Exandria Unlimited has come to an end. I reviewed each episode as they came out and I’ve had some time to reflect on the series as a whole. I wrote a nearly 6,000 word script and spent an entire week creating my Exandria Unlimited Campaign Video Review (watch below).
I easily came to the conclusion that Exandria Unlimited was a rare misstep for Critical Role. Tremendous amounts of hype led to a lackluster final product.
Exandria Unlimited was a failure. It was bad and not worth watching.
Yes, there were some bright spots; mostly Robbie and Matt Mercer, but Exandria Unlimited was ultimately, hard to follow, and even harder to watch. The plot, the GM, and the cast — all contributed their fair share of problems.
What Is Exandria Unlimited?
The party meets at Everdon, a party for civilization’s dawn and promises to hold through for the new year. But we do not see this celebration; Instead, we are introduced to the characters, one-by-one, the following morning. New DM or GM, as she prefers, Aabria Iyengar asks each PC (player character) where they wake up and how they feel from the previous night of partying.
Orym — A Halfling Fighter of the Air Ashari played by Liam O’brien.
Fearne Calloway — a Satyr Druid played by Ashley Johnson.
Dorian Storm — an Air Genasi Bard played by Robbie Daymond.
Dariax Zaveon — a Dwarf Sorcerer played by Matthew Mercer.
Opal — a Human Hexblade Warlock played by Aimee Carrero.
And later on, guest party member — Fy’ra Rai, a Fire Genasi Monk played by Anjali Bhimani.
Our adventure starts with the party waking up from a heavy night of drinking. Although, they all mysteriously don’t remember the following night, and more significantly, the previous week.
After our introductions (and a little too much potty humor), our group heads home from breakfast, where they run into Poska, a thief of the Nameless Ones, a group of thieves guild criminals who are rampant in the city of Emon. Poska is seen marking the house they are staying at, but pretty easily, spills the beans on her true intentions, only to give the party a test job for some thievery. Prove their worth, and there is some coin, and the potential for more jobs from the thieves guild. Everyone is game, except Orym, who isn’t cool with being a criminal.
A lot transpires from here. The plot is grand and has many hooks, but remember, this is just an 8-episode mini-campaign — and boy, does it feel like it.
After viewing the campaign, essentially 3 times throughout my weekly episode reviews, and in preparation for this review; I can sum up Exandria Unlimited as this:
Have you played an open-world RPG that gives you free rein to do whatever you desire, rather quickly? You know the kind, your character is just thrown into and told — have at it!
Think The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt or Kingdoms of Amalur: Re-Reckoning, a game I have played some of this year. After a brief opening, and within the first couple hours of either game, you (the player) can essentially lose yourself in sidequest after sidequest; completely abandoning the main plot. The abundance of options allows you to switch to a quest that’s nearly as important, and grand as the main quest itself! If it feels boring, or if you simply stumble upon a new NPC on the road, you put it on the back burner, while you work on the new quest. Arriving at your next destination only bring more options. This cycle continues over, and over until you’ve forgotten half of the quests you’re supposed to complete.
This is EXACTLY how I feel Exandria Unlimited plays out. The campaign starts out simple enough to follow. Shouldn’t we be worried about the big bad guild that should be chasing our party? Yet, we run into Opal’s hometown and have a pageant show? Granted, it’s a fun time and a great listen; it just feels kind of odd, and disjointed.
Many times throughout the series, the party will be on Quest line A, only to drop that for B. A side quest now brings them onto Quest line C. It’s hard to follow. A running theme throughout many of my episode reviews is, confusion.
Confusion because of the plot/s? Exandria Unlimited just has so much going on. Some of the blame will go to the characters and their decisions; this is a pretty chaotic group of asheholes, but we will get to them a little later. We need to first discuss our DM/GM Aabria Iyengar.
Aabria Iyengar GM
Let’s look at what exactly is going on in EXU.
Plot & Subplot Hooks:
- Party loses a week of memories
- Poska & Thieves Guild
- The Crown
- The Ash Hole
- The Ashari
- Interacting with Gods
- Fy’ra Rai
- Lost City of Niirdal-Poc
- Dark/Mirror Fearne
- Myr’atta Niselor
I think this is all of the main plot and subplot hooks. Remember this series is 8 episodes long. I just gave 12 plot hooks. This doesn’t even include the hours-long, pageant show or shopping sequences.
