Avatar: Frontiers of Pandora Review
Avatar: Frontiers of Pandora Review
Launching to almost no fanfare at all, Avatar: Frontiers of Pandora is the latest title from triple-A juggernaut Ubisoft. Following the recently launched Assassin’s Creed: Mirage, the company is looking to close the year strong with this open-world action-adventure title that’s reminiscent of a cross between the FarCry and Horizon series.
Players will take on the role of a member of the Sarentu clan, a well-respected clan among the Na’vi. After being taken in by the RDA (Resources Development Administration), you’ve been brought up and trained by humans for as long as you can remember. After being put in a cryo chamber during an attack, you wake up 15 years later to explore Pandora and save your land from RDA’s tightening grip, threatening to poison and ruin the Western Frontier, a different continent in Pandora that will play host to never-before-seen regions, each with their own Na’vi clans.
Players going in fresh need not worry, as you won’t need to have watched the movies (but seriously, why haven’t you, yet?) to understand the proceedings of Avatar: Frontiers of Pandora, but it would make the lore and references easier to understand. The game takes place around the same time as the 2022 Way of Water movie, so having seen the film gives a heightened appreciation of the world and the way it is presented, although it is not required.
For context, I played Avatar: Frontiers of Pandora on a PC with these specs while using a controller:
- Ryzen 5 5600x, 16 GB DDR4 3600 RAM, NVIDIA RTX 3050, 1TB NVMe SSD
- Asus 27″ 1440p Monitor and Legion 32″ Y32p-30 4K Monitor
Performance was mostly steady during my playthrough, and while I had to put some settings to low (shadows, light, etc), I mostly hit an average of 50-60fps on medium settings with DLSS on.
If you’ve seen the trailers before, you’ll know what to expect with Avatar: Frontiers of Pandora. If your initial reaction was “It’s FarCry but Avatar,” you’re not completely wrong. There are indeed a lot of similarities to FarCry, from crafting to liberating outposts and even the feel of its FPS gameplay, but it would be unfair to the game to reduce it to that simple comparison because Avatar: Frontiers of Pandora offers some changes that result in a somewhat fresh take on the formula.
The first thing anyone will notice upon booting up the game is just how gorgeous everything looks. With the world playing host to a sea of lush forests, vibrant wildlife, and floating islands, Avatar: Frontiers of Pandora captures and translates this well. It’s one thing to fault Ubisoft for its game design decisions, but they’ve almost always delivered on the visual front, and this game is no different.
Players will be treated to towering trees with sprawling branches and tangly vines that extend to the ground, stunning vistas with impressive draw distances, and some trademark Avatar fauna such as the spiral plants that shrink when you pass by them. The world feels alive and lived in as it reacts to your every action and it affects even the way you move around the Western Frontier.
Traversal in the game is a huge part of why Avatar: Frontiers of Pandora deviates from FarCry and other similar games of its mold. The Na’vi are tall and limber beings that gracefully swing and move around with ease, and players will get a feel of this right as they pick up the controller. Your character will be able to sprint and jump as usual, but you are also equipped with a charged jump to reach higher and farther places.
The world of Avatar: Frontiers of Pandora lends itself well to this show of athleticism because scattered around are vines that lead to higher areas, flowers that spawn movement buffs, and many branching pathways that lead to new regions and encounters. This interplay between the world and the player makes it so that exploring is a fun endeavor.
On the other hand, while exploration is one of its strong points, it also serves as a dual-edged blade as it is also a pain point based on my experience. Pandora is such a dense place teeming with flora and fauna that it is quite hard to make out where you should be going. In other Ubisoft titles, there are visual guides in the form of ledges that jut out or are highlighted with paint, or even the sometimes excessive use of markers and waypoints, but Avatar: Frontiers of Pandora is almost devoid of these things.
The world is so packed with various plants and flowers that even our blue-skinned friends can get lost in the sea of blue and green shades. I can point out multiple times that I couldn’t find the “proper” path to reach my next objective and instead, just pulled off a Skyrim and took the straightest path possible and even scaled mountains to do so. It might sound like a “me” problem, but I’m quite certain that I’m not the only person who will experience this because of inconsistencies, and it does get frustrating.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not asking for more pointers and markers, because that’s a different ask compared to just making things more visible. Quest objectives will just offer a clue to a general direction, which some players will like as opposed to being led directly to it, but even then some quest items took me a while to find because everything just blends so well with each other. Often, you’ll find yourself almost on perma-Na’vi Sense mode just so that you don’t miss out on the next thing on your list, which almost defeats the purpose of soaking in the sights of this beautiful world.
Despite the frustrations of navigating around the world on foot, Avatar: Frontiers of Pandora also provides players a way to take to the skies thanks to the Ikran, large birds with majestic wings that act as a flying mount that transports players around the area with ease. After finishing a fantastic quest line that leads you to your own Ikran, you can summon them at any time, even jumping off of cliffs and calling them mid-air.
Ikran controls are a tad bit heavy but serviceable nonetheless. Players can perform nosedives, feed and customize their Ikran, and even perform some aerial maneuvers as they advance through the skill trees. But my favorite use of the Ikran, by far, is how I can do battle against the RDA while soaring through the skies. As you can imagine, this can lead to some great highlight reels that closely resemble drive-by shootings as you take down the RDA’s AMP suits.
