Avatar: Frontiers of Pandora Review – Furthers The James Cameron Universe

If any of you are hardcore fans of Avatar, you will remember the ever-famous namesake game that launched in 2009. Ever since I dropped into Pandora more than a decade ago, I have been smitten with this universe. However, since that time, we haven’t seen Ubisoft reattempting to create a movie tie-in in years. That has now changed as with the release of Avatar: The Way of Water, the company revisited the franchise with a brand new game called Avatar: Frontiers of Pandora.

But something has changed. While the 2009 title was amazing, it was a non-canonical offering. This time, the company decided to create a game that was truer to its nature and loved. Frontiers of Pandora features a canonical story and unlocks a new Pandora experience altogether.

Thanks to a copy provided by Ubisoft, we had weeks of fun running around the lush locations of this beautiful planet. After turning blue for so long, here’s what I think about the game.

Take Back Pandora

Avatar: Frontiers of Pandora occurs in the same timeline as the James Cameron-directed movie. While Jake Sully and his cohorts are fighting a returning RDA across Pandora, the player and their resistance fighters are busy taking care of RDA at a different location. This location becomes the backdrop of the game.

The Western Frontier is a brand-new region of Pandora that the movies never explored, giving us a first look at three different clans settled at three locations. These clans are hesitant to take the fight to RDA and have separated themselves from the turmoil.

That is where the player, a Na’vi, comes into play. An orphan raised by the RDA under their TAP (The Ambassador Program), the player is tasked with uniting the three clans to remove the RDA influence from the region and reclaim their land. The story is a typical Avatar movie experience similar to the first two movies.

It closely follows themes of the effects of industrialization and how it is ruining our nature. That point becomes one of the gameplay features in the game we’ll talk about in a while. And yeah, the story throughout leans on the themes of colonization and the rights of the indigenous population.

The tale of Na’vi and resistance fighters working together to take back the planet stood out to me quite a lot. I feel Ubisoft took an idea given by James Cameron and did it justice in recapturing the feel of the movies while keeping it super fun.

As an ardent fan of the series, this is what I was expecting. However, while the charm is retained, there’s new stuff too.

A Brand-New Cast of Characters Shines Bright

To ensure the story has some weight and variety alike, Avatar has introduced a brand-new set of characters to the universe. Each of these characters is interesting and fun to talk to. You have the player character, Na’vi, who is at the center of the action. Na’vi is created using the player and is quite customizable using the character created.

The voice acting is also quite decent. Depending on what voice you choose, their voice acting and mannerisms change. It won’t capture your complete attention, but it’s the little things that make the main character adorable. These are in part due to the little dialogues and different animations alike.

For instance, the player character screams with glee when riding their Ikran. Or the small little motions they make while touching the flowers. The small details help flesh out the character and their life on Pandora.

Similarly, the supporting cast helps move the story forward. Fellow TAP members also do stellar work. Even key members from the three clans have varying degrees of personality.

The cast of characters in Avatar: Frontiers of Pandora feels different when you compare them with the recent Ubisoft launches, in a good way. But, of course, it’s not perfect. Fellow Na’vi and human resistance fighter NPCs feel a bit drab and lifeless. They could’ve used a bit more sense of purpose instead of just providing me with quests.

This same problem carries forward to RDA villains and grunts. The main two baddies, John Mercer and Angela Harding, are opposites in their personality. While John Mercer is shrewd and unlikable, Angela Harding is a stoic individual with acting that feels robotic acting.

While it fits their personality, the other grunts are lifeless. They stand around as cannon fodder, having some canned lines that they repeat across the plains.

While Ubisoft hit the homerun with the main and supporting cast of characters, they dropped the ball for everyone else. If this love and care translated to the other NPCs, the world of Frontiers of Pandora might’ve felt much more likable and lifelike. Currently, it slightly misses its mark. But not by a lot. And while the story is a good offering by Ubisoft, the gameplay is a bag of mixed feelings.

Gameplay: Explore and Mesmerise Yourself

The gameplay of Frontiers of Pandora is similar to that of previous Ubisoft titles, especially Far Cry. However, at the same time, it’s geared even more towards exploration. Recent Ubisoft titles have favored handholding the players to a huge degree.

Because of that, the screen and UI are populated with visual aids. In the case of Avatar: Frontiers of Pandora, the developer opted for a minimal approach to the in-game HUD. At the start, the game asks whether you want quest guidance or prefer doing things yourself.