Some of these plot hooks are not resolved — Memory loss, Poska, why gods were so interested in a group of low-level nobodies. Now, I’m okay with not having everything resolved, but it just seems odd that some of these are forgotten.
Take the Poska & Nameless Ones’ hook, for example. A fantastic sequence where Fearne casts Charm Person on Poska to avoid the insinuated battle at the end of episode 3, A Glorious Return.
By the time the charm is up (only an hour later), Poska seems to just give up and not follow them for some reason. I just don’t understand how this large, seemingly powerful thieves guild, just leaves the group that stole her prize, alone because they left the city?
This, in my opinion, should have been more integral to the story. This is a good hook. A nice low-level story about a thieves guild chasing after a group that crossed them. But, that’s really it for Poska and the Nameless Ones. From here, I found the plot to become extremely hard to keep up with. It’s all an odd mix of throwing plot-hooks at a dartboard to see what sticks, side quests, and railroading.
I fully understand that EXU was to be only an 8 episode mini-campaign — it needed to grab us and tell a fully cohesive story. So, I get and expect some railroading. But, the way Aabria handled the railroading was odd. I almost wished she did more of it so we had a story that followed the hero’s journey:
Departure — The call to adventure — the party takes on this quest and winds up stealing the circlet and leaving Emon
Initiation — The road of Trials — The circlet, dark/mirror Fearne, Lloth’s interest in the group.
Return — This could have been the defeat of Poska, The Nameless Ones, maybe even the refusal of the spider queen.
I think this journey is a much simpler, but personal story, that would have done wonders for Exandria Unlimited.
Granted, this is not a scripted story we are consuming, this is Dungeons & Dragons; there are going to be wild cards, and it’s ultimately up to the PCs on where to go, and what they do.
Exandria Unlimited just very much feels like Aabria forced sequences or battles to happen because she created them and wanted to show them off. Unfortunately, none of these forced sequences are great or memorable.
Let’s look right at the very first battle of the campaign.
The party is looking to escape with their stolen goods, but Aabria tells the party they run into the warehouse where Liam remarks about being chased and forced into a warehouse (where the following combat takes place). Aabria literally responds to Liam with, “You let me do this! I worked so hard on this map, you have to go in there!”
This is a major theme that comes up throughout Exandria Unlimited. The GM tells the PCs what they are doing, what they are thinking, how they feel. Hell, most episodes open with her telling characters where they are and then they make a dice roll. And most of the time, these dice rolls do not even matter. Whether it’s to tell her story, or for the rule of cool…close enough, right?
Many times throughout the campaign, a player rolls poorly, and Aabria “gives it to them anyway”. Why even make the player roll if you were going to give them the information regardless? All that does is ruin the immersion of the story and the fact that this is a game. It’s not really a game of Dungeons and Dragons if dice rolls, and rules do not matter.
In the final episode, Aabria comments that she needs these dice rolls to “tell her story”. Why ask for the dice rolls at this point? Just tell the story you want; it has to be one or the other; prepare for chaos, and roll with it, or railroad, and tell a story worth sharing.
Take the chase sequence from episode 6, The Gift Among the Green:
Opal is hit with a dart as the party walks into the street. Arabia’s intention here has to be — Opal passes out and is taken, hostage so that the chase scene commences. But, the GM gives Aimee the ability to roll for the effects of the dart, which what do you know, Aimee passes! Opal is now only sort of abducted, and we go through this odd chase sequence that includes invisibility and meat beasts?
This all could have been fixed by simply telling Opal — a dart hits you, and you pass out. There is this odd game that gets played throughout Exandria Unlimited with dice. They can be asked for extremely simple actions, such as looking for food in a kitchen, to almost random wisdom saving throws. Half the time the dice roll doesn’t even matter anyway. It’s almost as if they’re all wearing plot armor.
I feel like there was a lot of pressure on both Critical Role and Aabria to make Exandria Unlimited, great and epic — the perfect series for newcomers, and to give confidence to the current fanbase that someone, other than Matt, can successfully run a Critical Role campaign; because let’s be honest, Critical Role has a lot going on: The Vox Machina animated series, opening their own publishing company for board games and D&D books, merchandise, and miniature sets, and more.
