When Rock Band arrived last November it was greeted with both breathless anticipation and a kind of gloomy skepticism. After all, Donkey Konga had given us a rhythm game revolving around drums, Sing Star and Karaoke Revolution had filled our crooning needs and Guitar Hero taught us what it was like to be, well, guitar heroes. So when Rock Band promised and delivered on a group experience combining all of these elements, it was more than a little surprising. Now, nine months later, Rock Band 2 has hit the shelves as a limited exclusive for the Xbox 360 , and it’s safe to say that this newest iteration is the best yet.

See, Rock Band had some issues, only natural when you’re doing something for the first time, and Rock Band 2 tackles the most annoying ones head on. First and foremost, the set up in Rock Band 2 is much less of a headache. Created characters are no longer tied to a specific instrument or group. Pick your character, choose your instrument and let’s kick the tires and light the fires. Since this was my biggest annoyance with Rock Band I’m glad to see that it’s been resolved.

Second of all, Rock Band 2 may have the most rocking set list in a music game so far. Rock Band, not so much. But Rock Band 2 has you imitating everyone from Bon Jovi to Modest Mouse and Journey to Rage Against the Machine. In short, it’s a pretty epic amalgamation. Also, aside from the 84 killer songs on the Rock Band 2 disc, Harmonix has promised an additional 20 free songs via Xbox Live download by the end of the year. While no one is really sure as to what they’re going to be, who cares? They’re free.

And even though these are the two biggest improvements, it doesn’t end there. Features like the “No Fail” mode ensure that your kids, nieces, nephews and rhythmically challenged friends can continue no matter how much they butchered that last solo. The increased difficulty will keep the Rock Band and Guitar Hero elite from becoming bored too quickly, and the plethora of songs available for download will ensure that you always have something new to play. Hypothetically, with all of the downloadable content from Rock Band, you could start up a game of Rock Band 2 with over 300 songs. That’s a lot of virtual shredding.

All in all, while some may dismiss Rock Band 2 as more of an expansion pack than a full-fledged sequel, the many improvements and truly amazing set list make this a sequel much more worthy of your $60 than the otherwise tempting Dawson’s Creek season 1 on Blu-ray disc.