In a new entry on 1UP's RPG blog, the author compares Mass Effect 2 to that of a Macintosh in that it's so "streamlined" (why do I suddenly despise that word?) that players can just roam the galaxy killing aliens and saving humanity without having to "fiddle" with any numbers or statistics.
During the episode of ATB in which we tried to figure out what exactly an RPG is, I compared playing a role-playing to being able to open up your car and tune it up. But I'm going to shift the analogy to computers and say that Mass Effect 2 is much more like a Mac -- sleek, streamlined and, well, different. This is not a derogatory comparison so much as yet another indication that developers are still trying to figure things out when it comes to RPGs. If RPGs keep going in this direction, I hope some developer at least has the sense to add a switch that will enable the display of all the numbers (armor ratings, damage ranges, resistances, etc.) that are being calculated behind the scenes. They can even default it to "off" and require the editing of an INI file or something, I don't care. Just give me back my numbers.
I think BioWare was aiming for that ideal with the first Mass Effect; that they fell short isn't that surprising. After all, these are the guys who are best known for creating games like Baldur's Gate and Knights of the Old Republic, they weren't exactly going to match Infinity Ward or Epic right out of the gate. If anything, I'm kind of shocked at how much they've managed to improve that element for the sequel.
For the most part, I feel like things have really been streamlined to the good. Most of what's missing from the first game is around in the second, you just have to look a bit. At first blush, the armor customization is limited to what colors you like, but you soon discover that the different accessories alter your appearance. The different ammo is still there, they're just treated as different powers, which has resulted in me using cryo and disruptor ammo far more than I used to. In general, I don't actually feel that Mass Effect 2 is that different from the first game. It's been streamlined, but it's definitely deeper than your average third-person shooter.
That said, it's not "deep" in the traditional sense, but it was never really meant to be. It was always meant to be an accessible, entertaining shooter that was still an RPG. And make no mistake, dear readers, Mass Effect 2 is definitely an RPG. The team building, customization, and general "roleplaying" are all right there. It's just not a game where you ever have to fiddle with command line, as it were.