As much as its wondrous open world provides a feast for the senses that makes exploring the titular alien moon consistently engaging, Avatar: Frontiers of Pandora is betrayed by the mechanical mundanity that has become all too common in Ubisoft titles over the past decade.
Visually and tonally, Frontiers of Pandora stays true to James Cameron’s universe as we’ve seen it in the two Avatar movies. I’d even argue that Massive Entertainment’s take on it is, without a doubt, the best way to experience life among the Na’Vi. It pushes the envelope in terms of visual fidelity, squeezing every last bit of detail out of the Snowdrop engine, especially through the sheer density of and attention to detail offered to its flora, fauna, and materials. Yet, at its core, it remains a Far Cry game, warts and all.
There’s an expansive map to explore on foot or using ground and flying mounts that replace vehicles. The land is peppered with stat-increasing plants and puzzles. Some of them wait out in the open while others are placed on top of tall floating rocks, inside caves, or behind short platforming sequences that also throw in the odd puzzle or two. Its jungles, fields, and mountains are home to a wealth of strange, roaming wildlife as well as packs of invading colonial RDA forces, whose facilities take on the role of outposts patiently waiting to be conquered.
One of many impressive sights in what is one the most gorgeous game worlds to date.
Engaging in the latter is an effective way to acquire armor and weapons, which are essential for enhancing your power and enabling you to face more advanced challenges. There’s the usual assortment of bows (long, heavy, and short), a slower spear, and a mine thrower, alongside an assault rifle and shotgun that help you hunt your prey. Plentiful side quests send you off chasing short narratives or exploratory treks laced with semi-forgettable combat encounters.
The characters they introduce often blend into the background as individuals, but successfully weave a broader tapestry of the Na’Vi as a people who cherish their connection to the land. There’s crafting and gathering, with the gathering aspect designed to be slightly less streamlined, purposely to promote and incentivise exploration.
You not only have to track down the right biomes but also pay attention to the time of day or weather, then find the right angle at which to pull plants and fruits to not damage them. Although it still ultimately feeds into making numbers go up so that enemies do not out level you, this approach succeeds at bringing you closer to the role of someone who relies on the land for their survival.
This also applies to hunting. Whether you use the Hunter’s Guide to point you in the right direction or find your prey as you wander, waiting for the right moment to strike at a weak spot, is the only way to ensure clean, merciful kills that reward materials of higher quality.
Although it has its fair share of dots that light up on the map hoping to draw your attention, Avatar: Frontiers of Pandora uses these small tweaks to the FarCry formula – and the impressive visuals of its alien world – to encourage exploration in a way few other Ubisoft games do.
Riding your Ikran offers a newfound sense of freedom, even if aerial combat feels shoehorned in.
Pandora’s biomes often explode with color and odd shapes, while also offering enough space to immerse yourself in the world’s tranquility. There are fewer fights to partake in and you’ll often simply walk or fly in a given direction while taking in the sights and sounds, but the world never feels empty.
Discovering a new species of tree, plant, or creature is not just a visual treat but rewards you with a detailed description to read in your Hunter’s Guide, giving Pandora a tangible, unique sense of place.
It helps that, design-wise, it’s also less focused on funneling you down paths towards activity X, Y, or Z, in a frantic scramble to make sure that you stay engaged. The joy behind organically uncovering the fog from a corner of the map you’ve yet to visit starkly contrasts FarCry 6’s dull open world.
But it’s not all alien roses. The freedom to explore in any direction is occasionally gated by encountering tougher opponents. Even if it never felt overly restrictive, you still need to keep track of your power level and craft, purchase, or loot new gear to equip. Predictably, none of the equipment pieces change gameplay in any significant way.
Bumping into a stray pack of RDA soldiers or a creature that out leveled me was, thankfully, less of a hurdle, as you can easily skirt around and head off in a different direction. I made do with sticking to the main quest and completing a handful of side quests and activities, only having some trouble when attacking the bigger RDA bases.
Dealing with the RDA gets progressively more tedious, making you yearn for more exploration.
Frontal charges are rather discouraged, given how you’re always outnumbered and quite fragile. Staying on the move and putting solid objects between you and your foes is vital in staying alive, especially since stealth is somehow both simplistic and unreliable.
