Game of the Year. This was an instant thought of mine as soon as I shot my final bullet deep into the chest of the warrior. Borderlands 2 excels in almost every aspect and is just shy of gaming nirvana. The combination of FPS action and RPG customization provides a smooth and incredibly enjoyable ride throughout the entire game. Borderlands 2 meets and exceeds its predecessor in every way. 

From the moment you enter the game, you are greeted with an extremely hostile, yet beautiful, environment that screams, "Welcome back to Pandora!" With the particularly unique graphic style, the game is eye candy to the beholder. It gives off the feel of a comic book with its thickly outlined and deeply shaded characters and environments. Everything from the characters to the smallest environmental details seemed to have been meticulously crafted to be unique. For me, the Wild Life Preserve was especially striking. The mix of Hyperion Machinery and Pandora's natural wildlife blended into a vivid display of color and destruction. Expertly crafted environments such as Borderland's are only rivaled by some of the best games graphically such as Assassin's Creed. 

Also, throughout the game, the player meets many different characters with their own unique personalities including the original four vault hunters. Every unique character in the game is memorable in their own way. You will never forget Scooter's famous catch phrase, "CATCH A RIDE!" or Moxxi's.....uhhhh.......figure. Characters such as Tiny Tina will leave you gasping for air with laughter because they are simply so over the top. Personally, one of my favorite parts of the game is interacting with the original four vault hunters. Gearbox did a great job expanding on each one of their stories and personas. It really was great fun fighting along side the characters that took up so much of my time in the original Borderlands. Oddly enough, however, the star of the game is not any of the original four vault hunters or even your own character. Handsome Jack, the main antagonist, shines in the spot light from the beginning to the end. Jack's character design was given one goal : piss off the player. Jack masterfully and creatively met this goal on so many levels. From constantly insulting the player to killing off some of our most beloved characters in Borderlands, Jack did it all. I have never once so badly wanted to eliminate the antagonist of any game. This, however, is not what made Jack so intriguing. It is the fact that he was actually somewhat of a likeable character. I found so much of his dialogue to be simply hilarious, especially the conversation you have with him about his diamond horse "Butt Stallion." Jack was also very difficult to predict emotionally. I could never tell if he was being truthful or if he was just setting another trap for me. To this day I still wonder if he truly believed that he was the "good" guy of the game, or if he was just crazy (I'm leaning towards crazy). It will be no surprise to me if Handsome Jack wins Villain of the Year this coming December.  

As for the gameplay, Borderlands 2 does not fail to impress. Everything about the gameplay is perfect. Easy controls, simple inventory management, smooth combat, perfect. The variety in gameplay is literally never ending. The random gun generator is ten times better than the original. I still open every lootable place just for a the possibility of finding a new weapon. The skill trees are also great. Gameplay will significantly change according to where you place your skills. Unlike many other games, the skills do not simply tweak your player slightly, they change your player completely. You can instantly go from an insane pyromaniac to a defensive healer by simply respecing your skills. The possibilities are endless. Right now, I prefer to play as the Siren Maya and focus mostly on her cataclysm skill tree. I never tire of setting every enemy I see on fire!

The only thing that may be holding Borderlands back is a somewhat weak story. Similarly to the original, the player is burdened with the task of finding the vault and then killing the big bad monster inside. Perhaps a little more interaction with the original four vault hunters could have added to the story. A more personal complaint I have about the Borderlands story is that it made me feel as if I completely wasted my time playing the original Borderlands. The way that Jack used the original vault hunters during the entire first game really bothered me (and also made me want to kill Jack that much more)

In conclusion, Gearbox once again delivers with Borderlands 2. With only minor things preventing it from receiving the oh so illustrious 10 rating, it is a must have for 2012. The cooperative and expansive gameplay will have you coming back to Pandora again and again.