The Legend of Vox Machina: Season One Review

The Legend of Vox Machina is rolling high

Created by: Critical Role

Starring: Laura Bailey, Taliesin Jaffe, Ashley Johnson, Liam O’Brein, Marisha Ray, Sam Riegel, Travis Willingham, and Matt Mercer

Keylith: [in the middle of a battle] “Why does this happen every time we go drinking?!

“The Terror of Tal’Dorei, Part One” (Season 1, Episode 1)

Critical Role is a wildly successful series where voice actors gather together to play Dungeons and Dragons. After several campaigns, the cast launched a Kickstarter to develop an animated series based on an early story arc. The Legend of Vox Machina was born and a success for Amazon Prime Video.

A party of scoundrels and reluctant heroes try to save the day while facing off against every nightmare the DM could imagine. So, can The Legend of Vox Machina match its source material or is the game over for these actors? Let’s find out. Roll for initiative! 

The Good

Party Time with The Legend of Vox Machina

[Vox Machina faces off with their greatest foe]
Keylith:
“[casts a spell] “Maybe I can heat the metal and melt the lock.
Scanlan: [sleeve catches fire] “What the hell, Keyleth?! This is imported silk!”
Pike:The door doesn’t seem to be magical. I’m not sensing anything.
Vex:Can you people do nothing right? It’s just a damned door!
Vax: [picks the lock with a toothpick] “All it takes is a little finesse. Amateurs.

The Terror of Tal’Dorei, Part 2” (Season 1, Episode 2)

There are many ways to describe Vox Machina: Anti-heroes, criminals, idiots, a threat to themselves and others, but my favorite is the Guardians of The Galaxy on crack. Their big guy even looks a bit like Drax.

The party’s leader is Vex, a Half-Elf Ranger hunting the dragon who destroyed her home. She is joined by her snarky Rogue brother Vax and her pet bear Trinket. A bubbly but anxious Druid named Keyleth rounds out the Half-Elf trio.

Grog is the team’s muscle, fitting for a dim-witted Goliath Barbarian. He’s friends with Gnomish Cleric Pike, who struggles as everyone’s moral center. Perverted Bard Scanlan serves as the comic relief and magical artillery. The party is rounded out by their world’s first Gunslinger, a human named Percy de Rolo.

Vox Machina is a delight to watch as they stumble their way through their adventures. They are often treated as screw-ups by everyone, but sometimes they show bursts of competence and take down major threats. The voice actors are note-perfect as they return to the roles they spent so long playing.

Into the Briarwoods

Delilah Briarwood:The ritual requires a blood sacrifice. Now, we’re spoiled for choice.

“Depths of Deceit” (Season 1, Episode 10) 

Vox Machina has a lot of power available, so the threats must be even more dangerous. The party is dispatched to track down a monster that has been destroying villages and any heroes sent against it. Vox Machina discovers that the monster is a young dragon named Brimscythe (David Tennant) and must pull out all the stops to survive.

The Briarwood family takes center stage after Brimscythe is dealt with. These blue-blooded aristocrats conquered the city of Whitestone years ago to prepare a dark ritual. The Briarwoods travel to the capital city Emon in the present day to magically dissuade Sovereign Uriel from investigating Whitestone. Vox Machina gets involved because of Percy’s grudge against the Briarwoods.

Lord Sylas Briarwood is the physical threat of the couple. This vampire kills enemies with his bare hands and cursed sword when he doesn’t find it more useful to hypnotize them. Delilah Briarwood (Grey Delisle) is a sorceress who specializes in necromancy and is far more dangerous than her husband.

The Legend of Vox Machina’s villains are arrogant, but can walk the walk. Brimscythe is portrayed as an unstoppable force of nature. The Briarwoods are strong, cunning, politically savvy, and their armies of corrupt guards and undead keep the heroes on the back foot throughout the season. The Briarwoods are also supported by a mysterious patron known only as The Whispered One.

No Mercy Percy

Percy: [holding Dr. Ripley at gunpoint] “You are, at this moment, the luckiest person in all of Whitestone. Do you know why? Because you’re at the bottom of my List.

“Depths of Deceit” (Season 1, Episode 10)

Most of Vox Machina’s members are light-hearted. They can get serious as needed, but otherwise breeze through adventures. The same can’t be said when Percy steps into the spotlight.

The de Rolo family were Whitestone’s rulers until the Briarwoods pulled a bloody coup. Most of the family was killed while Percy and his sister Cassandra were tortured to learn about a macguffin. Percy eventually escaped and went on the run.

While suffering a nightmare, Percy swore to kill the Briarwoods and others who betrayed his family. He woke up with the knowledge of how to forge his signature weapon: The Pepperbox. He created his world’s first gun and joined Vox Machina to gain strength for his revenge quest.

