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Avatar: Frontiers of Pandora Review

A beautiful world with not much going on

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The 2009 film Avatar was a big deal. It used a number of innovative visual effects techniques, kick-started a 3D movie trend for a few years, and broke several box office records. To coincide with that success, Avatar: The Game was released by Ubisoft, though it failed to have much of an impact, being a typical lower-quality tie-in. With the sequel film Avatar: The Way of Water releasing last year, Ubisoft have once again tried to capitalize on the return of the franchise to create another game. Avatar: Frontiers of Pandora is a first person action game that's certainly much better quality than a typical movie-based adaptation, and while it looks great, the experience is rather forgettable.

Avatar: Frontiers of Pandora

Frontiers of Pandora does not have a strong opening. The story kicks off with a lengthy series of cutscenes detailing your childhood as a Na'vi child that the human group from Earth, called the Resources Development Administration (RDA), is trying to educate and raise for their own purposes. You and your sister and a few other kids are apparently the last of your clan; when your sister tries to resist, she is mercilessly killed by local leader John Mercer. Years pass, and the facility is eventually attacked by Jake Sully and other Na'vi, as part of the events from the films. To avoid the bloodshed, you are sealed into a sleeping compartment, and yet more years pass. Eventually, you are awakened by other Na'vi, and learn that the Sky People (aka the RDA) have returned to Pandora once again. As one of the last members of the apparently extinct Sarentu clan, you set out on a journey with members of the Resistance to fight back against the returning invaders, while trying to re-unite the other clans.

With a dull and unnecessarily long intro segment, the narrative doesn't get better throughout the campaign. The story is weak, as it goes through the motions of running between different clans, doing generic quests, and convincing them to join your cause. You'll be asked to find some missing hunters, help an outpost craft specific food, set up some fellow Resistance members on a romantic date, and so on. You will infiltrate enemy bases and sabotage drills and factories to clear sections of the land from pollution. All of the activities are very typical, and don't really have any Pandoran flavour to them; they could take place in any other game or setting.

Much of the dialogue is simply boring, and overlong, delivered with a generic tone that makes you not care about much of what is going on. Granted, the Avatar films are not exactly known for their strong storytelling or writing, but the delivery here is feeble, even for video game standards. There is no great threat or a central story element to drive you forward or make the narrative engaging. It also doesn't make much sense why you are the one that has to get all these clans together – other than being from a clan thought to be extinct, you possess no special abilities or advantages, and the voice actor of the main character always sounds like they are a highly distressed teenager rather than a confident liberator.

The game also quite notably lacks any major set-pieces or memorable missions. As previously mentioned, not only is there little reason given why you are have to be the one who runs around trying to save the planet and unite other clans, but those other clans don't ever show up to help. You are almost always alone; at best, some other clan member is watching from a distance on the hill. There are story missions where big events happen, but you never get to see them. For example, a grand assault on an enemy facility is being planned, with clan members all gearing up. But what actually happens is you have to go in alone, as usual, break into the facility, and deal with everyone inside, only to emerge and observe some destruction as if a big battle had taken place. There is a really strange lack of scale in the missions, again even by film or video game standards; everything that happens involves maybe 5 other Na'vi, and only during cutscenes. Other missions are just simplistic and repetitive – you often have to collect clues and link them together at a scene, and follow someone's scent trail.

Avatar: Frontiers of Pandora

Thankfully at least, the game world is one of the best natural environments that you'll see in any game this year. This alien planet is absolutely full of lush forests and jungles, waterfalls, cliffs, and floating islands. The color pallete is quite incredible at times, offering so much visual stimulation. The land is dense with vegetation of all kinds, and the game features multiple different biomes; all are predominantly green and lush, but feature notable differences such as tropical, evergreen, wind-swept plains, and others that affect the kind of plants you will encounter. Traversing these dense environments on foot is always engaging and some of the visual vistas you encounter can be quite impressive. With a day and night cycle, and occasional rain, there is plenty of opportunity for memorable sunsets and haunting night strolls as the huge moons hang overhead. Alongside the visuals, spatial audio design focuses on natural sounds, as you run barefoot through the world and hear the various critters and other atmospheric ambient effects all around you. It's really an impressive, colorful and immersive natural world to adventure through over the course of the 25 hour campaign.

You can navigate the world by sprinting around, jumping and double-jumping, as well as sliding around by crouching, and utilizing the occasional vines to ascend/descend cliffs and tall trees. It's also a neat detail that as a Na'vi, you are tall, and thus look down on humans, and have to crouch to walk through normal doors. The movement feels quick and intuitive, but the world is fairly large, so within the opening five hours you gain access to your very own Ikran, the flying creature from the films. You can call upon it almost any time, and soar high above the land to travel quicker, reach the floating rock formations, and engage in occasional aerial combat with the RDA. It helps with the pace of exploration, as trying to traverse this large world on foot would be quite dull. You also get to ride a Direhorse later on, but this seems a bit pointless – it can really only be used in the open plains biome, and you already have a flying mount which trumps it in every aspect.

