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March 2024

Avatar: Frontiers Of Pandora

Platform(s): PC, PlayStation 5, Xbox Series X
Genre: Action/Adventure
Publisher: Ubisoft
Developer: Massive Entertainment
Release Date: Dec. 7, 2023


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PC Review - 'Avatar: Frontiers of Pandora'

by Cody Medellin on Dec. 6, 2023 @ 3:01 a.m. PST

Avatar: Frontiers of Pandora is a first-person, action/adventure game set in the open world of the never-before-seen Western Frontier of Pandora.

James Cameron's Avatar: The Game was released in 2009 around the time that the "Avatar" movie premiered. The game sold fairly well across all available platforms, and while it actually had two different campaigns, critics and players argued that two below-average campaigns crammed into one title doesn't make things better. Fourteen years later, Ubisoft has returned to the world of Pandora with Avatar: Frontiers of Pandora, a game that is very different from the first title but unfortunately not much better.

The story starts before the events of the first film. You are one of many Na'vi children who have been taken away from your clan, and you're being forced to learn the ways of humans and abandoning your instincts in the process. An attempt was made to run away from the facility, but the death of your sister scared everyone into staying put and submitting to their fate. Years later, the actions of Jake Scully led to the shutdown of the facility, and while all of the Na'vi at the facility were supposed to be killed, they were saved by their instructor and placed in a cryogenic sleep. Sixteen years have passed, and you've finally been awakened, one year before the events of The Way of Water. You've been let loose into the world of Pandora and asked to join the Resistance, a group of humans, Avatars, and Na'vi that have joined to fight back against the warlike RDA forces. Your first mission is to use the diplomatic skills inherent in your lost tribe to unite the other Na'vi tribes to join the fight.

The setup works well in that it gives you the opportunity to see some of the other tribes without encroaching on the proposed plans that James Cameron has for the future sequels. There's been some thought placed on the personalities and customs of each tribe, and they all feel fleshed out, even if you don't spend a lot of time with them. However, the same cannot be said of those already in the Resistance or the Na'vi who grew up alongside you. Everyone there ticks the expected boxes, from awkward scientist trying to relate to the Na'vi to one of the people still enamored with technology but afraid of the ancestral ways. Compared to the tribes, the Resistance mostly communicates a few mission-critical pieces of information to you. Alas, the Resistance usually do so when it's too late, and its attempts to engage in meaningful banter aren't as endearing as hoped.

The core gameplay is very different from what you may have experienced in the first game. This one is an open-world adventure in the same vein as many of Ubisoft's other titles for nearly a decade. The game is played through a first-person perspective instead of a third-person one, and while you can perform a melee attack, your weapons are all projectile-based. Instead of letting you choose between two different storylines, you're only given one, but the premise explains why the Na'vi can use traditional weapons like spears and bows and arrows alongside more modern fare, like machine guns and shotguns. There are no minigames, and while an online co-op option is available once you reach a certain point in the game, there's no adversarial multiplayer, which is for the best since the first game barely had anyone playing even at its peak of popularity.

Frontiers of Pandora has jokingly been called Far Cry in Pandora by some, but that isn't so far from the truth. The general gist of the loop is that you visit one of the three major tribes and try to solve their issues to convince them to join your side. Those activities can range from rescuing other Na'vi to taking down RDA mining facilities. There aren't too many differences among the quests that are based on the main plot. The real appeal for these types of games is everything else that you can do.

In addition to partaking in various side-quests, you can hunt and gather as cleanly as possible, as is the Na'vi tradition. Certain flowers can be visited to learn new abilities, such as a forward dash while jumping or reducing your fall damage. You can craft new types of Na'vi ammo and clothes, and they're more than cosmetic, as they provide stat upgrades. Skill points that you gain can be used to upgrade everything else.

The idea behind an open-world version of Pandora has merit. Even people who dislike the movies enjoy traversing the world while avoiding its dangerous plants and wildlife. That feeling is amplified once you gallop on a Direhorse, and it is prevalent when you're soaring on an Ikran, since you can dive down if you have an ample amount of room. One of the more enjoyable methods of traversal is possibly a bug, as you can spam the jump button on rocky ledges and force your way to the top by doing this.

While traversal can be fun, it begins to lose its luster when you actually need to go somewhere, since the game's navigation methods are needlessly complicated. The quest descriptions give you an idea of where to go, and your compass tells you which area you're currently occupying, but the map does no such thing. It'll give you a general area, but the quests are often related to a specific area, so there is a disconnect.

