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SF Starfinder Meets Alexa: A Review

Starfinder on Alexa has arrived, my lovelies, and we are lucky enough to have a review of the experience! Strap on your bubble helmets and snag your sleek black that sounds just that side of human, it’s time to play Starfinder with nothing but your voice!

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The Starfinder Alexa Skill (as these things are called on Amazon devices) on Amazon Alexa is an experimental collaboration between the Amazon Games team and our favorite golem. As such, the first episode is a free download! As far as I can tell, you simply need to tell your Amazon device, “Alexa, play Starfinder”, and off you go.

This collaboration is also experimental in other ways – after all, there are precious few if any other pioneers in the field of AI-driven games, even as rudimentary as the AI are at this point. As such, this Starfinder experience is deliberately designed to be introductory to both the Starfinder roleplaying experience and voice-based navigation, and it’s clear that teams very skilled in introductory adventure design and restricted narrative path design were put to good use here. Of course, it helps that the adventure is based off the adventure from the Starfinder Beginner Box.

As an introductory adventure, the Starfinder Alexa Skill does an excellent job giving players a first taste of the world of Starfinder – all the different species, the sights and sounds of Absalom Station, as well as a few instances of exploration, investigation, social interaction, and of course combat.

Is it an actual introduction to the rules of Starfinder? No. There are a few mentions of AC, cover, and class-based bonuses, but these are not elaborated on and understanding of them is ultimately unnecessary past giving context for the option to take cover while in combat. In fact, it’s so rules-light that the game gives players an option to do away with rolling dice or even hearing the number comparisons that forms the mechanical heart of most roleplaying games. That said, it isn’t intended to be a rules tutorial – it’s meant to tantalize and excite new players, and in that respect it succeeds.

I should also be clear in stating what the marketing material has been a little coy on: the Starfinder Alexa experience is a solo experience. That isn’t a point against it – in fact, given the perpetual difficulty everyone seems to have in finding and maintaining a group, a solo experience could potentially be a welcome opportunity to scratch the roleplaying itch in the months between games.

So how is it as a AI-driven voice-controlled gaming experience? Pretty good! The designers have done an excellent job designing the interaction to work within the limits of the narrative paths available to a developing device. Not only are the decision points clearly articulated, but the choices available to the player and the correct words to say to the device are also easy to understand. There are regular and natural break points where progress is saved and a player can pause the game to return to at any time.

There are a few rough edges – trying to use some of the commands when the game doesn’t expect or prompt you to, or attempts to restart and return to the beginning while in the middle of a run are met with spotty success, but that’s completely understandable for a developing technology and can’t be held against the Starfinder experience. As with all voice-driven interfaces, it’s a little attention-hungry, requiring you to largely be facing directly at your device and to speak loudly and clearly, but again that isn’t unique to the Starfinder experience. This won’t necessarily affect its use as a solo gaming experience, but I do wonder if it won’t be too attention-hungry for today’s multi-channel media landscape.

But that’s enough high-level technical nonsense – how is this to play? And I gotta say, I dug the heck out of this funky little game! Solid voice acting for all the NPCs, even the goblins, and it kept the number of details the player had to track at a minimum – essential for a voice-driven experience. The sound design is excellent (as one would expect from a primarily audio experience), but I’d go so far as calling it chunky. BEEFY, even. The only complaint I have is that the main music theme isn’t beefy ENOUGH! It was delicious music, and I WANT it – they might make a decent side hustle selling the music they packaged with this.

The adventure itself is a delight – short and sweet, covering all the bases you would expect in an introductory experience. A sure sign of careful and excellent design is the little bit of exploration and empathy that can help players with challenges down the line. A few memorable NPCs, an explicit affirmation of the player’s heroics, and a tantalization of more adventures to come all make for a perfect little package.

In short, the Starfinder Alexa experience is a fun, funky little adventure and a delightful first step into AI-driven and voice-controlled gaming. I’m excited to see more along these lines, and I’ll be waiting with eager anticipation to get my hands on the next chapter!
 
Ben Reece

Comments





volanin

Explorer
If I want to try it out, but I don't have Alexa, what are my options? I mostly have Apple devices in my house.
 





jedijon

Explorer
Lots of jargon - so what is it? I’m getting that I sit down in front on a tablet I angle towards my face and navigate a choose your own adventure story that’s narrated.

Do I attack, have hit points, what? What do I need to possess to do this or is it just way better if I roam the internet finding out for myself?
 

Von Ether

Adventurer
Cool bit: It worked via my Firestick TV
Bad bit: It froze up in the tutorial.

But hey, I'd rather a bit of experimental tech free up on a freebie that I didn't even know I could do through a device I already owned than spends hundreds of dollars to be a first adopter to something glitchy.
 

Von Ether

Adventurer
Lots of jargon - so what is it? I’m getting that I sit down in front on a tablet I angle towards my face and navigate a choose your own adventure story that’s narrated.

Do I attack, have hit points, what? What do I need to possess to do this or is it just way better if I roam the internet finding out for myself?
It's part COYA game and part RPG. You have hit points and can buy gear to affect stats but you probably want to know how that is delivered.

Alexa: "Do you want to advance 30 meters to be in rage to shoot the training robot or get into cover?"

Me: "Get into cover."

Alexa: Sounds of robot and laser fire. "The robot hit you for one hit point. You have many hit points left."

You can ask the Alexa Starfinder about what's in your inventory and what your gear can do. You also start as a pregen with a little quiz in the beginning to narrow down which pregen might be your favorite.
 





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