The Legend of Vox Machina: first impressions from a ‘Critical Role’ virgin

The Legend of Vox Machina is Amazon Prime’s new animated adaptation of Matt Mercer’s phenomenally successful Dungeons & Dragons web series, Critical Role. I jumped in, as a series novice, and here are my first impressions.

The Legend of Vox Machina is an animated adaptation of Critical Role, a web series that is now surely the most popular Dungeons & Dragons campaign of all time. The series, organised and still owned by a collective of talented voice actors and storytellers, started small but has since become a phenomenon.

Now adaptations of successful video games and books are certainly nothing new, but I was immediately interested in how a tabletop game would translate into a new medium. Storytelling is an integral part of role-playing games, as it is in television, but the way that it comes about is decidedly more random and fluid (thanks to player decision and dice rolls).

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Image: The Legend of Vox Machina / Critical Role Productions

I was also curious how the creators of The Legend of Vox Machina would go about editing what is a gigantic narrative into shorter episodes. Critical Role‘s first season encompasses 115 episodes, each running between three and five hours…which I think we can all agree is a monumental amount of material.

The sheer size of Critical Role actually goes a long way in justifying the existence of The Legend of Vox Machina. As someone who enjoys fantasy, and has some experience with Dungeons & Dragons, I am intrigued by what Matt Mercer and co. have created. It’s just that the required time investment has dissuaded me delving into it.

In this way The Legend of Vox Machina has been tailor made for fantasy fans just like me: filthy casuals. And while I appreciate being thought of, I’ll admit to being sceptical that the show could achieve in minutes what took Critical Role a colossal number of hours.

Does The Legend of Vox Machina do Critical Role justice?

No. But also maybe. After watching the first three episodes on Prime I felt slightly underwhelmed, despite being amused throughout the brief runtime. The animation is pretty great, the voice cast (mostly whom also featured in Critical Role) are game, and the writing wastes no time getting the action started.

Perhaps though, because of the abbreviated nature of the adaptation, the characters don’t come across as particularly interesting. Or rather, they come across as Dungeons & Dragons stereotypes.

There’s the big barbarian with more muscle than brains and a love of grog (he’s named Grog). The do-gooder priest, the mysterious rogue, and the cheeky bard with an enormous libido are all present. You know the drill, these are the characters that you’ve met time and time again, and here they are, again, in The Legend of Vox Machina.

the legend of vox machina first impressions
Image: The Legend of Vox Machina / Critical Role Productions

Unless of course, there’s something more interesting at work here. As a Critical Role virgin all I have to go on is what’s right there in front of me. I have a sneaking suspicion that the web series wouldn’t have received an adaptation as lush as The Legend of Vox Machina if it doesn’t eventually go somewhere more fascinating.

Subverting expectations has become a dirty term since Game of Thrones was done in by inept writing and questionable choices, but I have a strong inclination that we’ll soon see a few curve balls from the writing department. And it’s that feeling that has kept my engagement with The Legend of Vox Machina high, despite it not really blowing me away so far.

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Image: Critical Role / Facebook

Closing thoughts

While The Legend of Vox Machina has yet to leave a mark on me, something about the show that has convinced me it eventually will. The Critical Role team are used to working in a much longer format – and while their animated series gets off the mark fast, a little character development would go a long way.

Considering the series’ origins though, I think it’s only a matter of time and patience until the creators deliver exactly what this story is calling out for: emotional connection and unexpected outcomes.

The Legend of Vox Machina episodes 1-3 are out now on Amazon Prime.