The map also doesn't zoom in very far, and you'll have a hard time determining elevation unless you're looking closely at the screen. Placing a waypoint is a little difficult to determine, since the green of your waypoint marker blends in too well with the blue of the quest marker, but you'll need to do that because quest markers never show up on your compass. You'll have to use your Na'vi enhanced vision to get an idea of the area you're going, but that requires you to hold down the button to do so. Once you reach your destination, you'll have to remember to manually clear out the waypoint marker since the game won't do it for you. On their own, they're minor nitpicks, but having this all come together so early in the game and lasting well until you get your Ikran greatly sours the overall experience.

The give-and-take nature of the traversal and navigation mechanics highlight how everything else is handled. Combat is a great example, as the ability to use both human and Na'vi weapons presents the chance to vary the gameplay. However, that prospect is dashed when you learn that guns are only useful against humans. The most common enemies are all in mechanized suits, so the guns feel less effective against them. Taking on facilities also means taking on more mechanized suits, and you're almost instantly torn to shreds when spotted. That means the stealth approach with Na'vi weapons is the only real way to approach almost every combat situation.

Speaking of which, the combat missions are where the real excitement comes in, as most of the Na'vi-related missions boil down to simple fetch quests or meeting with someone. Going on hunts is only fruitful if you're going after big game, as smaller animals are likely to attack in packs, negating your ability to get clean kills. Using RDA weapons instantly results in a bad harvest of resources, but so does punching them. It's only useful to get degraded items if you're tired of looking for rations from abandoned bases or getting fresh food from nearby villages.

Other nitpicks include being vulnerable to attack when you discover something new, since you can't skip the animation of admiring your new find. You also need to use a two-button setup to throw grenades or use your hacking tool. Quest text can randomly decide to stay on-screen or disappear without any user input. Enemies can play dumb one minute after seeing someone get shot but be excellent at finding your hiding spots a minute later. Strangely enough, for a game that feels like it follows the Far Cry blueprint, it doesn't have much going on if you aren't on a quest or finding upgrade flowers. The world doesn't have random human patrols going, and the animal hunting packs aren't that plentiful. The world isn't completely empty, as there are natural dangers to worry about, like poisonous plants, but don't expect a bounty of activities to spring up.

The gameplay length is about 20 hours on average if you're just following the main questline. Considering the quality of the missions you embark on, it is nice to see that the game doesn't indulge in being too long. However, the world is large enough and the side-quests are numerous enough that you can easily lengthen the gameplay time, whether you're going solo or in co-op.

There's no doubt that many people would be wondering if the game does justice to the world of Pandora, and that seems to have been paramount in the minds of the developers. The game looks gorgeous from the minute you step into the world. The forests and plant life make the environments look lush, and that even applies to the polluted lands, where you can see them waiting to spring back to life once things have been cleared up. The time-of-day system and lighting produces some good-looking shadows, and the various alien creatures look stunning. Take to the skies, and it looks screenshot-worthy. While the game still exhibits pop-up, it isn't very prevalent, and its presence doesn't take away from the splendor that people would expect of Pandora.

That said, there are two issues one may have with the visuals in Frontiers of Pandora. The first has to do with the characters, which are uneven in their quality. The Na'vi have great facial animations and are quite detailed, while the humans are a few notches below that. Even though you tower above them, seeing their mouths with limited movements isn't that impressive. The second issue comes from the game's lack of ray-traced reflections. The lighting and shadows do an admirable job, so this seems like an odd complaint, but the game's opening scene of an escape from the TAP facility and the various pools of water provide a good opportunity to display some reflections. Seeing something appear so empty is a disappointment, especially since you can only see your own character during the pause screen.

The audio mostly falls in that same category. The music usually plays in the expected spots, like when you're in a base on high alert or when you're in a fight or momentous occasion, but it rarely feels impressive. There are exceptions, such as when you're on a trek to tame your Ikran and the swelling music ends perfectly with a joyous chorus, but it's not enough to make the soundtrack memorable. Meanwhile, the voice work is good, but there are lines that play when you're wandering around the world that are repeated only a few moments after you had last heard them. It is also odd how your character is the only Na'vi without an accent. One could argue that it is because of your human teachings, but the other Na'vi with you still sound native.

Avatar: Frontiers of Pandora is going to appeal the most to die-hard fans of the film series. The ability to ride some of the creatures of Pandora and take in the lush surroundings of the moon are more than enough to satisfy those who want to wander around and soak in everything. For everyone else, the game is simply decent. The missions are very hit-and-miss in quality and execution, while the ability to use human and Na'vi weapons isn't as appealing as the developers may have expected. The world looks gorgeous, but navigating it isn't that intuitive due to a poor map and navigation system, and that also goes for other elements, like hunting and gathering. The game isn't terrible or as bleak as the first title, but you'll need to temper expectations to get some enjoyment out of Frontiers of Pandora.

Score: 6.5/10

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