If you’re a die-hard Avatar fan, you’ll recall the ever-popular namesake game debuting in 2009. I have been in love with this universe since I dropped into Pandora over a decade ago. However, Ubisoft has yet to make another effort to create a movie tie-in in years. That has now changed, as with the release of Avatar: The Way of Water, the firm has returned to the property with a completely new game named Avatar: Frontiers of Pandora.
But something’s changed. While the 2009 title was excellent, it was not a canonical offering. This time, the business wanted to create a game that was faithful to its nature and popular. Frontiers of Pandora tells a classic story and introduces a new Pandora experience entirely. We enjoyed weeks of fun wandering about the lush locations of this gorgeous planet thanks to a copy supplied by Ubisoft. After becoming blue for so long, here are my thoughts on the game.
Take Back Pandora
Avatar: Frontiers of Pandora takes place in the same chronology as the James Cameron-directed movie. While Jake Sully and his companions are battling a returning RDA throughout Pandora, the player and his resistance fighters deal with an RDA in a separate location. This location forms the game’s background. The Western Frontier is a brand-new Pandora territory that has never been visited in the movies, giving us our first glimpse at three separate clans established in three different locations. These clans are afraid to confront RDA and have withdrawn from the conflict.
That is where the player, Na’vi, comes in. The player, an orphan nurtured by the RDA as part of their TAP (The Ambassador Program), is entrusted with unifying the three clans to eliminate RDA influence from the area and restore their territory. The story is characteristic of Avatar movies and is similar to the previous two. It is strongly related to themes about the impacts of industrialization and how it is destroying nature. That point becomes one of the gameplay components of the game, which we will discuss later. And indeed, the story is centered on themes of colonialism and indigenous peoples’ rights.
The story of Na’vi and resistance soldiers fighting together to reclaim the planet struck me a lot. Ubisoft took James Cameron’s vision and did it justice by recapturing the movies’ feel while making them fun. As a die-hard fan of the series, this is what I expected. However, although the charm is kept, there is also fresh content.
A Brand-New Cast Of Characters Shines Bright
Avatar has brought a brand-new cast of characters to the universe to give the story some weight and variation. Each of these characters is intriguing to chat with and fun to imagine. The player character, Na’vi, is at the heart of the action. The player forms Na’vi and is very customizable with the character produced. The voice acting is also extremely good. Their vocal acting and mannerisms alter depending on the voice you choose. It won’t have your whole attention, but the tiny things make the main character endearing. These are due in part to the short conversations and various animations.
For example, while riding the Ikran, the player character yells delightfully. Or the little, delicate movements they make while stroking the petals. The little details assist in fleshing out the character and their existence on Pandora. Similarly, the supporting cast contributes to the progression of the story. Fellow TAP members also perform excellent work. Even prominent members of the three clans exhibit different levels of personality.
Compared to previous Ubisoft releases, the roster of characters in Avatar: Frontiers of Pandora seems unique and good. But, of course, it could be better. NPCs representing other Na’vi and human rebel fighters feel drab and lifeless. Instead of just providing me with quests, they might have used a little more feeling of purpose. The same situation applies to RDA villains and grunts. The main antagonists, John Mercer and Angela Harding, have opposing personalities. While John Mercer is cunning and unlikable, Angela Harding is a stoic character whose performance sometimes feels robotic. While it matches their demeanor, the other grunts are lifeless. They stand about like cannon fodder, reciting scripted phrases over the fields.
Ubisoft struck a home run with the main and supporting cast of characters, but they dropped the ball for everyone else. If similar affection and care were extended to the other NPCs, the world of Frontiers of Pandora may have felt considerably more appealing and realistic. Currently, it is significantly off target. But not by a lot. And although Ubisoft’s story is good, the gameplay is mediocre.
Gameplay: Explore & Mesmerise Yourself
The gameplay in Frontiers of Pandora is similar to those of past Ubisoft games, particularly Far Cry. However, it is aimed much more towards exploration. Ubisoft’s recent releases have heavily encouraged player handholding. As a result, the screen and UI are filled with visual help. In the case of Avatar: Frontiers of Pandora, the developer used a simple in-game HUD. At the outset, the game asks whether you want quest help or want to tackle things on your own.
Even if you choose the guided questing option, the UI components and assistance are minimal, and the screen isn’t cluttered with many prompts. When you choose little assistance, the game transforms into a puzzle game, giving you overall instructions but requiring you to figure out the precise location of your task or object. This makes exploration a fundamental gameplay component in Avatar: Frontiers of Pandora. As someone who appreciates simplicity, I enjoy this.
