The landing and Mako driving parts always reminded me of Star Control 2 and driving around searching for minerals and biological samples and such. God I loved that game! I wish they'd make something similiar with Mass Effect.
How about instead of buying your gear and upgrades, you only got the blueprints, and you needed to gather the raw materials on the planets you land on? That'd give me incentive to explore, and there'd be more valuable or rare materials on the dangerous worlds.
Diplomacy is the art of saying "nice doggy" until you can find a rock.