A new section of Mass Effect 2 was playable at CES 2010 and was also (sadly) my first time playing the game. Although my time was brief, I got a good sense of all of the improvements BioWare has made to the franchise.
I won't go over all of the new gameplay mechanics and changes as Patrick Klepek has already written an excellent preview, but I can give some details on the new quest I was able to play.
Shepard and two new teammates, Miranda and Jacob from Cerberus (vagueness intentional to avoid spoilers! Read Patrick's preview if you'd like to know more), have arrived at a medical facility to seek the help of the doctor in charge. To make matters more complicated, however, the facility seems to be suffering from a plague to which humans have a convenient immunity. This causes a bit of distrust among the aliens suffering from the plague. Many are not willing to accept help from Shepard.
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Depending on previous choices, some of the guards in the station could be hostile in addition to the plagued creatures and anti-human faction. After some quick combat, I make my way to the doctor and get two quests. The first is to find his assistant Daniel, who has gone missing in hostile territory. The next is to distribute the plague's cure through the station's air system.
I accept and head into the next area. It's at this point that I pause to notice how much faster the game plays. There's no lengthy elevator sequence to hide a loading screen. I don't have to travel very far through mostly empty hallways and rooms to get to the next bit of action. Before long, I come upon a room where a human is being held at gunpoint, accused of spreading the plague.
I could blast the aliens, but I choose the diplomatic path. Shepard easily defuses the situation with his silver tongue, gaining Paragon points in the process. The human turns out to be Daniel and I send him running along back to the clinic. It's a quick quest with a lot of options for completion. I could have killed the aliens even after I got them to let Daniel go, if I had wanted to.
As for the Paragon and Renegade paths, you won't be dropping skill point after skill point into Charm or Intimidate to open up conversation options. Instead, these options will be available to you at certain times and you'll gain points along either morality path according to these choices as you play. This way, players will be able to focus on developing Shepard for combat and not conversation.
Unfortunately, my time with the game ended before I could continue to the next quest, but my brief time with the game left me with one impression: Mass Effect 2 should improve on the first game in every way. You won't want to miss it!