Avatar: Frontiers of Pandora is a game that promises a lot just by existing. Developed by Massive Entertainment and published by Ubisoft, it’s a very AAA take on a very blockbuster film franchise, hellbent on creating a beautiful world that’s almost impossibly dense with vivid life. Much to the game’s credit, it rises to the challenge of rendering Pandora’s splendor with care, and a share of somewhat pedestrian elements never manage to overwhelm everything that it does right.
If the world of Avatar needs any introduction, Frontiers of Pandora lays things out clearly enough, starting in clinical environments controlled by the colonizing force of the RDA before breaking out into the vast wilds of an exotic moon. Like in the films, this setting is integral to a story about resisting the destruction of nature and a way of life built around it, although the basic ideas play out a little differently. The game follows a character born as an indigenous Na’vi but raised by the RDA as they explore the new continent of the Western Frontier and face the threat of a ruthless tycoon’s avaricious schemes.
Avatar: Frontiers of Pandora’s Magnus Jansen Discusses Banshees & New Stories
The creative director behind upcoming RPG Avatar: Frontiers of Pandora discusses bringing James Cameron’s world into an open world game.
A Luxurious Alien World To Explore
Pandora is the star of the show in Avatar: Frontiers of Pandora, and few open-world environments have ever deserved the spotlight so thoroughly. Across three huge zones and a variety of biomes within them, every vista in the Western Frontier proves to be breathtaking. Playing Frontiers of Pandora feels like flipping through a book of concept art, with virtually every aspect from lighting design to textural detail coming together for a cohesive and stunning result. If Massive Entertainment had managed this much and then called it a day, Frontiers of Pandora would retain value just as a tech demo and sightseeing showcase.
What really sets it apart is the reactivity, which helps dense forests and wide open plains feel like much more than a backdrop. Plants shrink away at the touch, shock unsuspecting explorers, and lob seeds in parabolic arcs, consistently responding to the player’s movement through the wilderness. Nightfall paints the canvas anew with varied bioluminescence, which could shine a bit more with deeper shadows but proves gorgeous even with the game’s softer grade. A rich soundscape never lags behind the art design, and both audial and visual interruptions effectively represent the innate violence of the RDA’s presence.
Taking an ikran for a joyride in Avatar: Frontiers of Pandora feels seamless in a way that helicopters and planes never do.
Pandora can be traversed on foot, on the back of a direhorse, or through the sky with the help of the flying ikran. Running around squeezes some platforming juice out of powerful jumps and slides, but flight is especially exhilarating, making it easy to traverse large spaces without resorting to the fast travel system. Most importantly, taking an ikran for a joyride in Avatar: Frontiers of Pandora feels seamless in a way that helicopters and planes never do. The bonded creature can be summoned in almost any area with open space, even mid-fall, and will happily find its own spot to land if its rider jumps off.
Navigating the vast expanse of Avatar: Frontiers of Pandora relies heavily on the Na’vi Senses feature, which highlights flora, fauna, quest objectives, and more at the press of a button. Destinations can also be found via clues that reference landmarks and biomes, which are sometimes enough to render Na’vi Senses unnecessary and other times hard to put into use. With Na’vi Senses as the focus, tools like mini-maps and constantly present objective markers are nowhere to be found. It’s a refreshing approach that reduces hand-holding, incentivizes exploration, and leaves the screen with less clutter, heightening immersion as a whole.
Familiar Elements Feel Too Obligatory
Not every aspect of Avatar: Frontiers of Pandora is as willing to let go of tired design elements, however, and some make it obvious that the game is built on the worn-out bones of the Far Cry series. Militaristic missions are overly familiar, centering around base infiltrations to kill soldiers, take down mechs, and sabotage RDA equipment. These can be approached through stealth or sheer firepower, but they never iterate all that much on a basic formula, resulting in a generally repetitive feel. Too much content in both the main questline and side missions fills out the world by obligation more than anything else, providing passable diversions while failing to generate a consistent sense of discovery.
Some of the combat equipment in the protagonist’s arsenal is fun, with satisfyingly punchy Na’vi bows and a shotgun that can do serious close-quarters damage to mechs. On the weaker end of things, the AR never feels all that exciting to use, and a hacking tool wears out its welcome especially quickly. Disabling mechs with the tool allows melee takedowns that are necessary for stealth, but stacking this on top of frequent filler tasks involving computers and cables ends up being way too much. Although the simplistic hacking minigame – brainless on a keyboard, a bit more interesting on a gamepad – can be turned off, it’s a patch solution for overuse.
Avatar: Frontiers of Pandora‘s material is at its best when it focuses on the Na’vi.
Weapons, armor, and mods are constantly cycled throughout the game, with upgrades available through crafting, looting, and trade with both the Na’vi and the human resistance on Pandora. Unfortunately, most individualized perks are based on minor percentage boosts to one stat or another, with the only notable standout being unique ammo types for alternate fire on some weapons. Amid a complicated shuffle of currencies (and yes, there’s a premium currency for a monetized cosmetics store), it’s hard to muster much interest in committing to mundane upgrades whenever a big leap forward in raw power isn’t available.
The Na’vi Shine In Frontiers of Pandora
Avatar: Frontiers of Pandora‘s material is at its best when it focuses on the Na’vi, with a careful attention to culture elevating everything that surrounds it. Three central tribes and a dizzying array of characters bring a variety of customs and behaviors to life, and the tasks that they offer do occasionally take on more of a “stop and smell the roses” nature. Crafting Na’vi meals and equipment makes use of the wilderness by relying on hunting and gathering, and Na’vi Senses allow access to a richly interesting index of information about the world. Everything has a use, eliminating the slog of selling junk items in Far Cry, although frustratingly limited inventory space makes seeking out storage baskets a necessity.
The Na’vi also work as the core of an effective story in Avatar: Frontiers of Pandora, which falls nicely in line with the ideas and tone of the films. The purity of visual and emotive storytelling steps back a bit, but critics of the films’ arguably simplistic scripts will find more breathing room for narrative complexity across the game’s extended runtime. Focusing on reclaiming an identity that was stolen from the RDA-raised Na’vi characters, the plot proves willing to reckon with thornier aspects of the sins of complicity and the limitations of allyship, with a broad empathy that is rarely forgotten beyond the cartoonishly evil RDA soldiers.
The quality of presentation varies a bit between the main story content and side material. Important cutscenes receive relatively dynamic motion capture performances that represent the unique movement of the Na’vi well, while random conversations can look disappointingly stiff. Voice acting is generally excellent across the board, and some characters are easy to distinguish just by their unique cadence or tone. There’s no real possibility of closing the gap between real-time rendering and the extraordinary technical achievement of the films, but in the game’s better moments, the gulf doesn’t yawn as wide as it might.
Final Thoughts & Review Score
Avatar: Frontiers of Pandora is a staggering sensory experience, and the consistent beauty of its world goes hand-in-hand with an engaging story and meaningful progress for Ubisoft’s approach to open-world game design. Its weakest points are the areas where it doesn’t go back to the drawing board, although repetitive elements go down more easily as part of a package that stuns in so many ways. A flight to an alien moon might never be in the cards for most of Earth’s inhabitants, but Avatar: Frontiers of Pandora is, and it might just be the next best thing.
Avatar: Frontiers Of Pandora
- PlayStation 5, Xbox Series X/S, PC, Amazon Luna
- Massive Entertainment, Ubisoft
- Action, Adventure, First-Person Shooter