The open-world action-adventure genre has become a go-to for studios of all sizes, promising players intense journeys into distant and fantastical lands, full of intrigue and engaging things to see and do. While there are obvious leading lights like Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom, Ghost of Tsushima, and The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt, many others have fallen by the wayside. While its cinematic big brother dominates the box office, Avatar: Frontiers of Pandora veers closer to the edge of the planet’s iconic floating mountains than standing triumphantly at the peak.
What is clear is that Massive Entertainment and Ubisoft have not made a bad game per se, but it is not like something we have not seen before. The legacy of the Far Cry franchise is never too far away, and many elements reveal themselves to be a tad familiar to others that have come before it.
However, let’s focus on what Frontiers of Pandora does really well, and that is the utilisation of the Avatar IP. From the moment players are introduced to this alien moon as a Na’vi with a complicated past connected to both humans and the natives, it is abundantly obvious that much work has been put into bringing the sci-fi fantasy to the medium of gaming, following the same timeline of the films but with events taking place on the other side of Pandora.
The overarching story sees players start life as a captured Na’vi child, raised in The Ambassador Program of the villains, the Resources Development Administration (RDA), meant to become envoys to further the cause of the powers to be. Yet, as tensions rise and conflict breaks out, the now adult player will join up with the resistance and truly learn about their origins and what it means to be a part of clan Sarentu.
With that setup, you are let loose into an eye-catching world. No matter where you turn, it feels like a scene ripped out straight from the movies, but this time, you are in control. The vibrant and vivid colours of the landscape are always a sight to behold, as are the numerous flora and fauna that call Pandora home. It is extraterrestrial in every way, backed up by deep lore and explanations that are a gold mine for hardcore fans wanting to learn more.
The way the three newly introduced Na’vi clans embody the spirit of the lands in their own ways further drives home the message that these are a people who feel connected to the sentient force of life known as Eywa. While one clan may be peaceful weavers, another are battle-hardened warriors used to harsh conditions, but they are all tied together in their beliefs, a journey players will undertake as well as they progress in Avatar: Frontiers of Pandora.
Being a Na’vi is obviously different from your usual humanoid protagonists, and the game takes advantage of this in some clever ways. Movement across large swathes of land is agile and swift, and the ability of the natives to jump high and climb well is all implemented in a way to emphasise the verticality of this environment.
The relationship between the Na’vi and the land also gets plenty of the spotlight, with the onus on the player to harvest resources ethically, hunt with a conscience, and make full use of the bounty that Eywa has deemed fit to bless the moon with. Perhaps nothing is more emblematic of that than when players get the opportunity to bond with an Ikran, the majestic flying beast whose trust has to be earned, but makes it all worthwhile with its abilities to navigate Pandora and to be extremely useful in combat.
Conversely, the RDA is painted as full-blown villains, led by the manipulative John Mercer and merciless Colonel Angela Harding, hell-bent on stripping all valuable materials on Pandora. It makes it easy to root for the Na’vi and their war on these invaders, and enhances the satisfaction when disabling vital facilities that spew out pollution like it’s going out of fashion.
Naturally, that often involves conflict, and Avatar: Frontiers of Pandora puts plenty of tools in the player’s hands. Those preferring stealthy approaches can depend on the selection of Na’vi bows, which work well over a variety of distances, while going loud means using more conventional RDA firearms as well as the satisfying spear thrower and staffsling.
Furthermore, the use of technology can be exploited using the Systems Interrogation Device (SID), where hacks can disable turrets and the hulking Amplified Mobility Platforms (AMPs) used by the RDA. Being able to store up to multiple hacks and unleashing them all at once can cause wondrous chaos in the heat of battle, or clear the way to make it easier to reach your objectives.
Oftentimes, players will be going into battle alone, but things never feel too unfair, especially if you opt to strategically pick off stragglers before confronting the rest of the enemy. Even up against an increasingly aggressive RDA, the weapons are all powerful enough to give you a fighting chance.
