TV Reviews

The Legend of Vox Machina (Season Two) – TV Review

Fans of Critical Role, the Dungeons & Dragons home game between a group of voice actor friends that spilled onto the Internet, have been eagerly anticipating the latest season of the animated adaptation of their first campaign, The Legend of Vox Machina.

Even before the first season came to a close, those in the know about what was to come were getting excited for what the second season would bring. Early hints of an alliance between dragons paid off in the final moments of the series as four immense, ancient dragons flew towards the city of Emon. The powerful but weird heroes of Vox Machina had managed to take down a vampire lord and his necromancer wife, but how would they fare against this foe?

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Not very well as it turns out, with the opening scenes of this season making it clear that our brave heroes were well and truly out of their depth. Forced to run for their lives, as the city they’d fought for is destroyed around them, thousands of innocent civilians killed by fire, acid, ice, and poison that the four dragons unleashed. With monsters that our heroes couldn’t even touch to deal with, what does that mean for Vox Machina? A epic fetch quest of course! Given a mission by an ancient and powerful entity, the seven heroes learn of artefacts forged by the gods themselves that could help them in their mission to stop the dragon invasion, and save the world. Thus begins the biggest storyline yet; one that is going to take longer than a single season to tell, and may even keep us going for two or three more.

One of the most obvious things about this season of The Legend of Vox Machina is that the stakes are much, much higher this time, and the scale is bigger. In the first season we had a couple of episodes dealing with a dragon (in hindsight a much weaker one), but the majority of the season was a personal story; a character-focused narrative that put Percy (Taliesin Jaffe) at the centre of things. Whilst it had moments that were big in scale, such as the heroes of Vox Machina leading a town full of people against an undead army, it really does pale in comparison to this season. As noted earlier, the opening scenes make it clear that things are different now, and whilst there are quieter momenta along the way, that sense of larger scale never really leaves. Giant creatures of myth battle the group, they travel to alternate planes of existence, they fight armies, they gain immense power, and they have to tangle with a monster so iconic, its name is in the title of the game these folks were playing.

Courtesy of Prime Video. © 2023 Amazon Studios.

Fans of the original stream will find a lot here that they recognise, and some of the best moments of the game have made their way well to the screen. It’s easy to surprise existing fans with new twists and turns in the tale, but The Legend of Vox Machina also manages to make the expected feel shocking and awe inspiring. Whether it’s a fight that you know is about to kick off, a deadly trap that’s about to be activated, or a personal revelation that’s moments away, the series manages to keep existing fans invested. It also adds a lot of new content to the story that will keep those fans on their toes.

One of the best things about Dungeons & Dragons is that it’s co-operative storytelling. The DM creates a world and comes up with a story, but the players shape that story just as much. A DM can prepare certain scenarios for the players to find themselves in, and can try to anticipate what might happen, but you can never fully prepare (the amount of times my players have surprised me with things I never expected are numerous). And whilst this can lead to some incredibly interesting stories, they might not translate well to another medium. As such The Legend of Vox Machina shifts things around, gives some characters some slightly different motivations, and alters some complex back story to make more sense in the moment. I’m sure that there are some Critical Role purists out there that will look at what the show has done and complain that the story isn’t exactly the same, or that it cut some things out, but as it is this story works, it’s entertaining, and it’s accessible to people who’ve never seen the original streams.

Courtesy of Prime Video. © 2023 Amazon Studios.

The jump from playing a game to making a series also allows for the inclusion of a lot more actors and guests. Matt Mercer gets to take a break from voicing every character and does a select few here and there, including one of the new dragon antagonists. The main cast of the series return, with Laura Bailey as the bow-wielding Vex’ahlia, Marisha Ray as the druid Keylith, Ashley Johnson as Pike the gnome cleric, Travis Willingham as half-giant barbarian Grog, Sam Riegel as the musically inclined Scanlan, Liam O’Brien as the roguish Vax’ildan, and Taliesin Jaffe as gunslinger and inventor Percy. Joining them this season include fan favourite guests from the stream Will Friedle and Mary Elizabeth McGlynn, who reprise their characters from the game. Other actors who have appeared in the game’s later campaigns, such as Felicia Day, Robbie Daymond, and Aimee Carrero, make cameo appearances. This season also brings in some superb new actors for Critical Role, such as Ralph Ineson, Cree Summer, and Lance Reddick, to take on some antagonistic roles.

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The series isn’t just content to impress with the voice cast, however, as this season seems to improve upon the animation too. Despite no visible change in presentation, with the new season looking like it did last time, it does feel like perhaps the team behind it have settled into this story and universe. We get some incredibly cool designs for locations and creatures that take the original descriptions cooked up by Matt Mercer and turns them into something truly stunning. And the action sequences feel like the animators are having a lot of fun with things, trying to find the best ways to make the moments really pop on screen. There are a number of scenes scattered throughout the season that will leave you laughing at how ridiculously cool they are, and you might find yourself hard pressed to pick out a single favourite thanks to the overall impressive quality.

The Legend of Vox Machina was something of a gamble when it first began. The show was paid for by the fans, who happily threw their money at the Kickstarter campaign so that their favourite gaming stream could find life in a new form. But the gamble paid off. It turns out that the story of these characters and this world appeal to a whole lot more people than just those who watched the original. It ended up being the quickest funded Kickstarter in history, and the most funded film and TV project. And whilst a third season has yet to be announced it would be an incredibly smart move for Amazon to continue the series on. Since the season started airing it has been announced that the second Critical Role game, The Meighty Nein, is also coming to TV as an animated series. With that one not being fan funded, and Amazon a part of the deal, it looks likely that there’s still a lot of life left in the franchise, and hopefully more of the story of Vox Machina yet to come.

The Legend of Vox Machina is now streaming on Amazon Prime Video.


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