The team agrees to help Percy lead a rebellion against The Briarwoods, but he keeps going off-script to hunt his betrayers. Odd things happen whenever he does. Percy is enveloped in dark smoke and a plague doctor’s mask spontaneously appears on his face. His shadow moves on its own. The target’s name glows on his gun while his eyes burn black and orange. What is the secret behind The Pepperbox?

Bardic Inspiration

[Scanlan plays a few notes moments after a child’s death]
Vax:What the hell are you doing, Scanlan?!”
Scanlan:Trying to think of a rhyme for “dead dragon.” Cause I-I guess we’re killing one.

“The Terror of Tal’Dorei, Part One” (Season 1, Episode 1)

Music can always elevate a scene in The Legend of Vox Machina. The party has Scanlan provide music in-story while his voice actor, Sam Riegel, gets to show off his musical theater training with composer Neal Acree’s help.

The second campaign’s theme song “Your Turn to Roll” is used as the series recurring leitmotif. It gets many remixes, including the jaunty “Tavern Brawl” and creepy “The Cello Begins.” The show also features heroic music such as “Tide of Bone” and “Blinded By The Light.” Darker moments feature the strains of “Meet The Briarwoods” or “When Murder Entered My Heart.”

Scanlan performs many songs in-story. He composes “Pike Trickfoot” as an ode to a teammate who temporarily leaves the party, belts out “You Got Scanlan’d” after a solo mission, and distracts the royal court with the vulgar “Beads of Love.” He also performs impromptu tunes to power up his magic including “Sneaking In” and “The Legend’s Back.”

The Bad

Never Split The Party

Vax:Pike is going to be fine.”
Grog:I know that. She’s stronger than all of us. I’m more worried about us without her.”
Vax:Me too, Grog.”

“Fate’s Journey” (Season 1, Episode 5)

There are some blunders everyone knows not to make. You never get involved in a land war in Asia. You always back off when the DM asks “Are you sure?” Unfortunately, Legends of Vox Machina forgot one of the biggest unspoken rules: never split the party.

Pike is portrayed as one of the strongest party members, but her powers go on the fritz after a battle with Delilah. Unable to use her magic and uncertain of her place in the party, she goes on a quest to reconnect with her god, The Everlight.

Pike’s player, Ashley Johnson, had to leave the campaign for several streams because of schedule conflicts while she appeared on NBC’s Blindspot. Pike’s absence in the show keeps her from interfering in scenes where the character wasn’t present before. Unfortunately, it makes her come across as a deus ex machina when she appears to save the party with her rekindled powers. 

Vex’s pet bear Trinket is also left behind after a few episodes. You’d think they would want an armored bear backing up the party, especially when Vex went to absurd lengths to bring Trinket along.

Short Session for The Legend of Vox Machina

Grog:Here’s one: What’s the strangest creature you’ve ever killed?
Vax:Oh, that’s easy.
Hotis: [facing Vax in a castle] “I will return and I will find you!
Vax: [kills him] “Uh huh. Heard that before.
Keylith:Oh, yeah that’s pretty crazy. I think my strangest kill would be… [cuts to a volcano where she accidentally blasts a foe into lava] Oh, oh no! No, no [pushes him deeper with her foot] shh, shh, go ahead, go ahead, go to sleep.” – “Fate’s Journey” (Season 1, Episode 5)

Critical Role is a very long series. Each stream is 3-5 hours and, at time of writing, there are 295 of them. Before the first campaign was done, they clocked more footage than all of The Simpsons. The Legend of Vox Machina needed to make a few cuts.

The story starts in media res, with the party assembled and looking for work. The first two story arcs are skipped entirely and a problematic former party member never appears. Many items are skipped over and personality traits of the characters are altered to better suit half-hour episodes.

A lot is sidelined, but the writers do a masterful job condensing over forty hours of footage into only six. All the essential plot beats and encounters made it into the show. They also adapted an adventure that wasn’t streamed, expanded Pike and Delilah’s stories, and found time to reference the skipped story arcs.

The Verdict

The Legend of Vox Machina has carved a mountain into a statue. There were a few growing pains during the first season, but new fans now have a gateway into the gargantuan adventure. The characters are fascinating, the music delightful, and the story is engaging. Season 1 is worth your time.

Season one of The Legend of Vox Machina is streaming on Amazon Prime Video. Season two will arrive sometime in January 2023.

Image:  Liam O’Brien (Vax’ildan), Sam Riegel (Scanlan Shorthalt), Taliesin Jaffe (Percy de Rolo), Laura Bailey (Vex’ahlia), Travis Willingham (Grog Strongjaw), Ashley Johnson (Pike Trickfoot), Marisha Ray (Keyleth) in The Legend of Vox Machina, Season 1. Courtesy of Amazon Studios.

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