Avatar: Frontiers of Pandora Review | Not just Far Cry with Aliens

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James Cameron’s Avatar is one of the biggest franchises in film history, reaching record-breaking success from both a critical and financial perspective. The IP holds a lot of weight and so the pressure was on for Massive Entertainment to deliver something as special as the films themselves with Avatar: Frontiers of Pandora. Right from the get-go, I can confidently say that this is most definitely not a lazy movie cash-in. The authenticity of the world of Pandora is here and getting to experience it all from a much more personal and direct perspective is an amazing experience, if not for some core issues that prevent it from reaching greater heights. A lot of these stem from the fact that the game lacks what the films have excelled at: a great sense of narrative cohesion and characterization.

The developers have been very vocal about working closely with the film studio throughout the production of the game, and it shows. The story takes place a few years after the events of the first film and just a year before the sequel. It has been confirmed that Frontiers of Pandora is considered cannon in the grand scheme of things, which is a pretty cool concept. Every single asset in the game had to go through approval from the filmmakers themselves. Both parties wanted to make sure that the world of Pandora continues to be what Cameron had set out to create: a fantastical world that continues to be awe-inspiring at every turn. And my Eywa did Massive Entertainment pull it off, for the most part.

I just want to immediately get something out of the way. No, Avatar: Frontiers of Pandora is not just a Far Cry game but with tall blue aliens. It’s so much more than that. There are gameplay elements here that are a direct answer to some of the major criticisms to Far Cry’s formula. Yes, there are still the typical Ubisoft-isms that we all know, love, and hate but Frontiers of Pandora does a lot to carve out its own identity in the genre. There’s a lot to look forward to here, but in equal parts, there’s also a lot more to watch out for.

You’re not in Kansan anymore.

Avatar: Frontiers of Pandora world

There are 3 main things that made the films stand out to me: Sound design, visuals, and storytelling. Two out of the three here is where the game truly shines while the rest leaves a lot to be desired. If the criticism sounds familiar, that’s because it is also nearly exactly what I would use to describe Massive Entertainment’s The Division games. With Avatar: Frontiers of Pandora, the studio flexes a lot of what they’ve been good at, but it also shows their weaknesses.  Fortunately, seeing James Cameron’s vision come to life in interactive form is more than enough for me to love my time playing as a Na’vi.

From a technical perspective, Frontiers of Pandora is a massive achievement. This is something I wouldn’t normally say for a big AAA Ubisoft title in its launch state, but the fact of the matter is, is that this game is about as next gen as it gets right now.

This is, without a doubt, one of the most stunning looking open-worlds I’ve ever played. The sheer amount of density of the foliage in the world is jaw-dropping. I found myself pausing every now and then just to take in the sights. Pandora is beautifully recreated here. The environment reacts dynamically to your character’s actions. It’s impressive to see how every tree branch, blade of grass, or the various plant types move and react to what is happening around them. The world is so detailed that at times, especially in the start, I will admit that I had some sensory overload. However, the (surprisingly) minimalistic UI really helped out on focusing on what was needed. Frontiers of Pandora is a visual and technical marvel that can really put your system in the running for its money.

Avatar: Frontiers of Pandora open world

The only very minor gripe I have with the game is that sometimes at night, the visuals can get a bit too blurry or foggy. This can make it hard to see especially when the dynamic weather system decides that it should rain as well. My guess is that this is the upscaling technology trying to make up for frame generation, which is only available through AMD’s FidelityFX Super Resolution (FSR) and not DLSS.

I played the game through an AMD Ryzen 5 5600X with a 4070 GPU setup on mostly high graphic settings. I just naturally chose to lower down some shadows and ray-tracing configurations and yet I was still awe-struck from what I was seeing. The game ran smoothly at around 120-200 fps depending on what was happening on screen. In terms of technical bugs, I haven’t encountered anything worth paying attention to other than maybe one or two teleporting enemies every now and then. I’ve only had the game freeze on me once when I first tried to take a screenshot but afterwards, it never happened again. I’m seriously impressed with how polished this release build has been.

