The Citadel is a better realized location in the first Mass Effect,
but from a gameplay perspective, it was a dreadful way to kick off the game. An action-oriented RPG-shooter should not open with two hours of tedious scavenger hunting and fetch questing. I've replayed Mass Effect
enough times that I can blow through those sections in the most efficient way possible, and it still feels interminable.
Compare it to your time on Omega in Mass Effect 2
. Same premise, exploring a metropolis-sized space station while setting up the story, but instead of filling out paperwork, settling patent disputes, or combing last hallway for keepers to scan, most of your quests involve shooting bad guys in the head.
Moving past the intro to each game, the main story missions in Mass Effect
felt much bigger and more important than those in the sequel. That first game had you saving entire colonies from annihilation and uncovering millennia-old galactic truths. Some were equal parts driving and on-foot shooting, and when placed in the proper context, piloting the Mako was an agreeable way to mix up the gameplay. Mass Effect 2
had better storytelling techniques, but employed them towards much less ambitious goals. Miranda is sad. Jack is angry. Jacob is boring. Make your teammates less sad, angry, and boring, and...that's about 80% of the game right there. There's a lot to be said for the importance of forming real bonds with deep characters, especially in a fanciful sci-fi setting, but it would have been nice if the galaxy-ending ancient evil
did more than bookend everybody's daddy issues.
But gameplay-wise, Mass Effect 2
wins hands-down. Weapons feel good. Cover is important. Combined squad tactics are essential, especially at the higher difficulties. As much as I disliked the way Bioware handled the inventory and skill "streamlining," the end result is still far better than the barely-serviceable gunplay of the original.