Survivability is also helped by the skill trees and progression systems found within the game, with the former centred around various priorities to aid the players’ adventure on Pandora.
Having points in the Survival tree means the danger of this world becomes less threatening as you gain more health and durability, while investing points towards being a better Warrior makes it possible to go toe to toe with dangerous and armoured foes thanks to better bow skills and increased damage. Powerful Ancestor and Apex skills can also provide unique combinations that feeds into the power fantasy, after all, who doesn’t like ripping an AMP pilot straight out from the cockpit after an aerial slam into the mech from high ground?
On the other hand, the remaining three other skill trees are designed to make exploration more rewarding. Investing in the Rider tree allows the Ikran’s effectiveness to be amplified, whereas the Hunter and Maker trees mean materials gathered from nature become higher quality and are more efficiently used during crafting and cooking.
These are two systems in Frontiers of Pandora that go hand in hand in determining your capability out in the field as well. Crafting advanced designs when it comes to gear can up your combat strength quite rapidly, paving the way to take on increasingly vicious threats. It may be easy to get your hands on designs through quests and exploration, but materials still need to be gathered, feeding into the synergy between the two aspects of life on Pandora.
As for cooking, raw ingredients can be combined to maximise the benefits of having a good meal, conferring various buffs and effects that can range from increased movement speed to being less detectable by predators roaming in the wilds. As you hunt and gather animal parts and meat, it always pays off to use these systems to give yourself an advantage.
At this point, that sense of familiarity that rises to the top should be increasingly apparent. There’s combat and exploration, crafting and hunting, and there are plenty of collectibles and side activities to tear into as well, providing a range of rewards that make the war effort against the RDA go much smoother. The experience might be delivered in a different coat of paint, but the formula is still a path well travelled.
For players looking for that exact formula of gameplay and are big fans of Pandora, this would be a dream game. Yet, it will be hard for others looking for something fresh out of the genre to fully enjoy the adventure without noticing some of its flaws. Take the visual style and design choices as an example. Perfect for immersion, but at the same time, it can be overwhelming with the colours and density of everything on screen.
It also doesn’t help that locating anything worth collecting is usually done using your Na’vi Sense, which covers the screen in a blueish vignette and ideally makes spotting your quarry a more straightforward affair. However, the game tends to lean too hard on this mechanic, giving the impression that we are indeed living in the Na’vi’s world, where the colour blue is seen everywhere.
Then there is the complexity of Pandora itself, a living, breathing world full of curiosities and interesting discoveries to be found. Again, the extreme detail in which the player’s Hunter’s Guide is filled with information as they explore is something to be applauded, but there is simply too much in our books for meaningful absorption of information. Sure, it can be useful to know where a certain creature can be found so parts can be harvested, but all the other information about non-gameplay-related life feels like unnecessary window dressing.
The many side quests in Frontiers of Pandora also suffer from a similar fate, teetering between the usual fetch quest and combat encounters to the more involved investigative and puzzle-solving portions that are usually more entertaining to pursue. Platforming sections are also a hit-and-miss, especially as signposting is inconsistent, and the multiple paths available serve to make the player question if they have truly taken the wrong step or are just not seeing the right things.
As far as we are concerned, Avatar: Frontiers of Pandora is more than a serviceable open-world action-adventure experience, made better for fans who cannot get enough of James Cameron’s masterful sci-fi franchise. That said, for an adventure on a distant moon, it continually hints at a potential to do things differently and with a dose of freshness, but retreats into well-trodden territory to bring us crashing back to Earth. There is always going to be a fascination with the Na’vi, but you just might find yourself backing the RDA this time around.
GEEK REVIEW SCORE
A jaunt to an alien moon doesn’t mean familiar trappings cannot be found in Avatar: Frontiers of Pandora, and that can be both good and bad.
Gameplay - 7.5/10
Story - 7.5/10
Presentation - 8.5/10
Value - 7.5/10