One thing the developers are keen to be very transparent about is the way they've beefed up the combat. The original, despite being brilliantly paced and scripted, faced criticism for its gunfights and this is something Hudson and the team have worked hard on. "Pretty much everything has been improved," he tells us confidently. "First, the overall movement and cover system has been redone, so that movement and aiming is smoother, plus you engage cover much more fluidly than before."
The demo we saw at E3 proved how far the cover system has come. It looks and feels incredibly natural - very much from the Gears of War school of animation. This makes a huge difference to the way fights play out, as you can react to what's happening with much more ease. We saw Shepard dashing between piles of space crates, ducking in and out to take pot-shots at enemies, and switching between weapons on the fly. Next to the stilted single-animation cover fights of the original it looked like a huge leap forward.
Hudson continues, "You have much better real-time access to your powers since you can map your favourites to controller buttons. This means you set yourself up for battle then generally play it without ever pausing." So, ME2 can be played as a pure action game, although Hudson assures us that you can pause the combat and manage your attack at any time if that's how you want to play.
Another problem with the shooting in the first game was the AI. Your team-mates weren't the sharpest tools in the shed, despite wielding some kick-ass biotic abilities and weapons. They didn't react when enemies flanked and gunned them down, so the easiest thing to do was to ask them to hang back while you handled the fight yourself. Thankfully, that has all changed too. "You also have better control of your squad, with separate squad movement orders so you can place each squad member exactly where you want him or her. And you can fire their powers in real time as well, using context-sensitive buttons." The actual make-up of your squad is still something Bioware is keeping under wraps. Some of the characters from the original will make a return - in the demo we spotted Liara, Joker and someone who looked a lot like Ashley - but they won't be in your team. The smart money is on them appearing as NPCs to flesh-out the backstory and to keep key plot points from the original rolling.
To compliment the improved action, several other item options have been tweaked. The inventory system has been given a complete overhaul, although Hudson was cagey about how they've done it. Providing we don't have to wade through every new item and weapon upgrade, reducing each one to omni-gel individually, we'll be happy with whatever has been altered. Similarly, although many of the weapon mods from the original will return, the way you use them had changed. "It's still a heat-based system so there's no need to find ammo clips," reassures Hudoson. "But instead of overheating the weapon and having a forced cool-down, the player is able to actively eject a heat sink to choose how and when the weapon gets reset." This is great news - the old weapons simply wouldn't work with ME2's more fluid combat.
However, what this does mean is that all the weapons and items you amassed in ME1 can't come with you. Hudson explains, "The systems have been greatly improved to support better combat, inventory, etc. So while things like weapons and stats don't convert directly, you will get certain benefits from your play style and accomplishments in the first game."
Similarly, you won't be able to hop right into a fully levelled up Shepard:. "The character classes are the same, and some of the powers are still there (even though they're more functional and more powerful). But we have made improvements that make each of the classes a lot more balanced and fun, so you'll see some new progression mechanics and powers."