Three years ago, Gearbox made Borderlands, a fun, fast-paced, colorful shooter with cool characters, a unique style, and a hell of a lot of guns. They gave us genuinely funny dialogue (a hard thing to come by in games), a dancing robot, a murderous bird…and I loved it. I poured hours upon hours into that game and the DLC, growing more and more attached to my siren despite not knowing a damn thing about her, and I counted down the weeks, then the days, and then the hours until the launch of its successor.

I’ve lost over one hundred and ninety hours of my life to Borderlands 2. It would easily have been more, if only this pesky job wasn’t getting in the way.

…well, maybe I haven’t quite lost those hours. Maybe I’ve sacrificed them willingly – like Matchstick to the Firehawk – pledging my undying loyalty to a game that has entertained, challenged, and devastated me more than any game in recent memory.

Borderlands 2 succeeds where a lot of games have failed for me lately. See, I still have the tendency to fangirl here and there and get really addicted to a game for a bit – I’m looking at you, Diablo III – but it takes a lot more to really hook me on a game nowadays. I’m a lot less willing (and able) to devote the amount of hours to a game like I used to; I like to say that I have a more refined taste in games…but realistically, it’s mostly just that I’m just a lot busier than I used to be. (Damn adulthood!) A game has to be something really special to make me forgo sleep and neglect the other things in my life for it night after night.

But I’ve eagerly done that here, because Borderlands 2 really does have it all. Interesting characters, challenging enemies, awesome-looking environments, unlimited loot, customization, and a solid story because OH MY GOD the story.

There was honestly a point that I got so worked up that I set my controller down, turned to my boyfriend, and said, “I don’t know if I can keep playing right now.”

And I didn’t. I seriously needed some time, because I got legitimately upset over this game. Of course I came back in a few hours with a cold beer and a vengeance, wanting nothing more than to plow through the rest of the game that night just so I could blast Handsome Jack in the face with a rocket or seven.

And maybe it didn’t happen that night, but boy…did it feel good when I finally got that chance.

Because Handsome Jack is crafted as a perfect villain, truly. It was easy to hate him right off the bat, with his snarky comments and merciless killing and fancy statues…but I’ve grown to have a truly irrational hatred for him. I hate him more than Vergil in Devil May Cry. More than Shao Kahn in Mortal Kombat. Even more than my sister and I hate the team of Peach and Daisy in Mario Tennis, those bitches.

So if you were worried at all that BL2 wouldn’t deliver a captivating story, don’t. They fixed it. The overarching story is well-crafted and successful at wringing some emotion out of even the most heartless of vault hunters, and all of the other characters you meet along that journey make the ride that much more entertaining. They each have their own little quirks, their own voice, and – perhaps most importantly – a real place in the story. The side quests you do for them feel well-designed and well-integrated – a far cry from the hundreds of fetch quests we all eventually grew tired of in the first installment.

For those of you that didn’t care for the mundane, admittedly repetitive optional missions of Borderlands, if you don’t want to spend time comparing stats of hundreds of thousands of guns, shields, and grenades – because I totally see that those things get monotonous and irritating – you don’t have to. Skip the side quests, don’t bother meticulously reviewing every loot drop, and you’ll still be able to experience the story. I implore you to at least give it a try. Just make sure you grab a friend or two to do it.

If you’re looking for to play solo, prepare yourself for a challenge. BL2 was clearly built for multiplayer, and you’ll notice even some of the easier boss fights can get really tough when you’re trying to tackle them alone (unless you’ve got a un-nerfed Bee and a Conference Call, of course…but we won’t talk about that). As a sucker for good co-op, it’s easy to see why I love this game like I do.

The combat system feels largely unchanged, in a very good way. It’s familiar and comfortable, and while the controls don’t compare to those of technical shooters out there, they fit right in here. Classes still allow for virtually any gamer to find a character they love and build them to their play-style; skill trees have been significantly improved, allowing for more variation within each tree and potentially turning one assassin into a sniping machine and the next into a melee monster.

The attention to detail in everything from the sleeker, sexier UI that actually works well in split-screen to the metal rank emblem in Axton’s forehead to the fact that there are visible casting lines and no large screws on Tediore weapons because they’re meant to be one-time use (betcha didn’t know that), Gearbox has outdone themselves.

And in all those things, it feels like they catered to the fans without sacrificing what they think makes a good game. They kept their snarky, sarcastic tone and beat you over the head with memes and pop-culture references, but didn’t forget that at the end of the day they still had to deliver a game with a story that meant something. A game that would make you want to keep playing long after your first playthrough. Hell, they gave us unlimited amount of Badass Ranks so we never get bored and could improve our stats forever, then with a recent patch allowed players to reset challenges after accomplishing a certain percentage of them, effectively turning forever into forever-ever.

Which is good, because I fully intend on playing this game into the ground or until another sequel comes out – just like I did the first game.

Gearbox has already released the two campaign add-on, in the form of Captain Scarlett and her Pirate’s Booty and Mr. Torgue’s Campaign of Carnage (and the third, Sir Hammerlock’s Big Game Hunt is coming January 15)…much to my delight. And while I have some gripes, I felt like they’ve been well worth the money – even if I hadn’t gotten the discounted rate with my Season Pass – and definitely stood on their own as DLC, in that they didn’t feel like they just removed six or so hours of gameplay from the main game and charged the players for it.

Also, Mr. Torgue is one of the funniest characters ever created. Seriously.

Look, I shouldn’t need to sell you on this game. It’s got 87 bazillion guns, badass chicks doing badass things, and more explosions than you can possibly comprehend. Just go buy it. Period.

…or should I say, EXPLERIOD   ҉ ,