While travelling across Pandora, you will often stop to gather materials from plants, which can be used in crafting later on. Gathering involves a quick minigame to pull the resource in a specific direction, and has minor factors such as best times of day to gather and whether or not it is raining, which affects the quality of the material. You'll also be able to do some hunting, with different types of hostile and pacifist alien creatures roaming the land. They have glowing weak spots, and utilizing the bow and arrow and aiming for those spots helps produce the best quality of resources. Players have a Na'vi sense, activated by a button press to change your view of the world to highlight points of interest, animals and plants, tag enemies, and find scent trails. This special sense is annoying to use though; it should have been a pulse-like sense perhaps, instead of a somewhat ugly visual effect that makes it difficult to discern points of interest. All these mechanics are quite straightforward and will be familiar to fans of previous Far Cry and Horizon games.

Avatar: Frontiers of Pandora

Crafting can be done at corresponding tables at outposts, and is quite simple, requiring two or three of specific materials to be put together; you unlock new crafting recipes with story and quest progress. You can craft new weapons, armor pieces, as well as cook food. Food ties into how the game handles your health. In combat, you will take damage, and while you can recover it instantly with special fruits that act as medpacks, you can also hide and allow regeneration to begin. This regeneration drains the secondary energy meter, which can be depleted to zero and can only be restored by eating food. Food can also give other temporary passive bonuses, such as improved stealth or hunting ability. There is even an entire skill tree dedicated to hunting and cooking, if you choose to utilize these mechanics heavily – but really, they are not that necessary. For most of the game, you will gain better weapons and armor as rewards by doing quests, and find food all the time. You can choose to heavily invest in crafting and go on rare material hunts, but it's also easily skipped.

The annoying part of crafting comes from your highly limited carrying capacity – even when expanded through the skill tree. Towards the second half of the game you will constantly be full of materials, and need to drop stuff. There are storage containers at the base, but in another missing quality of life feature, you need to have materials in the personal inventory when crafting – they don't just pull directly from a storage box. You can't deconstruct or sell materials or equipment, you can only drop or literally donate it to the clans, which produces miniscule reputation rewards. Reputation is the game's version of currency. Strangely, each clan has their own reputation, so you can be living big with the vendors of one clan, but unable to trade with another at all, depending on how many quests you've done for them. There are also two or three other currencies, used by the Resistance vendors, which seems overcomplicated.

Improved weapons and armor - which have a single stat, such as health or damage, and a slot for a bonus effect, like more damage to weak spots or RDA enemies - will be needed in combat and hunting. You have access to three types of bows (regular, sniper-like, and rapid firing), and a couple of human weapons in the form of assault rifle and shotgun. The bows handle as any other Far Cry game, and arrows can be crafted on the fly. The two human weapons can be powerful, but they are quite unstable and have tons of recoil – which perhaps makes sense with a Na'vi wielding them. You also get access to spears and a lacrosse-like stick that can toss different mines such as gas and explosive – but just like the hunting mechanics, you can easily finish the game without them.

Across missions and open world exploration, you will encounter RDA foot soldiers that carry assault rifles and sometimes sniper rifles, who are mostly easily dispatched with a single arrow. You will also face much more menacing mech suits like those from the films. The mechs come in a couple of varieties – quick moving rapid firing ones, flamethrowers, artillery based, and heavily armored. Regardless of your health level, on Medium difficulty the RDA forces deal good damage and can erase half your health bar before you know it. Fighting them head-on can be challenging, as their weakspots are almost always on their backs and they can be tricky to hit – the game surprisingly offers no skills or abilities that slow down time to help you make a good arrow shot. So stealth is usually the preferred approach, as it helps avoid reinforcements and can lead to greater rewards.

Avatar: Frontiers of Pandora

Stealth again plays similarly to Far Cry, as you can use your special senses to tag all enemies within the factory or drilling outpost, and methodically eliminate them. Awkwardly, tagged enemy markers don't really indicate their distance from you – the UI tags are the same size if an enemy is next door or a hundred meters away. Bows are your only choice for silent attacks, but they work fine. Enemy mechs have the weak spots which cause them to instantly explode, and while that may raise concerns, it doesn't immediately create an alarm. Players also have access to a hacking gadget – this limited range special tool is used for a variety of small minigames such as rerouting power and hacking security, but it's also used in combat and stealth by hacking defensive turrets (which come in anti-air and anti-ground variety), and even hacking the enemy mechs – if you can do it quickly enough as they patrol the area. Doing so stuns them, making a melee takedown possible.