Speaking of combat, Avatar: Frontiers of Pandora offers a bit of a mixed bag. While the gunplay is solid because of its FarCry roots, I found the stealth side of things rather lackluster. I’d even go as far as to say that there’s very little to no stealth element at all, and if you’re inclined to go silently a la Ezio, you’ll want to switch up your plans because it’s tougher to go stealth than usual.
As a towering Na’vi, the human enemies you’ll be facing in Avatar: Frontiers of Pandora will understandably be quite small, and combined with the visual problem I mentioned earlier, they could be hard to detect during a hectic firefight. Your main foes will be the AMP suits, piloted mechs that can take more punishment than the regular foot soldier. They have weak spots, though, so well-placed shots can do the trick!
That’s not to say that going in guns blazing is the only option because the Na’vi are not exactly invincible. You can die easily if you don’t approach combat encounters wisely, so taking out forces strategically while using the environment to your advantage is the way to go. The enemy AI in Avatar: Frontiers of Pandora isn’t exactly the sharpest tool in the shed, but there are some times when everyone across the whole base gets alerted of your presence even by just killing one lone AMP.
Weapons in Avatar: Frontiers of Pandora fall into two general categories – RDA and Na’vi. RDA weapons will be your assault rifles and shotguns, while Na’vi weapons will be your bows and slings, so if you want to add a bit of stealth to your approach, your bows will be your armament of choice.
These weapons play much more into the world than the obvious interactions because while exploring, you can use them to slay the wandering wildlife for resources that will play an important role in crafting. Should you happen to kill animals with the RDA weapons, their materials will be unusable, so your best bet to preserve the integrity of the materials is by taking them out with Na’vi weapons.
This is important because materials in Avatar: Frontiers of Pandora have many factors attached to them, and Condition is one of them. Better conditions yield improved results, so players will want to consider this when hunting for materials. This extends to the plants and perishable materials as well, as pulling fruits from trees and vines will lead to a quick mini-game that will determine the condition of the material. In fact, Avatar: Frontiers of Pandora also has a day and night cycle that will also affect these materials because some will offer players better results depending on the time of day.
This element of harvesting materials will be crucial as weapons and equipment have rarity tiers with a simple number value attached to them. The higher the number, the better, and the quality of the materials used will directly affect how good your items will be.
There’s much emphasis on making Pandora a living and breathing world, and Ubisoft has done so with great success. The way that players react to the world and vice versa is a treat and makes wandering around fun and rewarding despite the activities feeling very repetitive and one-note by the end.
As much as the world lives and breathes, the RDA is on a quest to bleed it dry. True to the FarCry formula, players will find outposts scattered around Pandora that pollute the surrounding area, even affecting animals close by that cannot be harvested because they are polluted. Filled with enemies, these outposts will offer various objectives that also lead to interesting mini-games such as hacking mixed in with the standard open-world requests.
Apart from the stunning world, one more thing that stands out is Avatar: Frontiers of Pandora’s sound design. While the BGM is fantastic on its own, we go back to how the world lives and breathes, and audio is a big proponent of this. From the trickles of water to plucking the fruit from the vine and even the sound of plants reacting to your actions, everything lends itself to immersing you further in the world and it does so successfully.
Apart from this, there are minor user interface issues that I experienced during my time with the game. I found that switching between food and weapons isn’t as intuitive as I’d have wanted to and this led to several times that I either ate the wrong food item or didn’t eat one at all and just died because of it. in general, I found the UI of the game uninspired and rather confusing at times, which led to some frustration while playing.
Because of the navigation issues I pointed out earlier, I also felt that I was too overreliant on using the Na’vi sense instead of organically exploring the world. Because of how the world is designed and how everything almost seemingly blends in with each other, the Na’vi sense is a necessity and not for all the right reasons. It also took me around 23 hours to power through the campaign with some side shenanigans, so around 20-25 hours would be a safe bet until you can roll credits.
Fans of the franchise will surely be in for a treat, while fans of Ubisoft open-world titles can immerse themselves once more in an adventure that could be worth their while.
What we liked:
- Sound design is superb
- Visually arresting
- Traversal is fast and fluid
- Aerial combat and exploration is awesome
What we didn’t like:
- Easy to get lost due to everything looking similar
- User interface could be improved
- Weapons navigation could be improved
- Almost non-existent stealth gameplay
- Repetitive objectives as can be expected
Verdict: Wait for it…
While the FarCry formula is certainly evident in Avatar: Frontiers of Pandora, the game does just enough to make it stand out from similar titles that simply tick off boxes in the open-world formula. The world is beautiful and interesting enough to explore, and Ubisoft and Massive Entertainment have done well to translate this IP into a worthwhile title for some players.
Despite some issues with navigation and some UI/UX irritants that made gameplay a chore, Avatar: Frontiers of Pandora does well for a title built on top of the overly familiar FarCry system. Fans of the Avatar franchise will find something to enjoy, but if you’re tired of the usual open-world trimmings, the game may not offer enough to give an overly unique experience.
*Avatar: Frontiers of Pandora was reviewed on a PC with a review code provided by the publisher.