Without question ME2 is an improvement over the first game. I could never go back and play the first game. Just because the first game gives you the illusion of freedom, doesn't mean it actually counted for anything. The Mako roving was so utterly pointless as you go from place to place in buildings and structures with same environments over and over again.
The gameplay of ME2 was far better than the first game. In the first ME, where's the challenge in just being able to hang back and fire away with a sniper rifle with no need to reload ammo? Every ME game has some legit gripe.
I'm not sure I really get where the OP is coming from, but to each their own.