Regardless of whether you’re using a stealth or combat approach though, the enemy AI leaves much to be desired. Their vision and awareness can be unreliable – sometimes they ignore nearby explosions of their mech friends, while at other times they find a dead body and instantly know where you are located, somehow. They get stuck in geometry, whether in combat or just walking their patrol routes. Once you become familiar with the weaknesses and the random nature of the AI, you can be much braver in your stealth approaches as you exploit their lack of ability. Special ammo can be crafted, such as electrical rounds, that help when you are inevitably drawn into a fight – sometimes because the mission is scripted in this way, which is further disappointing.

Outside of missions and optional side quests, there are a few expected activities, such as RDA factories and gathering facilities, which you can infiltrate and shutdown, usually just by pulling some levers and / or shooting exposed vulnerable vents. While Frontiers draws much inspiration from Far Cry, there are also parallels with the Assassin's Creed RPGs. Players can choose to play in unguided mode, which means quests just give a general location description without any visual quest markers – but this can be incredibly tough, given that unlike AC, most of this world is wilderness with few points of reference, and trying to find some small cave by a waterfall in a corner of a region can take incredibly long. If you play with guidance, quests will appear on the map, but in another annoying lack of QOL, those quests do not show on the faint radar at the top of the screen – so you need to open the map and place an additional manual marker.

Main and optional quests are tracked and come with a recommended power level – which is a rating based on all weapons and armor you have equipped. This rating can be skewed, because you might have a very powerful shotgun, but if that's not how you choose to play, you may find your bows are actually underpowered for the mission. This system also means that some quests offer no rewards at all – since there is no experience system; you could complete a quest and gain some materials, or nothing at all for your troubles (the quests do not list their rewards). There are also typical multiple skill trees where you can assign points, which overtime improve your health, damage output, and various abilities. There is a special Na'vi abilities section too, which provide extra passive skills and are only unlocked by discovering specific trees in the open world.

Avatar: Frontiers of Pandora

As already mentioned, at least that open world is rather beautiful. But elsewhere, such as inside the RDA factories and Na'vi camps, the level of detail is less impressive. The character designs and animations – both facial and movements – are of moderate quality and there are many various small glitches that happen. We had to restart the game on a few occasions, once because someone bumped us off the bench during crafting and the whole menu froze, and another time we got stuck in the world geometry during an interior mission which required a frustrating restart of the whole sequence. The game runs at a smooth framerate, with the usual performance (60fps target) and quality (30fps target) modes available. When flying high above the land, there is the usual open world texture and object pop-in due to limited draw distance. There are some actions that use the DualSense haptic feedback for a bit more immersion.

In typical Far Cry-like fashion, you can explore and complete the game with a co-op partner; completed quests track for both players. You can also skip quests you've beat in co-op when you return to your own game world. All of the gear and rewards you collect will also be stored in your save. Cross-play is supported so you can join others on a different platform. The experience is mostly smooth, though we did observe a few minor glitches, and playing together highlights the issues with AI.

Avatar: Frontiers of Pandora is a tried-and-true open-world experience with a new (admittedly impressive) coat of paint, with parallels that can be drawn to Hogwarts Legacy. This is a licensed game that does a great job of creating a highly immersive world, but fills it with mostly derivative and predictable mechanics that seasoned players won't be too excited about. It has a dull story with repetitive mission design and weak AI. The simplistic mechanics are less involving than even those in the Far Cry games, with Ubisoft obviously attempting to appeal to a wider audience. A number of QOL features are missing, and some of the design decisions around crafting and skill power/quests are poor. The vistas may be pretty, but the lack of polish in gameplay and animation reduce the overall impressiveness. If you're a fan of the Far Cry formula, and love the world of Avatar, this is a great way to experience it, albeit after a few patches and a price reduction.

Our ratings for Avatar: Frontiers of Pandora on PlayStation 5 out of 100 (Ratings FAQ)
Presentation
82
A vivid and lush open world that feels immersive at all times of day.
Gameplay
70
A fairly standard selection of mechanics from Far Cry and other open world games, with many trimmed down to appeal to an even wider audience. A number of QOL features seem missing.
Single Player
60
A dull, generic story with weak characters that's highly forgettable. Missions are repetitive and too simplistic, as the action also lacks any sense of scale or urgency.
Multiplayer
80
Progress tracking is implemented well, and the connectivity is smooth, though not without a few glitches.
Performance
70
The framerate is stable, though a number of minor issues were encountered.
Overall
70
The natural world of Pandora is the main star of this latest video game adaptation of the Avatar franchise. It's supported by the competent and familiar mechanics, but let down by the weak story and occasional lack of polish.
Comments
Avatar: Frontiers of Pandora
Avatar: Frontiers of Pandora box art Platform:
PlayStation 5
Our Review of Avatar: Frontiers of Pandora
70%
Good
The Verdict:
Game Ranking
Avatar: Frontiers of Pandora is ranked #1277 out of 1971 total reviewed games. It is ranked #50 out of 101 games reviewed in 2023.
1277. Avatar: Frontiers of Pandora
1278. Omno
PC
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