Avatar: Frontiers of Pandora, is unquestionably, a game made for Avatar fans. Developer Ubisoft Massive have gone to great lengths to pain-stakingly recreate the lavish, imaginative world of James Cameron’s blockbuster movies – a visually stunning experience that has set a new benchmark for current-gen graphics. Much like the movies, however, once you peel back the pretty layers of Pandora, there’s not a very compelling story underneath it all.
Avatar: Frontiers of Pandora takes place shortly after the events of the first movie. After Jake Sully incites a Na’vi rebellion against the invading forces of the RDA, a small group of Na’vi raised in human captivity enter Pandora and are thrown into a war against the humans. You play as a custom-created Na’vi who journeys across the land to unite the various tribes and clans in order to put a stop to the destruction of the natural world.
If you’ve played any Ubisoft game from the past decade (especially Far Cry), you’re already familiar with Avatar: Frontiers of Pandora‘s gameplay. You control your Na’vi from a first-person perspective and use an assortment of weapons and gadgets to combat RDA soldiers, mechs and warships. The bow is the star weapon of the game, quietly (or not-so-quietly) dispatching enemies and firing off shots with swift cracks of wind and power. It’s the most satisfying bow gameplay I’ve ever experienced in a game, perhaps next to Horizon Forbidden West.
The world is littered with RDA camps to take down, clans to discover, secrets to find and floating mountains to climb. On pure world design and aesthetic, Pandora is strikingly gorgeous. Ubisoft Massive’s ambitious recreation of the movies is something to behold – a landscape that’s dangerous and wonderfully alien with neon fauna, roaming beasts and vivid colours. Even when the story failed to grab me or the gameplay became a bit tedious, the incredible world and exploration always kept me invested.
There’s also a surprising amount of verticality to Pandora. It’s not just a flat bed of land that you see in countless other open-world games. Instead, players are encouraged to explore these enormous floating islands and rock formations in the skies using an Ikran, your trusty flying beast. Flying is breathtaking, to say the least. The controls are tight, responsive and only get better as you upgrade your Ikran. Storms arrive in real-time – yes, you can actually see them moving on the horizon and yes, you can fly straight into them and out above. It’s nothing short of spectacular.
These seconds of beauty are all over Avatar: Frontiers of Pandora and I was constantly swept away by its grandeur. The game keeps finding ways to surprise you with these small details that end up being its most memorable moments. Something as simple as gliding in the skies or watching a storm blow through the forests to kick up dirt, debris and sway trees will stick with you. It’s a true visual powerhouse and easily Ubisoft’s best-looking game to date. I have no idea how my PS5 didn’t explode.
The gameplay and writing is where Avatar: Frontiers of Pandora might let some people down. It follows your very standard Ubisoft open-world template, for better or worse. It’s closer in DNA to Far Cry than anything which is great news if you’re expecting just that: Far Cry with blue people. The gameplay and combat is identical to Ubisoft’s first-person shooter franchise in a lot of ways; even the crafting and survival aspects – which are given a huge emphasis on this game – seem lifted straight out of Far Cry 6.
Moment-to-moment gameplay feels great and combat really forces you to think a bit strategically as enemies can shred your health in mere seconds, even on normal difficulty. The game feels like it pushes you into stealth at times, even when the odds are clearly not stacked in your favour. Enemy placement isn’t as good as Far Cry. Targets will usually huddle together or walk around with mechs in very close distance, while turrets rigorously scan the surroundings, making stealth very difficult – especially if things go south and enemy AI seems to hone in on your location with ridiculous pin-point accuracy.
After many botched stealth attempts (and I’m usually one to play 90% stealthy in Far Cry and Assassin’s Creed), I just opted to just go in guns blazing, creating choke points that let me filter enemies coming through tight corridors or entrances – inadvertently exploiting the simpleton AI who rushed to their deaths in my line of sight. While these RDA bases aren’t as prevelant as other Ubisoft games like your typical forts or camps, I always sighed in frustration whenever I stumbled on one.
As mentioned before, there’s a big emphasis on the survival and crafting elements which doesn’t always work. Valuable resources or ingredients can be collected while out in the world to make food (which adds a refill of health to your meter) or various weapons, armours and upgrades. You have to satiate your hunger every few minutes as the blinking red bar below your health will annoy you until you do, so you have to go out and hunt animals or pick fruits – it’s not very exciting.
The actual upgrades you get for each piece of new gear are so miniscule, they’re almost not worth the effort. New gear pieces will progressively increase your level and offer higher defence but wearing a vest that gives you 2% resistance to fire damage or 5% more movement speed is utterly redundant. I have no idea why gaming companies keep pushing these useless “upgrade” percentages.
The writing doesn’t make it less drab. Avatar: Frontiers of Pandora throws a lot of terminology, lore and names at you in the opening hours, making it difficult to get attached to anything and anyone. Some characters do eventually become stand-outs like Nefika or So’lek but they’re never given the right amount of characterisation to make them memorable. Most NPCs exist purely to give you fetch quests or drop exposition to move the plot along. You’ll be doing a lot of walking and just listening to dialogue, which gets tiresome after a while.
The central story isn’t as compelling as it should be either. Somehow, the game’s plot makes the Avatar movies look Shakespearean. Apart from the bland NPCs, it’s easy to completely forget the story and why you’re going around shooting things. Sure, objectives can point you in one narrative direction but it all feels so haphazardly strung together as if it’s ticking a bunch of storytelling checkboxes: this character must die at this moment, this character must give a hoorah speech at that moment, this sad thing needs to happen, etc. We’ve seen it all before.
When Avatar: Frontiers of Pandora lacks in writing and characters, the visuals and gameplay do most, if not all, of the heavy-lifting. I’m very conflicted by this because by all accounts, it’s a visual stunner and the gameplay, when it wasn’t throwing me at RDA bases, satisified my inner Far Cry fan while delivering unexpectedly fantastic things like exploring the floating archipelagos or flying.
On a technical level, my time with Avatar: Frontiers of Pandora was pretty good on PS5. Apart from one instance of audio randomly cutting out during a cutscene and some fuzzy textures, it holds up very well on console. This might be one of the few times that I’d argue for quality over performance, especially if you have a 4K HDR screen to see just how good this game looks. Stepping out into Pandora for the first time in the game is a magical moment brought to life by the insane visuals and you really need to experience it in the highest possible detail.
Avatar: Frontiers of Pandora is a good game that’s not as great as it could’ve been. The visuals are jaw-dropping and the gameplay is sure to please those looking for another Far Cry fix with aliens and mechs. Sadly, it’s let down by storytelling issues, some poor writing and formulaic quest structures that are all too common in Ubisoft’s open-world games these days. That said, Avatar fans are probably going to find a lot to love about Frontiers of Pandora as it delivers what is possibly the best virtual Avatar experience yet.
This Avatar: Frontiers of Pandora review is based on a code sent to us by Ubisoft. You can purchase the game for R1599.
Avatar: Frontiers of Pandora
Avatar: Frontiers of Pandora has enough spectacular visuals and exciting gameplay to keep you invested, though its lacklustre writing and a formulaic quests might disappoint some players.