Gamer Limit has kicked up what they're calling a "roundtable" interview with Mass Effect 2 project director Casey Hudson, though "hefty" and "informative" would probably be better terms. Topics include the sequel's inventory improvements, technical enhancements, character advancement changes, and more. On planetary exploration:
What sort of improvements have been made to the planets? Will there be more variation in the terrain and the layout this time?
In regards to the vehicle, the Mako, we're doing some cool things with the vehicle, though we're not ready to announce them just yet. In another month or so we'll probably be talking about the vehicle.
In terms of the overall exploration, one of the things that we had feedback on, people really loved the idea of a larger galaxy and being able to go out and explore stuff. What they really wanted us to improve was the variety and the different things that you got to do when you were out on these missions. So we did two things. First of all, we improved the galaxy map experience. It's very much the same kind of galaxy map, but this time there are a few differences. You're actually moving the position of the Normandy versus a target crosshair. And when you arrive at a planet, you have an actual minigame for scanning the planet. It's really cool, you actually see the planet spinning below you, you turn it around, and you can scan for resources and the controller will rumble, and hear different sounds. You can kind of close in on resources. This part basically replaces the less interesting aspects of resource gather from Mass Effect 1 and puts it into a minigame thats really cool and a lot more interactive. This is how you pull up a lot of the resources that then tie into the economy of the game for getting upgrades and stuff like that.
The other thing that happens is, when you're scanning planets, in addition to finding resources than you can pull out of using space probes, you can also find signals and radio anomalies that you can close in on, and through the minigames, actually find the location on the planet where something is going on. We call these N7 Missions. You can send a probe down to come back and do basic stuff like getting resources, but sometimes you find something that only Commander Shepard can do in person, and that's an N7 Mission. For those, you find these locations on a planet and then you drop down to the surface. Those missions are kind of designed to be the opposite approach to the missions from Mass Effect 1, where you're in the uncharted worlds. The only reason why they exist is because each one of them offers something unique and different than you've done before. Every level, either the gameplay or the story, or something about it is really unique and special
Each one that you do is different. You'll want to go back out and find the next one and the next one, because you know that each one is going to offer you something weird and wonderful, just like you'd expect out in space. Those are some of the improvements we've made to exploration, it suits the game a lot better and it's a lot more interesting. Because, again, all of the rewards that you find out there tie back into the main story; either they're part of the key storyline, or the resources that you find out there tie back into the goal of equipping your team, building up your ship, and getting ready for a suicide mission.