Even if you choose the guided approach to the questing, the UI elements and guidance are minimal, and the screen isn’t overwhelmed with a bazillion prompts. If you turn on minimal guidance, the game becomes a sort of puzzle title, giving you a general direction and having you figure out the exact location of your quest or item. This makes exploration a core gameplay mechanic for Avatar: Frontiers of Pandora. As someone who prefers simplicity, this is something I appreciate.

You explore the map of the Western Frontier and gradually explore the three different locations. There are multiple ways to travel as you do that either on foot, on your Ikran, or the temporary Direhorses. While the Direhorses are nothing spectacular, our Ikran friend was a delightful being to ride along. Both of these animals ensure you cover more ground in the later parts of the games once unlocked.

The exploration is reflective even for hunting and foraging of items. You have a Hunter’s Guide, similar to the Pandorapedia from the 2009 game, recording all the floras and faunas you encounter on the map. Since the game’s map doesn’t mark your flora and fauna discoveries, you need to track and pin them on the map. So, in the future, you’ll know exactly where to go. Once again, this reaffirms the heavy reliance on players exploring things by themselves.

Hunting and searching for edibles follows the same path as you must do it yourself to supplement armor and food.

Deck out Your Na’vi with the Best Arsenal and Foods

At its heart, Avatar: Frontiers of Pandora is a lite-RPG. This means we have gears that determine your player character performance and temporary boosts to improve performance. In the case of Frontiers of Pandora, we cook food and create new Na’vi attair.

Foods replenish your food meter, which fills up your health automatically. Food also gives you temporary buffs, like better stealth, damage, and elemental damage resistance. You cook them at various bases scattered around Pandora using resources collected from hunting and exploration.

On the other hand, you have armor pieces. You get these by once again creating them out of parts hunted or items foraged from Pandora. Additionally, side quests also provide you with these items. You have five pieces of clothing, each of which acts as a piece. Each piece of the armor has a power level and some gameplay modifiers, like a percentage of increased damage, better protection from wildlife damage, and more.

Both systems ensure that you explore the world as much as possible. However, it sometimes made the experience a chore to play through. The reason is simple: the missions are level-gated.

While you can ignore the cooking portion and eat standard food, armor is essential. The pieces increase your overall character level, allowing you to pursue future missions and, in some cases, even main-story missions. In such a case, it feels frustrating. There were numerous instances where I had to force myself to make armor to increase my overall level.

So, while I appreciate the slight inclusion of RPG elements in the 2023 Avatar, I feel it is something that could have been worked on.

Improve Your Na’Vi and Pandora Air Quality

Thankfully, you can perform activities when you are frustrated and bored of foraging and hunting. Avatar: Frontiers of Pandora has only a handful of side activities tied to the universe’s narrative. You have large RDA extraction bases to liberate.

These are mini-games where you infiltrate the base in either stealth or guns blazing. Liberating them will make that particular area of Pandora lush and green, allowing you to pick up the flora. I felt right at home as these were similar to the outpost liberation from Far Cry games.

Outside the RDA facilities, you don’t have much going for yourself. You have a few abandoned field labs to explore, where you perform a hacking mini-game using SID (system interrogation device). Completing these will provide you with side activities. You also have side-quests from fellow Na’vi and resistance members that are standalone storylines. Furthermore, you have Tarsyu Flowers and Tarsyu Saplings, which improves your character.

All of these activities, in the end, provide you with the skill points you use on the skill tree. There are five paths, each improving a particular characteristic of your Na’vi. Additionally, you have ancestral skills, which are lost methods of your clan, Sarentu.

Unlocking them involves finding the Tarsyu Flowers in-game. All these contribute to your overall level, allowing you to pursue higher-level activities and quests.

I’ll play the devil’s advocate here. Ubisoft did what it could to make the game engaging. It gets tough to create impressive activities for an IP like Avatar. You can only do so much when the universe is a large jungle moon, and the theme involves protecting your homeland from invaders.

I would have appreciated more variety to breathe life into a planet. But, well, props to Ubisoft for trying.

The Arsenal of Two Worlds at Your Palm

To protect Pandora, you have a heavy option of Arsenals. Your player Na’vi can use traditional Pandoran weapons and RDA guns from her training during the TAP program. In total, you have eight weapons across both, with each of them having two different ammo types.