This is a game that deserves to be played with the best possible headset or speakers. The sound mixing is absolutely phenomenal. From the thunderous boom of an AMP suit’s machinegun to the thwip of your bow, or even the sounds of the forest and the different wildlife, I was immediately transported back to the cinema, experiencing all of this for the first time. The sounds are very rich, diverse, and feel like they have a life of their own. The game uses a ray-traced audio system which makes the sound beats bounce off from the environmental elements. Even the soundtrack itself deserves big praise. It is impressive how identical it all is from the source material.

The “ultimate” Avatar experience

Avatar: Frontiers of Pandora character

Despite the name itself, you don’t get to play as a human getting into his/her Avatar. Instead, you play as a pure Na’vi who, along with a group of others, got abducted by the RDA at a young age to be secluded from Pandora and be taught the ways of a human. During the time of the first Avatar film, the Na’vi, led by Jake Sully, go to war with the humans, attempting to take back Pandora. You are then secretly placed into cryo-sleep in order to be protected from being executed by the RDA. Sometime later, about a year before the events of the sequel, you wake up to a whole new world, having little to no knowledge about Pandora, its culture, and the ways of the Na’vi. The RDA is coming back, and you have to help fight them off.

This setup is a great excuse for your character to be clueless about everything and thus have to learn, and by extension, teaching the player about the ways of the world they’re in. The game takes place in the Western Frontier, quite literally on the other side of the planet, far aways off from where the films take place. Every now and then you will hear about Jake’s escapades of messing with the RDA, as seen briefly in the first act of The Way of Water, but for the most part, this is a self-contained story. Unfortunately, it’s not a very good one.

Without going much into detail, the storytelling in Frontiers of Pandora feels flat. The writing isn’t as sharp as the films nor is the acting from the voice talents as well. This is probably the most disappointing aspect of the game. There were moments when even main cast would speak, and it would just completely take me out of immersion because it would sound like they were just having a table reading rather than a full-on performance. It also doesn’t help that the dialogue animations/cutscenes lack a lot of weight and stage direction. Lip syncing looks off while characters awkwardly give each other side eyes when talking to one another.

Avatar: Frontiers of Pandora characters

The way the game plays with scale is great. A Na’vi is usually 9-10 feet which means that you’ll be towering over humans and various other elements throughout the environment. This is just the beginning of the game’s hit-or-miss attempt at providing the best possible Na’vi simulator ever made.

One of your main abilities are the Na’vi senses which allows you to see the world on a much deeper level, literally and figuratively. You can see various wildlife, plants, and enemies through walls. With just a click of a button, you’ll be able to access Hunter’s Notes which details important information about who or what you’re looking at. As great as this system is as a way to communicate a Na’vi’s solemn connection to the world, it’s also a large source of frustration from a gameplay perspective.

When I first had hands-on experience with Frontiers of Pandora earlier this year, one of my concerns were regarding the navigation. And a lot of those issues are still prevalent in the release build. With the game’s uncompromising dedication to keep the Na’vi fantasy as tangible as possible, it comes at the cost of effective communication feedback to the player. When you activate the senses, it gives a faint light as to where you need to go. But you still need to manually go to your map and add a waypoint to a specific quest even though you already marked it as active. Despite already playing on “Guided mode”, Frontiers of Pandora’s traversal still look and feel clunky. I found it difficult to get my bearings on the map which is far less bloated than what we would expect with an open-world Ubisoft game but also criminally lacking a lot of visual cues.

Before getting an Ikran, which controls pretty ok at best, you’ll just be forced to run around from one location to the other. Even the game knows how clunky it all is with how much it emphasizes how you can fast travel instead. A shame really given how beautiful the environments are only to be subjected to loading screens for a much more bearable experience. Ubisoft games are usually very good with visual direction but given how much vegetation and verticality there is in the environments, it is pretty easy to get confused despite how many hours you put into the game.