Unfortunately, they hyped up Aabria as the next best Game master since sliced bread, and she did not (in my opinion), even come close to being good, let alone amazing, in Exandria Unlimited.
Aabria Iyengar is not Matthew Mercer, that is very clear. Exandria Unlimited suffers because of this.
As a whole, ExU is a complete mess. It’s bland, boring, lacks direction — it just has way too much going on. Since this literally is Critical Role, I think this comparison is fair game. Matt Mercer is a fantastic DM and is one of the reasons why I, and I assume many of you are fans, of Critical Role.
The Matt Mercer Effect
The Mercer effect is the unrealistic expectations on new D&D players who believe their games will be like Critical Role’s — A dungeon master who fantastically weaves together plots, and subplots. He creates memorable NPCs with distinct voices, sometimes at the drop of a dime.
For a home-game is this expectation unrealistic? Yes, definitely.
For another DM, running a hyped game, from Critical Role itself? No.
We have expectations that the content we will consuming will be of the highest quality.
Is Matt or Campaign 2 perfect? Hell no.
There are times Matt gets rules wrong, or there are sequences that are boring because they go on a little too long, for sure. But, in my experience, Campaign 2 actually feels like an open world, where the PCs have a choice; where their decisions have weight and impact.
Exandria Unlimited does not give this feeling of choice and wonder. Aabria rarely asks the party what they would like to do next. I’ve used the phrase railroading a few times already, it’s because Exandria Unlimited isn’t an open world, it’s on rails! The party mostly jumps from one curated sequence to the other.
How many times during this campaign do we run into this situation? A scene opens with our GM asking for some type of saving throw, and regardless of the roll, railroads our party to their next destination?
Take episode 4, By The Road, for example; Fearne rolls a 12. After about 2 weeks on the road, Fearne has a strong urge/sense, from miles away, deep in the woods. She feels a calling. Fearne is told by the GM, that she leads the party off the road, deeper and deeper into the woods.
Now, I’m almost okay with this, because this leads to one of my favorite sequences of the entire campaign, Dark/mirror Fearne, but I digress, why is the GM telling a character what they feel and what they do?
Almost as quickly as we learn about this plot where Fearne puts on the crown, kills everyone, and becomes all-powerful in a different dimension (that the party could actually decide to go through)…the portal disappears because this all-powerful Fearne is defeated by our low-level group. This could have been an amazing Big Bad storyline. But what happens next? A Pageant show.
EXU just feels like a bunch of different set pieces strung together. For me, this plays out like this. Arabia had two set pieces to get through in this episode, because that’s what she planned for:
- A deep forest battle (to use her terrain, and to introduce Fy’ra Rai and Myr’atta Niselor)
- The Pageant show in Byroden.
It’s pretty clear too — After the post battle sequence is wrapped up — Fy’ra takes the reigns of the cart — Arabia mentions that Fy’ra is so badass, she doesn’t need to roll for animal handling. Fy’ra and Aabria, tell the party they continue down the road until they reach Byroden. Once again, we never get a “Mighty Nein, what would you like to do next?” moment; the party is just TOLD what they do next.
Now, this is not a personal attack on Aabria, mind you. But, I think Aabria Iyengar is bad for Critical Role. What I originally ticked off as not “jiving” with her style during the first couple of episodes, expanded into the realization of this is poor storytelling and worldbuilding, poor running of Critical Role. She has all the power to craft a fantastic narrative that she wants to tell, (since this is not an open-world game) but, still she is all over the place.
I think the choice to make an 8-episode mini-campaign, this epic, multi-city, god involving tale, was the wrong choice. This should have been a more grounded story set in a single city (Emon) and the surrounding area. The Poska/thieves guild hook was good enough. Hell, even this alternate Fey world was a great one. Yet we move on from each plot hook every episode or two, and it’s honestly pretty hard to keep up.
I mean why is this happening to a bunch of level 2–3 characters, anyway? To make them feel powerful, they’re allowed huge discounts with Gilmore, (who decides to give a bunch of strangers he literally just met a bunch of special items and an insane discount). Later on, characters are given insane abilities such as Dariax’s ability to fly or Fearne’s ability to adjust others’ fate (rerolling any d20 roll within 30 feet of herself). It just doesn’t feel earned; it feels like a gimme to make the story more epic and exciting.