These activities – long-ubiquitous in Ubisoft games – struggle to shy away from becoming stale relatively early on. Anything that isn’t a quick sabotage mission becomes tiring after the first couple of attempts. On the flip side, the corrupting impact of the RDA’s operations is presented very effectively, draining the color from their surroundings and polluting plants and wildlife, making them unusable to the locals in the process.
Combat is serviceable, but the available weaponry feels a bit loose and sounds less crunchy than it should, while the enemies you face aren’t too varied. Frontiers of Pandora’s lowest points are missions that trap you in relatively small spaces while throwing several AMP suits at you.
Since you can’t always take advantage of the protagonist’s heightened agility, you often find yourself hiding behind pipes – or any grouping of pixels capable of blocking shots – while waiting for your natural regeneration to kick in and refill your health, harming the little flow awarded to fights in the first place.
Where RDA infantry is easy to dispatch, their peers controlling AMP Suits are not only tougher but gain new weaponry as the game progresses. Initially, it was fairly easy to peek out from cover after charging an arrow shot with the heavy bow, land a hit, and then hide again to regenerate the small chunks of damage I had taken.
Peaceful moments like make Frontiers of Pandora worth playing.
But when enemies get the ability to fire missile volleys or wear armor around their weak spots, this tactic goes out the window, requiring that you either use stealth to reach objectives or constantly stay on the move when that inevitably fails.
Narratively, Avatar: Frontiers of Pandora chugs along but its predictable plot and structure fail to impress. You play as a member of a group of Na’Vi taken from their clan to become part of the RDA’s Ambassador Program.
An overly lengthy introductory sequence – during which you frustratingly cannot control your character – gives you a good reason to hate the humans. Soon after, you’re free to explore Pandora while coming to terms with the fact that, although born Na’Vi, you’ve drifted away from your clan’s traditions.
Reconnecting with your roots while helping the Na’Vi protect their way of life is at the center of the narrative which ends up being a mixed bag of heartfelt and cliche moments. You’ll also hear multiple immersion-breaking exchanges during which characters repeat instructions in a clear attempt to guide you towards your target, despite these objectives already being made clear enough moments prior.
Its cast of characters harbors some colorful figures, like awkward but capable Resistance member Priya or the stoic but determined So’lek. But despite some great voice work none of them truly stand out. The RDA are depicted as cartoonish villains hellbent on exploiting Pandora to its core, which is in line with how the movies treat them. If you’re expecting a bit more nuance, however, you’re bound to be disappointed.
On an i7-13700K, 32 GB RAM, Nvidia RTX 3080@1440p, I had trouble keeping Avatar: Frontiers of Pandora running at a steady 60 FPS on maximum settings, having mixed results when lowering them. I ended up going with a blend of high and medium settings that still saw significant dips, especially during bigger combat moments, but sacrificing visual fidelity is not really an option given how great Pandora looks.
Aside from two or three instances when the game froze during the early hours of the campaign, the only other issues I encountered were slight instances of texture pop-in while flying on the back of my Ikran alongside catching enemies in the act of teleporting out of flying vehicles rather than having an animation of them dropping out, which admittedly feels like a weird corner to cut.
AVATAR: THE GAME VERDICT
Avatar: Frontiers of Pandora is at its best when it encourages you to be patient and focus on discovering its world, taking in the strange shapes of its trees and plants, while uncovering Na’Vi stories and customs. Easily the best way to experience the universe envisioned by James Cameron, it’s also a fun enough take on a FarCry game, albeit not one that refreshes Ubisoft’s tired formula nearly enough.
Combat feels loose and, before long, clearing outposts or fighting the same few types of enemies will have you inevitably yearning to head back out in search of new wondrous sights. Exploration alone makes Frontiers of Pandora worth playing – especially if you’re an established fan of the universe – but, much like the RDA’s pollution suffocates the life out of its surroundings, mechanical tedium inevitably and unfortunately drags things down in the long run.
TOP GAME MOMENT
Uncovering new areas and reveling in the gorgeous, detailed flora and fauna inhabiting them.
Exploration feels rewarding
Richly detailed flora and fauna
Gathering and hunting encourage exploration
Repetitive mission structure
Still relies on the same tired activities