Halfway by way of its eight-episode run, Exandria Unlimited is shaping as much as be an exquisite little Dungeons & Dragons journey set inside Critical Role’s world of Exandria. This newest precise play sequence encompasses a new host, new forged members, and a brand new pre-recorded format. But it’s truly monitoring in direction of longer episodes than its predecessors. While it’s plenty of enjoyable for current followers, it won’t truly be the very best place for newcomers to get began with this franchise.
Critical Role is an organization based by voice actor Matt Mercer and his shut pals, who additionally occur to be skilled voice actors. Their predominant product is a livestreamed present the place they play D&D, also referred to as an precise play sequence. Once every week since 2012, they’ve proven up on Twitch to run by way of two completely different campaigns known as Vox Machina and the Mighty Nein, each of that are set inside their very own excessive fantasy world of Exandria.
It’s exhausting to understate simply how a lot Critical Role there’s on the earth already. It is huge, with 256 exhibits over simply two seasons and over 1,000 hours of current content material. (For context, Grey’s Anatomy — a 17-season medical procedural — is barely 363 hours lengthy.) There’s additionally a Critical Role sourcebook from D&D writer Wizards of the Coast, a line of miniatures from WizKids, a middling board sport, and two seasons of an animated sequence on the way in which at Amazon Prime Streaming.
Despite Critical Role’s industrial success, criticisms of the present have been mounting through the years — first, that the forged wasn’t numerous sufficient and, second, that there was actually no straightforward manner in to understanding this world with out beginning all the way in which again firstly.
There nonetheless isn’t.
In pitching the present to new audiences, Critical Role said newcomers “can jump in completely fresh” to this journey. That isn’t precisely true. New followers may simply really feel as if they’re becoming a member of an journey that began with out them. The sequence begins with a celebration of characters who’ve already recognized one another for every week, showing to have current relationships however experiencing shared amnesia. That’s hardly a clean onramp for brand new viewers.
While that is completely different from the basic “you meet in a tavern” trope, it could possibly go away newcomers feeling as if they’re lacking one thing. Rather than creating a way of thriller for viewers to eagerly unravel, it virtually feels as if you’ve jumped in an episode too late, such as you’re scrambling to know what’s happening. It leaves you with the outdated cliché that “it gets good in a few episodes,” however sitting by way of a number of episodes right here isn’t any imply feat.
The greater drawback is the present’s size. Three of the primary 4 episodes clock in at over 4 hours — longer than the common operating time of Critical Role’s earlier episodes. To put that in perspective, you’ll be able to watch the whole lot of Loki in much less time than it takes to sit down by way of the primary two episodes.
While this sort of sprawling fashion is comprehensible when streaming stay — which has at all times been the group’s most well-liked format — it may be exhausting for viewers to search out that a lot uninterrupted time. And but Exandria Unlimited has been pre-recorded, suggesting it may have been a extra streamlined expertise. It feels greater than slightly self-indulgent and represents a missed alternative to make the present extra open and interesting.
Be that as it might, Exandria Unlimited continues to be a giant step in the fitting path. Until now, Mercer has been the one Dungeon Master (DM) to take cost of this Tolkien-esque world. The sequence’ new DM, Aabria Iyengar, is extraordinary. Despite having exceptionally giant sneakers to fill, she manages to create an extremely detailed and exquisite world whereas having her personal distinctive fashion.
It is a really completely different fashion of play, nevertheless. Iyengar lets her DM masks fall far more usually than Mercer ever did, overtly saying when her gamers have diverted her and bringing ridiculous references from the actual world into Exandria’s canon. She’s far more off-the-cuff and relaxed, though that’s to not say her tales aren’t going to hit you as exhausting as Mercer’s do. Some of her descriptions are extra stunning than some fantasy novels and, with out saying an excessive amount of, the way in which she brings again outdated characters and provides them a brand new lease on life is past fulfilling. Some followers of the sequence have develop into wedded to the concept that Mercer’s manner is the one solution to play, however Iyengar’s work right here goes a good distance towards proving that Critical Role doesn’t at all times want Mercer on the head of the desk to succeed.
The world-building and the characters in Exandria Unlimited are additionally a delight. Not solely does Iyengar carry viewers to an in depth, wealthy, and vibrant place, the participant characters fill it with spontaneity and life. Perhaps essentially the most fulfilling to look at, unsurprisingly, is Mercer. The mastermind has actually switched off for this journey, diving into his single character and talking first with out bothering to assume issues by way of. In the function of Dariax Zaveon, a sorcerer with a legal previous, he has set himself free with a form of childlike abandon. He’ll say no matter pops into his head and wreck no matter Iyengar and the gang have deliberate, at all times with delightfully outlandish penalties. After over 5 years of being derailed by his gamers, the boot is now firmly on the opposite foot.
Aimee Carrero (She-Ra and the Princesses of Power, Elena of Avalor) can also be a spotlight. The actor was initially as a result of be a part of the forged for a cameo in Critical Role’s second marketing campaign, however she needed to miss out as a result of pandemic. Her character, Opal, is a naïve warlock, and Carrero absolutely commits to the doe-eyed, small-town lady character, letting the viewers view the world of Exandria by way of the eyes of a real newcomer. Unlike fellow newcomer Robbie Daymond (Marvel’s Spider-Man, Sailor Moon), Carrero is a real novice, and it’s nice for folks nervous about D&D to see you can play with actually no expertise. While the extra seasoned gamers like Liam O’Brien (Star Wars: Rebels, The Last of Us Part 2), Ashley Johnson (The Last of Us, The Avengers), and Daymond are the extra wise members of the group, usually making an attempt to drive plot forwards, Mercer and Carrero delight within the ridiculousness that D&D can afford its gamers. This is arguably what the present ought to have extra of.
Through 4 episodes, Exandria Unlimited has been capable of retain what makes Critical Role so beloved by so many followers, whereas bringing new voices to the desk. It nonetheless feels such as you’re watching a detailed group of pals taking part in round, all whereas attending to get pleasure from a high-stakes fantasy journey.
Is it a bit meandering? Yes. Will newcomers be postpone by the sheer measurement of the time dedication required? Absolutely. This isn’t the contemporary begin that we anticipated. It’s not an journey for the uninitiated, however as an alternative an interstitial journey full of pre-existing lore and in-jokes to outdated campaigns, and no clear start line for brand new followers to attach with. But it’s nonetheless plenty of enjoyable.