I don’t know if this was talked about beforehand, maybe Aabria was told to make this campaign exciting, and perfect for newcomers; to sell people who are used to Matt’s expansive world-building, and NPC portrayal. If that’s true, that would be completely unfair to Aabria. If it was Aabria’s decision, it was a terrible one, because ExU turned out poorly.
I can’t, and won’t blame all of the issues with Exandria Unlimited on the Aabria Iyengar. The cast has as much to do with why it failed, as the plot, and GMing.
But, let’s start with some of the Good, because there were a few, albeit minor, positives.
Dariax is pure chaos and stupidity, and I loved all of it. Dariax’s devil may care attitude towards everything, and everyone was awesome. Seeing Matt play, while essentially giving zero fucks, was a pleasure to watch. He had a lot of fun, and it shows. But, my God, why was he cursed with such awful dice rolls? I guess that does actually fit Dariax’s character pretty well.
The only issue I really have with Dariax (and it’s more of an issue with the rest of the players), is that they’re basically all agents of chaos (minus Orym). Dariax is the perfect comic relief in a group that takes things a bit more seriously — I’m thinking of the Mighty Nein and Jester in this situation.
I love Robbie Daymund. This was his first time playing D&D, and I honestly hope it isn’t the last time I’m able to watch him play a Table Top RPG. Robbie was great at thinking on his feet, and great at Roleplaying Dorian.
Dorian was fine as a character. It took him a long time to warm up and reveal more about his backstory, which I found was an issue shared between all of the “Crown Keepers”. We don’t have 100 plus episodes, we have 8, so keeping a character mysterious, not sharing their backstory, their real name, etc., doesn’t help us to latch on, and care about them.
I’m glad Dorian Storm made it through the finale because if there is a season 2 with this same cast, I’d love to see where Robbie takes Dorian after experiencing season 1. Hell, I’d love Robbie in Campaign 3.
I must admit, I hated Opal in the first few episodes. Essentially a valley girl with a fish out of water story took me out of the show a bit. Now, Aimee being new, seemed to talk over other PCs a little bit and disregard what exactly is going on, not being the best team player. I don’t hold this against her, as she was still learning the group dynamic of D&D, but it wasn’t always the most fun thing to watch.
The charming sequence from Episode 2, The Oh No Plateau, comes to mind. Opal charms one of the nameless thieves, and just walks away from her friends with the foe, in an attempt to keep him out of the battle — by going for a drink?
I think this was just a situation of her still grasping the concepts of how D&D works. I mention in my review of episode 2 that, Opal is definitely the “wild card” but she’s can sometimes be a little too wild.
I have to give Aimee Carrero credit, though. She really turned Opal around. While maybe not my favorite character of the bunch, I didn’t mind her by the end.
Opal basically became the “main character” of Exandria Unlimited’s first season; which I didn’t quite understand Aabria’s plan of this. Aimee is a first-time player still figuring everything out. That was a lot of pressure to put on Aimee to perform.
Speaking of Aabria, I have to dive into this a bit. What was going on between Aabria and Aimee?
There was a lot of hostility from Aabria towards Aimee, and I find it difficult to simply shrug it off as two friends giving each other shit — which Aabria references in a D&D Beyond Interview.
Many times Aabria was quite snippy and mean towards Aimee who would be asking a question or attempting to do something she shouldn’t, and it was uncomfortable to watch. They shrug it off on social media, but that’s because they are being professional since this was a job for them and they both want to keep working. We know they are co-workers for this project, and you don’t always like everyone you work with.
Taking Ted’s power away from Aimee was also quite a bummer. I know a lot of people might be thinking, well all Opal had to do to get her powers back, was to apologize to Ted. But, Aimee roleplayed Opal perfectly, a stubborn teenager who doesn’t feel the need to apologize.
The stoic halfling Orym, who attempted to play the voice of reason for a while, was my least favorite character. I really don’t know what Liam was going for with Orym. I understand his roleplaying in the beginning; Orym is not a bad person, he doesn’t want to become a criminal, but continues to follow around this group of chaotic hooligans for what reason? Why doesn’t he just leave them? For the purposes of a D&D game, that wouldn’t make sense to have Orym leave the group, but he was left with no choice but to conform to the group’s decisions.
