Nearly two years after their monumentally successful Kickstarter Campaign, critters will finally be able to jump into Critical Role: The Legend of Vox Machina. The animated series tells the streamlined story of Critical Role’s first campaign, following the adventures of the party known as Vox Machina: Vex, Vax, Percy, Keyleth, Pike, Scanlan, and Grog. We were able to check out the first six episodes and are excited to give you some spoiler-free first impressions of what the animation has to offer.
The series wastes no time in reminding the viewers that this will not be your typical fantasy story–and does so with all of the violence and humor Critters have come to expect of the series. The first two episodes are set before the campaign aired, at a low point for Vox Machina, when the party threatens to splinter and break apart. The story, even from the start, diverges slightly from the streamed campaign; several allied NPCs have yet to befriend the party, and the entire Underdark arc has been skipped over in favor of a dramatic battle with an iconic D&D monster.
A drunken brawl, a sequence that will be very familiar to anyone who watched the New York Comic Con stream, sets the party in search of coin, where all roads inevitably lead to the Council of Tal’Dorei. The group set off to stop some unidentified force, which has been wreaking havoc along across the countryside, and things pretty immediately stop going as planned. Faced with a frightening foe, a near-death experience, ridicule from the Council, and relatively fragile party bonds, each member of Vox Machina must find their own way to overcome their fear, mistrust, or renegade natures and continue to fight for both their homeland, their friends, and, of course, their reward.
The show moves at a very rapid pace—any faster and it would feel rushed, though it manages to fall just shy of that mark. It’s a quick, rewarding romp for those familiar with the characters and stories, though I do worry that this pace will leave newcomers unable to connect fully with each member of the party. Percy is sure to quickly become a fan-favorite, as the show quickly jumps into his backstory via the Briarwood Arc, and several characters shine early on through humor or empathy, but we may not be given enough time to really fall in love with others.
While Critters will understand the emotional weight of Pike’s story arc, for example, newcomers to Vox Machina may struggle to understand the importance of her decisions and what it means for the rest of the party as a whole. Romances are also streamlined and much more obvious from earlier on; while certain characters may engage in a bit of flirtation across the board, there’s no shortage of hints about who they will ultimately end up with. Overall, drama, story, humor, and action are all nicely balanced, but I can’t help but feel that it would be nice to have a few extra minutes per episode to just let things breathe a little.
Visually, Critical Role: The Legend of Vox Machina is stunning. While this is not entirely surprising, given that Titmouse Studios is known for quality, the animation pops, regardless of if the scene revolves around a conversation around a campfire, an incredibly gory fight, or the way the light reflects off a rainbow codpiece. It does not shy away from the themes typical of the stream—that includes carefully arranged sex scenes, the occasionally stunning depiction of graphic violence and gore, and the death of the occasional child or two. The show makes sparing but striking uses of 3D animation to add to certain scenes and effects, and while it blends better and is far less jarring than in many anime, it’s still an obvious difference which fans will either love or recoil from.
It likely comes as no surprise that the voice acting is top-notch, with numerous background voices provided by the main cast, but they’re not alone. While it’s fun picking out which cast member voiced which background character, it’s a real treat to see that several prominent characters of color are voiced by people of color, including Sunil Malhotra, Tracie Thoms, Eugene Byrd, Stephanie Beatriz, Gina Torres, Kelly Hu, Anjali Bhimani, Khary Payton, and many more. The music and sound design are also excellent, with key moments of silence and the eerie sound of creaking ropes offsetting the trimming baselines of battle music.
All in all, Critical Role: The Legend of Vox Machina is an eye-catching, fast-paced, bite-sized version of a much longer and more robust campaign. It’s a delightful snack, and something I’m looking forward to watching again, but is also not nearly as deep, nuanced, nor fulfilling as the original. Of course, that could make it ideal for those who don’t have the time or interest to watch hundreds of hours of D&D. It’s a treat for those familiar with the world and characters, but we’ll have to wait and see if it’s robust enough to captivate the adult animation crowd and prove itself worth the cost of an Amazon Prime subscription? Only time will tell.
Don’t miss our video interview with Matt Mercer and the entire cast of Critical Role, where we discuss The Legend of Vox Machina, Campaign 3, and… Vox Machina on ice?! Critical Role: The Legend of Vox Machina will air exclusively on Prime Video, with the first three episodes releasing January 28th.
Chaotic wholesome. Dice-maker. DM and TTRPG performer. Shiny Pokémon hunter. Kay works in video games during the day, speaks at conferences during the weekends, and pretends to be an orc, tiefling, android, etc by night.