over. I'm amazed at how they managed to remember them all, even the small ones. It's definitely a different experience from the second, though. Mass Effect was all about exploration and discovering the unknown, then shooting it with very large guns (in the words of an npc.) Its game mechanics and design choices reflect that. Mass Effect 2 is goal-oriented, and your goal involves a suicide mission, so you'll be doing a lot more shooting and a little less wandering around.
Going to play through it on hardcore difficulty now. I hear you get a great weapon in one stage for doing so.