Avatar: Frontiers of Pandora Review: An Otherworldly Sandbox

Avatar: Frontiers of Pandora is a strong FPS and smart expansion for the films.

When Avatar was released back in 2009, there was a phenomenon that swept viewers known as “post-Avatar depression.” Viewers described a feeling of sadness after leaving the film as they had to leave the lush, vivid world of Pandora and return to the much more drab and dreary Earth that we know. Fans were so swept away by the film’s otherworldly beauty and how real it all felt that they couldn’t help but long for it. 

Now, 14 years later, Ubisoft has given those people something they can properly immerse themselves in and enjoy for as long as they want in the form of Avatar: Frontiers of Pandora. Frontiers of Pandora takes us to an unseen side of Pandora and places us in the shoes of a new, unnamed character that is going on their own adventure parallel to the events of The Way of Water

The Battle for Pandora

(Photo: Ubisoft)

You play as a Na’vi teen that was raised in an RDA lab, stripped of their roots and forced to learn the ways of the humans with the end goal of becoming the perfect RDA (Resources Development Administration) soldier. Around the time Jake Sully begins to help the Na’vi in the first Avatar, you are put into cryosleep. You awake a decade and a half later, break out of the lab, and run free into the forests of Pandora to make your stand against the RDA. 

The second I escaped the dark halls of the lab and burst out into the colorful outdoors, I was overwhelmed. It makes an immediate, showstopping impression and is reminiscent of the powerful moment where you leave the vault in Fallout 3. I got goosebumps and even a bit misty eyed due to how gorgeous this world was and how well-realized James Cameron’s creation was in this game. That is arguably the most important part of Frontiers of Pandora, it has to make you feel something for this world even if it’s not real because the entire story is about protecting and loving it. 

Avatar: Frontiers of Pandora features a ton of missions, both side quests and story missions, that center on the damage the RDA is doing to Pandora. There are portions of the map that have had their color sucked out of them and been reduced to gray/brown wastelands with dead animals littering the ground thanks to the mining and pollution of the RDA. You will also stumble across the RDA trapping innocent creatures and hurting them, allowing you an opportunity to swoop in to save them. The environmentalist themes of the Avatar films are very much present in this game and are at the forefront of this story. It really motivates you to want to push the RDA out and revive this beautiful world.

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(Photo: Ubisoft)

Ubisoft also creates a lively open world to show you what Pandora could look like if it was left completely unbothered. Clans will be playing music, cooking food, and you can even stumble upon a lone Na’vi who will dynamically teach you how to fish. 

Unfortunately, the rest of the story fails to make as much of an impact. The story largely focuses on the Resistance trying to rally together a bunch of Na’vi clans to fight back against the RDA. While there are interesting ideas, such as some clans being put off by you because you so clearly don’t understand your Na’vi heritage, it’s executed in a way that feels a bit too static.

A lot of cutscenes in the game may have you zoning out or looking at your phone simply because you’re standing there staring at someone talking without moving. Everyone just stands in the same position and speaks to you without much emotion, making it difficult to connect with the characters let alone feel immersed in their struggles. There are some exceptions to this, such as when one of your allies’ Ikran  (the flying creatures seen in the films) dies and their bond is broken, but these standout moments aren’t enough to make the story feel like it matches the brilliant storytelling of James Cameron’s films.

A Surprisingly Layered FPS

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(Photo: Ubisoft)

While Ubisoft has some pretty solid gameplay in its FPS titles like Far Cry and Rainbow Six, I really wasn’t expecting anything too wild for Avatar: Frontiers of Pandora. If you were anticipating a reskinned Far Cry, think again. While there trademark Ubisoft elements like big outposts to clear, the gameplay itself is radically different. For starters, you absolutely tower over every human as a Na’vi average around 10 feet tall. This allows you to stand at eye level with mechs and absolutely pummel standard cannon fodder enemies with a single melee attack. You are a titan, and it’s clear Ubisoft wants you to feel like the apex predator of Pandora. 

There are so many different tools to battle the RDA. Some simple ones include your typical assault rifle, a bow, or shotgun, but you also have things like a lacrosse-esque stick that lets you hurl mines. No matter what kind of player you are, there’s a tool for you to utilize, and you can mix and match to create the most fun. Want to weed out the strongest enemies first? You can hack mechs to disable them and take them down and then go loud on the weaker enemies, allowing you to tear them apart with AR rounds with little to no reinforcements.

Strangely, it may be more fair to compare Avatar: Frontiers of Pandora to Halo and other reflex shooters than Far Cry. There are power weapons such as rocket launchers you can find in the environment and briefly use, jump pads that launch you across small arenas/give you the chance to get above enemies, and the game is constantly encouraging you to stay moving. If you’re a big Modern Warfare 3 fan and enjoy slide canceling, you may be surprised to see that it’s a viable strategy in Frontiers of Pandora. It’s all about bouncing around, keeping your momentum, and understanding that just because you’re a big target, it doesn’t mean you’re a slow one.

Pandora’s Box

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(Photo: Ubisoft)

Avatar: Frontiers of Pandora successfully immerses players into James Cameron’s multi-billion dollar franchise. It’s easily one of the most beautiful sci-fi worlds I have ever had the pleasure of exploring and ensures that when it’s threatened, you’ll feel the desire to protect it. On top of that, it’s possibly one of the best single player FPS games I’ve played in awhile with how dynamic and active the combat is. Every combat encounter is a joy thanks to the engaging movement, and feels like it rewards creativity by utilizing all of the different tools allotted to you.

Frontiers of Pandora may not blow you away with its story, but it will immerse you in its world and give you a rush of adrenaline. For those just wanting to take a trip to Pandora, this should satisfy you until Cameron releases Avatar 3 in 2025.

Rating: 4 out of 5

A PC review copy was provided by Ubisoft for the purpose of this review

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