Orym dropped a lot of tie-ins to the first Critical Role campaign, which was a confusing concept for me. I have yet to watch Campaign 1, so I was lost for the majority of the references. I don’t understand why Liam and Aabria (with Gilmore) decided to heavily reference a campaign that was NOT the one that, I’d assume most people just came from, since it literally ended a few weeks prior to Exandria Unlimited. Maybe it was to help hype up the Tal’Dorei Reborn campaign book?
I just thought that Orym, with his whisper speaking and lack of any type of personality, just sort of felt like a background character and didn’t do anything to grab me.
I’m indifferent to Fearne. I was extremely interested in the dark/mirror Fearne story that could have been. Otherwise, Fearne didn’t really give me too much to think of other than a little comic relief.
I think maybe it’s just a bit of how Ashley Roleplays? I have similar feelings of indifference towards Yasha, of campaign 2. Granted, Ashley is absent for most of what I’ve listened to so far, but when she is there, she’s portraying the strong, silent type.
I find this actually to be a theme with both Campaign 2 veterans; Ashley and Liam; they seem to enjoy playing characters that sort of take a back seat to others? While Caleb is one of my favorite characters in Campaign 2, it did take him quite a long time to open up. Neither Caleb and Yasha nor Orym and Fearn are characters who take charge as the leader of their respective groups. This contributes more to Exandria Unlimited’s unfortunate downfall — no one took charge to be a leader.
Imagine if Travis or Sam replaced Fearne or Orym with a character of their own? I think we would have had a party that moved towards some sort of goal without the need for our last character to join the mix.
On the other hand, maybe this was by design? Take a backseat to let the other players shine; ie., Matt, and newbies Aimee and Robbie?
Fy’ra Rai, our guest PC played by Anjali Bhimani. I loved the Fy’ra in her introduction during Episode 4. Anjali’s performance was excellent and brought a lot of needed energy to the table.
Unfortunately for me, this did not last, and I wound up disliking Fy’ra; mostly because it’s pretty easy to see that Fy’ra was brought in to help ground this cast, and stop them from becoming a group of murder-hobos. She was there to set them on a main goal and path.
I just hated how Fy’ra was used — she has a “gift’ that feeds her information. This is clearly Anjali working with Aabria about dragging them to the next location and for the purpose of the plot. There’s no other way around that, as Fy’ra knows things that the rest of the party does not. Hell, she even remembers what happened to the party during the week they all forgot, BUT NEVER TELLS THEM OR US (well Dorian remembers after dreaming of Lloth). When she’s done with her job of bringing the party to Niirdal-Poc, she conveniently is told that her dead sister is alive, so must take her leave.
The “Crown Keeps” are also quite the weird bunch. There was no real reason that they were all sticking together. They all lost their memories, but no one really seems to care. No one really has any sort of goals or motivation. Many times Dariax attempts to convince the party that sometimes “it’s fun to do bad things”. Okay, but that can only be so interesting, especially when the group doesn’t even really do that. They have this crown, this vestige of divergence, and no one puts it on until the final episode! Why don’t they just get rid of it; they haul it around all campaign, for what?
Exandria Unlimited as a whole gets a 2 out of 5. It’s bad.
Exandria Unlimited was a rare misstep for Critical Role. Tremendous amounts of hype led to a lackluster final product. At the very least, it will provide Critical Role with some very important feedback about how to handle future seasons of Exandria Unlimited. I think they also learned the hard truth that Critical Role might cease to be the giant that they are, without Matthew Mercer sitting in the Dungeon Master chair.
While there were a few chuckles and entertaining sequences here and there, I cannot recommend Critical Role’s first foray into a mini-campaign, without Matt Mercer as the DM.
ExU is a jumbled, mess of mostly unresolved, story hooks. I understand that this is on the players and their decisions, but it just didn’t make for good, entertainment or storytelling.
If you would like to check out reviews of specific episodes, they are below
Exandria Unlimited Episode Reviews:
Have you watched Exandria Unlimited? Let me know what you think about this Critical Role mini-campaign. Make sure to check out my video review posted above and subscribe to my YouTube channel!
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