Going into Avatar Frontiers of Pandora, I’d only seen the first Avatar film, and that was back when it first came out. I wasn’t expecting some of the surprises that Ubisoft and Massive Entertainment would give us with Avatar Frontiers of Pandora, as my review will explain.
And yet there were plenty of issues I had with this open-world Avatar RPG. While it’s gorgeous and has some innovative features, the few downfalls and frustrations I had with it started to pull me away from the overall experience.
The Na’vi experience
The primary selling point of Avatar Frontiers of Pandora is being able to fully immerse yourself in James Cameron’s intricately detailed world. While this does lack some RPG features like dialogue choices and in-depth character customization, your character’s voice and personality weaving through the story help immerse me in what it could be like to be a true Na’vi.
I was surprised to see a choice of three voices for your character, especially since the rest of the character customization was lackluster. Throughout the entire game, I was thoroughly impressed with the emotion and care the voice actor I chose brought to the player character. The voice acting dovetails nicely into the main story, which while I felt less drawn into, at least my character didn’t just feel like a nameless, voiceless entity lost within it.
Speaking of story, I don’t think it’s the selling feature of this game. There are parts that I am amazed by with a few stand-out moments here and there, and then there are moments when I feel less inclined to progress the main story. You rarely face the main antagonist, and only really deal with his followers for the entirety of the game. And while the story occasionally offers its intriguing twists, I didn’t enjoy the main quests most. In a sense, this mirrors my experience with the film. A narrative we’ve seen before that’s there mostly as an excuse to show off the true star of the experience — Pandora itself.
A diverse and alive Pandora
What I do think carries this game on its back is the open world. The Western Frontier of Pandora is more alive and populated with vivid flora and fauna than I could’ve imagined. The jungles of the Kinglor Forest are insanely dense with all kinds of plants, whether they be gatherable or just for show. Even the Upper Plains and Clouded Forest have their own identities and unique wildlife that differ from the other regions.
I sometimes just sat to look at the scenery. Luckily, Photo Mode was available later in the review week, which I had a lot of fun with. Unless you’re in an area filled with pollution, the environment is a vivid cacophony of colors. It’s probably one of the best-looking games of this year.
Not only does it look good, but it feels even better to explore. You can climb practically most trees that you see, finding harvestable ingredients you wouldn’t have seen from the ground. There are enormous vines you can climb across with plants that boost your speed when you inhale their scents. I sometimes felt like exploring the world was more enjoyable than progressing certain quests.
On your own in the wild
Another thing I like about Avatar Frontiers of Pandora is how hard it leaned into its survival mechanics. Although your Na’vi vision can help you find important waypoints and items, the rest is up to you. With the help of your Hunter’s Guide, you can find the right kind of plant or a certain beast you’re hunting. The ingredient-gathering system has a bit of uniqueness to it, forcing you to hunt for food during the right times and perform it with great care.
If you know you need to climb a mountain, there aren’t specific hand-holds with yellow paint on them to grab onto. You need to parkour your way up this mountain in whatever way you see fit, and it doesn’t look easy at first. The journey was better than the destination. I thought this game did a great job with the traversal, especially with how fun the Na’vi are to control.
Although you can fall from a good height without taking damage, the game invites you to take the leap with bouncy mushrooms at the base of the mountain. And don’t forget your Ikran, a flying bird companion you get early in the story. This made traversal through the Kinglor Forest and two other regions more enjoyable, and a lot faster too.
Complicated relationship with combat
I have a hard time deciphering how I felt about the combat in Avatar Frontiers of Pandora. The RDA bases were probably my least favorite part of the game to play, despite them being one of the main things you do. You have to take over enemy RDA bases mainly by hacking their systems, and it’s best to stealth, but staying hidden is pretty difficult to do, leading to dozens of enemies aiming right at you.
I found myself having to lower the difficulty after being bombarded with endless bullets and dying five times after attempting to run an RDA base. It felt way too unbalanced, even in easy mode, and it was the only thing I dreaded doing. Then when I started to properly raise my combat strength and buff myself with meals, things took a turn for the better. This game’s combat works more in your favor, and sometimes only in your favor, when you’re in stealth.
In stealth, I could be a powerhouse. Many of my weapons would one-shot enemies, and many combat scenarios felt super fun to execute. But as soon as one enemy saw me, somehow the entire base was alerted. I’d have a million bullets in me and multiple grenades thrown in my direction in a mere second. When combat was fun, it was incredible. But the majority of the time I felt like if I didn’t stealth it, my chances of dying would increase tenfold.
Contradictions and crashes
Avatar Frontiers of Pandora is far from a perfect game. I experienced a couple of crashes, textures would occasionally blur (even right till the final cutscene), and I had a series of smaller glitches that were immersion-breaking. One time a campfire I tried to rest at wouldn’t work, but I simply went to a different one. Another thing I didn’t love was the saving system. This game solely runs on autosaves, and I typically have no idea when my game autosaved.
It won’t tell you how long ago it autosaved when attempting to leave the game, and I’ve lost tiny bits of progress sometimes arriving back in. One time I quit during a certain main story moment, and the next time I came back I wasn’t where my last save was. As soon as I hopped on my Ikran, the game teleported me back to where my save was. I nearly had a heart attack wondering how I glitched the main quest and corrupted my save, but it seemed to fix itself.
Other than graphical and technical annoyances, one aspect of the gameplay felt a little like a case of ludonarrative dissonance. You can use both Na’vi and RDA weapons. Na’vi weapons are like typical hunting tools — bows and slings, staffs, arrows, etc. RDA weapons are shotguns and assault rifles. Although my character and the story speak so much about the distaste of the RDA and how they treat the wildlife, a second later you can pull out your RDA gun and fire off a dozen rounds into a wild animal. I feel like the game would’ve stayed truer to the culture of the Na’vi if you only got to use Na’vi weapons.
A wild and mild experience
Overall, there were many high points to Avatar Frontiers of Pandora, but also plenty of low points. While looking back at my experience throughout, I’m feeling mostly positive about it. The story was occasionally dull and the RDA bases felt punishingly difficult at times. But the experience was lifted by the vibrant and welcoming open world, coupled with the engaging gameplay elements that filled it.