For example, Assault Rifles have standard and stagger rounds that stop an AMP. Similarly, arrows have a standard or bomb arrows. This doubles the stopping power options in-game. You do require materials to craft better Na’vi weapons, and each of these weapons contributes to your overall level. For RDA weapons, you pick them from random crash sites.

As for how they feel, it felt like using guns from Far Cry 6, with a few quirks here and there. The guns have some heft to them while using, but they perform and act very similar to weapons from that game. I won’t be surprised if Ubisoft re-purposed some of those weapons.

Overall, once you are past that honeymoon phase, you’ll realize the similarities to previous Ubisoft titles. When you realize it, you’ll start feeling frustrated and annoyed. Level-gating and unnecessary gear systems stunt the experience by a lot. At the same time, minimal UI and the exploration-heavy mission structure prove that someone at Ubisoft is willing to experiment.

Performance

Of course, judging how heavily the game was marketed for its PC features, we had to test it on our review system. We tested the game on the following settings:

Test PC Specifications CPU: AMD Ryzen 5600
GPU: NVIDIA GeForce RTX 4070Ti
RAM: 16GB DDR4 3600MHz
SSD: 512GB WD SN570
Game running at 1080p

Right out of the bat, let’s mention that the game has ray tracing and upscaling support. However, the ray tracing implementation in Frontiers of Pandora is a little different. Typically, current-gen games make it an optional toggle for raytracing. After all, it is a NVIDIA-focused feature.

In the case of this game, we didn’t find a toggle. Instead, your lighting options are your raytracing options. So, depending on the chosen quality, the raytracing quality improves, further degrading performance.

You have NVIDIA DLSS upscaler and AMD FSR to gain the lost performance and numerous PC-focused settings like shadows and textures. Visually, the Snowdrop engine does a lot of heavy lifting here. While we still have the dreaded Ubisoft dead-face NPCs, they look better thanks to the overall quality of humans in the engine.

Division 2 has some decent NPCs, and Frontiers of Pandora inherits that. And the western frontier looks gorgeous in both daytime and nighttime. Be it the lush jungles or the open plains, you’ll love every location. I don’t know what magic Massive concocted with the engine, but this is easily one of the best-looking titles from 2023.

For the performance, our CPU and GPU did a lot of work. We had a CPU load of 74%, while GPU maxed out at nearly 98%-100%. Frame rates differ, getting 56FPS for the lows during places where we had vegetation and detailed structures, while other times averaged out at around 100FPS. This was on DLSS max quality settings. Off DLSS, we only had approximately 30-45 frames to work with, and lower in intense moments.

Overall, the game looks gorgeous, courtesy of the Snowdrop engine and the lush Pandora, and if you have a mid-tier 30-series card or any 40-series card, you should be good enough.

Verdict: Is Pandora Worth the Trip?

Surprisingly, Avatar: Frontiers of Pandora is a solid canonical movie tie-in. This is one of the most mesmerizing settings in motion pictures. The game does justice to the vision of James Cameron, providing a solid story to fill the gaps between the two movies. The combat loop feels satisfying, and exploration adds to the challenges. I’d love to see more of these in future Ubisoft titles.

However, level-gating story missions behind a forced gear system kill the game’s flow, and after a while, you have seen everything offered. These features do ruin the experience. But, if you are a fan of the movies and you play video games, try it out. For the others, it boils down to whether you want to put up with gear optimizations and exploration.

Ubisoft barely launched any titles in 2023, and just like Assassin’s Creed Mirage, this game manages to be a decent offering by the French publisher. Hopefully, we see another Avatar title soon, evolving on the ideas in this game and making another solid experience. We have a new Avatar movie coming out by 2026, so you never know.

Pros and Cons
The Pros
A great addition to the extended Avatar Universe
The combat loop feels fun, and the guns make you feel empowered
A lush and beautiful Western Frontier of Pandora to explore
Exploration-heavy gameplay adds to the challenge, in a positive way
The Cons
Level-gated progression and a forced gear system ruins the flow and fun
No meaningful activities after a prolonged time; leaves a little more to be desired
Final Verdict
3.5
Avatar: Frontiers of Pandora
Avatar: Frontiers of Pandora offers a brand-new canonical storyline around the struggles of Na'vi inhabitants against the invading RDA in Pandora. While the game offers a good supplemental storyline to the universe, and a fun exploration gameplay, the same cannot be said about it's progression and activities. However, for a movie tie-in title, this is a good offering by Ubisoft.
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