I feel like this is potentially misleading. For anyone who hasn’t played ME2, it’s actually better on conversations, missions and NPC interactions than ME1, particularly dramatic ones (ME3 is a more complex issue - it’s kind of worse than ME2 on this). The stuff that I’d consider to the core of what makes a role-playing game a role-playing game, not merely a game with a lot of numbers.
It puts the focus on these elements and the combat.
Whereas ME1 has a fairly poor weapon/armour system, with a dreadful inventory system, where most weapons are either unusable or merely linear upgrades of other weapons (similarly with armour), which mostly just acts to cause you a problem, by either forcing you into tedious inventory management, or making you overpowered or underpowered. It’s very easy to break the game at higher levels, or to have a companion character (particularly Tali IIRC) become significantly disadvantaged (on harder settings) at lower levels, because decent armour won’t drop or be sold for them.
ME2 also simplifies the character upgrade/level-up system into a smaller number of more significant decisions, rather than spending lots of points which just give +2.5% damage with X weapon or the like. I don’t really see that as “dialing back” an RPG element, though.
Obviously YMMV but I couldn’t disagree more re: weight/feedback, and I think a side-by-side comparison with Spec Ops or, say, GoW2 would show that this isn’t right on a more objective level. It’s also definitely misleading to suggest enemies are more “bullet sponges” than, say in GoW games or most cover shooters. Even on Insanity that is demonstrably not the case. It is more the case than Spec Ops, I think though. The sound design for combat is superb, too, waaay ahead of Spec Ops (which isn’t shoddy here).
However, there is one big difference that may be significant here: ME2’s combat is pretty shallow/crap unless you’re on the top two difficulties. Whereas GoW/Spec Ops play decently on the default difficulty. I’m pretty sure this is a sacrifice to being a CRPG - I can actually see what you’re saying re: it merely slowing you down more on the normal difficulty as compared to ME1. You don’t really have to play it very well or really use your abilities or anything on normal on either, but combat tends to be more mindless in ME1, and you can get to be overpowered much more easily, and thus blow through it - which is a failure of design on one level, but as you say it means you can almost skip the combat.
ME3’s default difficulty is a bit higher, and it’s also better-designed in terms of weapons/guns than ME2, so it can be more engaging. However, the combat arena/level design for ME3 is distinctly inferior to ME2 I’d suggest overall it’s a wash. It does play even better on higher difficulties though, as all classes work well (whereas in ME2 that’s not the case). Interestingly ME3 adds an extra setting to make the combat completely trivial, Story Mode.