Fangs out

Stealth in Frontiers of Pandora is underdeveloped. The level design mostly features large open spaces which clearly favors a more run-and-gun approach. The most shocking of which is that there are no stealth takedowns. Just shoot them with an arrow or approach them from the back and activate the melee button. You can’t hide bodies or throw distractions anywhere. Plus, with all the AMP suits walking around, they’re bound to discover dead bodied and activate an alarm. It all just feels like an afterthought or an early alpha version of what Far Cry stealth is.

Fortunately, the louder approach is pretty fun. your Na’vi is agile and hits like a truck. Even the starting weapons such as the assault rifle and the shotgun do so much damage. This power trip becomes so much worse when you start to include all the lootable attachments or craft some upgrades of your own. Game balance and difficulty definitely needs to be tweaked a bit.

Progression in the game is tied to a skill tree in which you can continually upgrade through the skill points you acquire throughout the game. Your character level is tied to your combat score which can increase when you optimize your loadout, craft new gear, and get new skills. There is still a bit of grinding involved. I found myself being a level below the suggested combat score in one of the earlier story missions, so I had to set out to do some side stuff. If this is something you didn’t like about the RPG Assassin’s Creed games, you might find this one annoying. Although, it is nowhere near as aggressive.

I do want to say that, if possible, you should be playing this game on a controller. The PC controls feel a bit unintuitive which can negatively affect your gameplay given how quick you need to be in your feet when it comes to parkouring or battling enemies.

All your actions consume energy, which is where the food system comes in. This is one of the most important aspects of your playthrough. Combining ingredients and cooking them will allow you to discover various recipes that provide a ton of time buffs such as increased stealth, defense, or energy, to mention a few. In order to get to this, you must acquire your own ingredients.

Foraging and hunting in Frontiers of Pandora feels much more involved. As seen in the movies, you must hunt with precision and reverence to the animals. Hitting their weak spots will allow them a swift and merciful death and before carving out their materials, you must provide a prayer. Alternatively for plants, you must find them in their respective biomes and in ideal weather and time conditions. Then, you’ll be given a mini game where you’ll have to determine which direction is best to pull them from. These systems may sound tedious or unnecessary padding for some but I thought of it as an excellent way to not only show how the Na’vi is connected to Pandora from a thematic perspective, but also avoid the braindead resource gathering systems that so many open-world games have fallen victim to. You are called to be more intentional with how you interreact with Pandora.

Avatar: Frontiers of Pandora Review Final Verdict – 8.5/10

I cannot emphasize enough how much I’ve fallen in love with Pandora all over again because of this game. The world just feels so alive.

One of my favorite moments came from a random encounter. I was exploring a random area since I was looking for a particular resource. I suddenly heard a distant roar. My character was visibly and audibly shaken. My eyesight was getting a bit blurry and my Na’vi sense couldn’t be activated anymore. Ideally, I should’ve just hid or ran away but for some reason, I stayed. Maybe it’s because I was curious as to what’s making my character so nervous. As the roars started to get closer a massive Thanator barreled its way towards me and before I even had a time to react, I was already looking at the game over screen. These are just one of the many dynamic scenarios that can happen because of the impressive open-world ecosystem that Massive Entertainment created.

This game is nearly everything an Avatar fan could possibly want or need from a video game adaptation of James Cameron’s modern masterpiece. Aside from the gaping issue of narrative woes, the fact that I could roam around a breathtaking digital version of Pandora and see it from my own perspective, unique from what the films have shown, is enough value for me to consider this as one of the best examples on how to properly expand an IP.

This review was made using a game code for the PC provided by the publisher. 


Avatar: Frontiers of Pandora is an Avatar fan's ultimate dream. Interacting with the world of Pandora is an absolute gem of an experience. Just don't expect the same quality of storytelling you see from the movies.