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Critical Role has made itself known as one of the most popular and best DnD adjacent series to watch nerdy voice actors play Dungeons & Dragons. In three major campaigns for almost 10 years now, Matthew Mercer and his cohorts have crafted some of the most iconic fantasy adventuring parties. While Hasbro and Wizards of the Coast higher-ups and execs are trying to put out the fire they have put out with the situation with the Original Game License as of writing this, it doesn’t detract that Critical Role is one of the series that has revitalized interest in the gaming. All the while, the owners of said franchise are trying to burn the fanbase to the ground right when a new film is about to come out. Anyway, that doesn’t and won’t stop people from loving Critical Role, and this new season is worth all of the hype.
Created by Matthew Mercer, based on his own personal Dungeons & Dragons campaign, and produced by Titmouse. Directly picking up after season 1, our group of heroes that includes sibling elves Vex and Vax Vessar, voiced by Liam O-Brien and Laura Bailey, Grog Strongjaw, voiced by Travis Willingham, Percy, voiced by Taliesin Jaffe, Pike Trickfoot, voiced by Ashley Johnson, Scanlan Shorhalt, voiced by Sam Riegel, Keyleth, voiced by Marisha May, now must take on an epic journey to save not only the kingdom, but the realm from a group of dragons called the Chroma Conclave. This is a group of ancient dragons led by a red dragon named Thordak, voiced by Lance Reddick. The other dragons include Umbrasyl, voiced by Matthew Mercer, Vorugal, voiced by Liam O’Brien, and Raishan, voiced by Cree Summers. Our motley crew of adventurers realizes they are not strong enough to take down any of them and decide to find some special magical items to help them take down these dragons. Along the way, they will go through their own personal story arcs and encounter personal roadblocks that will get in their way of killing the dragons that want to rule the world.
So, what does season 2 improve upon and add on top of the stellar first season? Because, this is the story arc that takes up a mass majority of the first Critical Role campaign and while we all love listening and relistening to the video versions of their adventures that go on for a few hours, there is no way they could fit all of that into each episode. What’s interesting is how they have pretty much had to rewrite the entire backstory for some characters to fit an entirely new origin story. Now, it isn’t as dramatic as it sounds, because many of the characters you love in this quirky crew of dragon slayers keep their origins like Vax, Vex, and Grog. The only one who ends up getting any major change to the story is Scanlan, but you will find out what happens when you get to that point in the show. Still, they make some changes to how certain side or guest characters from the original campaign play into the respective arcs. From the trailer for season two, you will see the animated incarnations of fan-favorite campaign 1 guest stars Zahra Hydris, voiced by Mary Elizabeth McGlynn (who is also a major part of the behind-the-scenes side of production for this show) and Kashaw Vesh, voiced by Will Friedle. Not much has truly changed about their personalities, but since we skipped the original arc where these two were introduced, they reworked their first arrival to the show as pretty good foils to the team with some backstory and some of the details and interactions intact and or changed for the better. At the end of the day, you have to recraft a lot of this show to fit a TV series that’s more story-driven than a streaming series. Not that it’s a bad thing, because while fans of the franchise will know or recognize certain story beats that will be tackled in this season, you would worry that out of 12 episodes, they are going to shove in too much and be a bundled mess of trying to get through as much story from the original campaign as possible. Luckily, every main character gets about two-three episodes to have an arc, and they tend to keep the most important story beats and moments from the start of the arc to the first encounter with one of the dragons.
It’s a nice change of pace to see everyone else get some time in the spotlight. Not that the first season didn’t have any moments where everyone got to shine, because it did, but let’s be real, a lot of the first season is the Percy show due to how it becomes about his dangerous journey to get revenge on his family. Everyone had their moments to shine, but you wouldn’t say they got the most focus. It helps the new season feel more like it was all about the entire team. It helps everyone have more focused plots and they weren’t rushing to get to the end of this arc. That’s what happens when ya get renewed for a third season before the second season airs. Still, seeing everyone show off different shades and sides of their characters is a real high point of this season.
Animation-wise, this is a vast improvement from the first season. The backgrounds look better, the movements look better, the compositing looks better, the dynamic action feels snappier, and its use of CGI is vastly superior to its use from the first season. The dragons especially look amazing. The way they craft their bodies and textures makes it look less like a cel-shaded CGI creature than the first season’s dragon looked like, compared to everyone else. It seemed out of place, but these dragons in season 2 felt like they were in the same shot as the 2D characters and backgrounds. The voice cast is as stellar as usual. When you base your entire DnD show with some of the industry’s best voice actors, then you know you are going to get stellar performances, and the new actors they brought in for the new cast members include Henry Winkler, Billy Boyd, Lance Reddick, Cree Summers, Will Friedle, Alanna Ubach, Cheech Marin, Troy Baker, Sendhil Ramamurthy, Ralph Inerson, and Mary Elizabeth McGlynn.
Critical Role’s The Legend of Vox Machina Season 2 is how you do a second season right. You up the stakes, you don’t slow down the pacing, you expand upon the characters, you build up the world around them, and for those that don’t watch the video form of the first campaign, feel welcome into jumping into this world that will probably get them interested to see the original campaign. It’s a win-win for everyone because both are a great way to experience solid storytelling and fun character interactions from some of the industry’s best voice actors. The only difference is that while the video form of campaign 1 is great, season 2 cuts a lot of the fat and streamlines it. Since everyone who is a major part of season 1 has creative control over how they tell the story, and how to tell it the best, this is how you do perfect adaptations. It’s a shame that Hasbro and Wizards of the Coast were or still are trying to burn as many bridges as possible by trying to make Dungeons and Dragons as monetized and hostile as possible, please don’t take it out on the people working on the game when the higher-ups are at fault there, and don’t let their antics take away from enjoying Critical Role and this new season of Vox Machina. Definitely give it a watch on Prime Video and it’s doing the usual three-episode-a-week release strategy. You will definitely be down for some dragon slaying with this party. Now then, next time, we will be talking about a particularly self-titled “amazing” cat with The Amazing Maurice!