When it comes to the world of Dungeons and Dragons web series and podcasts, Critical Role is likely the one that comes to everyone’s mind. Partly responsible for the revival of Dungeons and Dragons when it started back in 2012, Critical Role stood out from the crowd of other burgeoning D&D media because it not only featured a cast of working actors as players but, it had a high-production value and was supported by a strong narrative thanks to Matt Mercer. The joy of watching Critical Role was linked intrinsically to the random and unpredictable nature of the tabletop game. Couple that with the strong skills of improving from the player actors, and you have a match made in heaven. However, how does that translate to animation? How does that translate into an episodic story?
The Legend of Vox Machina got off to an incredibly strong start with Season 1, which premiered last year. It not only had to introduce audiences to the world of Exandria, but it had to introduce us to eight main characters who each have their own complex story and history. The first season focused mainly on the Percy de Rolo (Taliesin Jaffe) story arc while also allowing the story to branch out and introduce us to his fellow group members organically. But now that we’re past the introductions, how is Vox Machina handling its sophomore season? Much like before, the show follows a close structure to their original campaign, however, the show is undoubtedly based on a Dungeons and Dragons campaign.
Now, on one hand, that is great. Character decisions and actions feel randomized sometimes. A character decides to walk away from the group, a silly comment is made, something backfires in the face of one of the characters. For anyone who has played Dungeons and Dragons, this feels par for the course. Especially when something backfires, that feels very much in line with a bad roll of the dice. But, on the other hand, this loyalty to the campaign, makes the show feel too disparate at times. As a tabletop gamer, the season was thrilling to watch because it felt so much like watching a campaign come to life, but I often wondered, “Would anyone who doesn’t play D&D, who doesn’t know Critical Role, who is simply perusing Prime Video and turning this series on understand what is happening?”
However, this series is improving. The second season has stunning animation and graphics, emotional storylines that hit you right in the heart, and the voice acting is, no surprise, top-tier. It’s also exciting to get to delve deeper into the background of these characters, to get to see into their past, something that the series offers that unique from the web series. But, as seasons go on, I wonder how niche this show might become. Not only is it an animated show, and not only is it fantasy, but there’s this added layer of adaptation from tabletop gaming that might only become more overt with time.
Another issue is the season’s pacing. While 12 episodes are the same number of episodes that we got for Season 1, it doesn’t feel like enough time. There are a lot of characters, and while we focus on a few each season, it feels like we’re short-changing the others. We get some background into Vex (Laura Bailey) and Vax’s (Liam O’Brien) backstory, though it sort of lingers in the background with Vax’s own storyline taking the spotlight. Marisha Ray‘s Keyleth gets her moment to shine but largely exists as an auxiliary character this season. Grog (Travis Willingham) and Scanlan (Sam Riegel) get their time, but it feels rushed, simply because their stories feel like side missions to the main mission. Of course, we get little to nothing new with Percy, and Pike (Ashley Johnson) is once again just there.
It’s not to say these characters don’t have their moments, and they don’t shine in those moments — they do. But it feels like we’ve been given a taste, and then it is taken away. This season tackles the Chroma Collective, a group of villainous dragons that attack humanity that the group must face off against. The quest nature of the episodes provides a good skeleton but ultimately leads to a necessity of keeping up with the pace of the main plot rather than digging into any one story for too long.
While it’s been exciting to return to The Legend of Vox Machina, it almost feels like the series needs to deviate from the original web series campaign a bit in order to fully find its footing as a TV show. It’s still funny and heartfelt and epic, but it needs a bit of polishing — something that I hope will happen in Season 3. Critically, it could use some refining, but as a fan of the game, sometimes it just feels good to watch a campaign play out like how we all imagined it in our heads.
The Legend of Vox Machina Season 2 premieres January 20 on Prime Video.