You explore the Western Frontier map and progressively progress through the three locations. There are many methods to get about, like walking, riding your Ikran, or using the temporary Direhorses. While the Direhorses are nothing extraordinary, our Ikran companion was a pleasure to ride with. Once unlocked, both creatures allow you to traverse more territory in later stages of the game.
Even while hunting and foraging for items, the exploration is reflective. You have a Hunter’s Guide, similar to the Pandorapedia from the 2009 game, which records everything of the flora and wildlife you see on the map. Because the game’s map does not display your flora and animal findings, you must track and pin them to the map. So, in the future, you’ll know just where to go. Once again, this reinforces the overwhelming need for players to explore things independently. Hunting and looking for foodstuffs follow the same pattern since you must do it to complement armor and food.
At its core, Avatar: Frontiers of Pandora is a lite-RPG. This means we have gear that affects the performance of your player character, as well as brief boosts to increase performance. In the case of Frontiers of Pandora, we make food and create new Na’vi attractions. Foods refresh your food meter, which automatically refills your health. Food also provides brief bonuses, such as increased stealth, damage, and elemental damage resistance. You cook them at several locations distributed over Pandora, using supplies gathered via hunting and exploration.
On the other side, you do have armor parts. You get them by once again crafting them from hunting pieces or items found on Pandora. Side quests also provide these items. You have five items of clothing, each of which serves as one piece. Each piece of armor has a power level and various gameplay adjustments, such as a percentage boost in damage, improved protection against animal damage, and so on. Both approaches guarantee that you explore the world to the fullest extent feasible. However, it made playing through the experience difficult at times. The rationale is straightforward: the tasks are level-gated.
While you may skip the cooking part and consume standard food, armor is required. The components improve your character level, allowing you to take on subsequent tasks and, in certain circumstances, main-story missions. It doesn’t feel very reassuring in this case. There were countless occasions when I had to push myself to make armor to raise my total level. So, although I enjoy the modest integration of RPG components in the 2023 Avatar, it might have been improved.
Improve Your Na’Vi & Pandora Air Quality
You may perform activities when you are dissatisfied and tired of foraging and hunting. Avatar: Frontiers of Pandora has just a few side activities related to the universe’s story. You have a massive RDA extraction base to free. These are mini-games where you may enter the base stealthily or with guns blazing. Liberating them will make that region of Pandora lush and green, allowing you to pick up the flora. I felt completely at home since they were similar to Outpost Liberation in Far Cry games.
Outside of RDA facilities, you only have a little going for you. You may perform a hacking mini-game employing SID (system interrogation device) at a few abandoned field labs that you must explore. Completing these will provide you with some more activities. You also get side quests from other Na’vi and resistance members that are independent narratives. You also have Tarsyu Flowers and Tarsyu Saplings, which help to strengthen your character.
Finally, these activities provide you with skill points you may employ on the skill tree. There are five pathways, each improving a different aspect of your Na’vi character. Furthermore, you possess ancient talents, which are forgotten techniques of your clan, Sarentu. Unlocking them requires locating the Tarsyu Flowers in-game. All these things add to your total level, allowing you to engage in higher-level activities and quests.
Here, I’ll play devil’s advocate. Ubisoft did all it could to make the game compelling. It becomes difficult to create impressive activities for an IP such as Avatar. You can only do so much when the universe is a vast jungle moon, and the theme is defending your territory from attackers. More diversity would have helped to bring life to the planet. But kudos to Ubisoft for trying.
The Arsenal Of Two Worlds At Your Palm
To safeguard Pandora, you have a wide range of Arsenals available. Na’vi, your player, can wield conventional Pandoran weapons and RDA guns thanks to her TAP training. You have eight weapons, each with two distinct kinds of ammunition. For example, standard and stagger rounds in assault rifles may stop an AMP. Similarly, arrows may be either standard or explosive arrows. This increases the number of stopping power choices in the game. You need resources to make better Na’vi weapons, which each adds to your total level. You pick RDA weapons from random crash sites.
In terms of feel, it felt similar to using Far Cry 6 guns, with a few exceptions. The guns have some weight when used, but they perform and behave similarly to weapons from that game. I would not be shocked if Ubisoft repurposed any of those weapons. Overall, you’ll see parallels to other Ubisoft products if you get over the honeymoon period. You’ll begin to feel irritated and annoyed once you discover this. Level-gating and superfluous gear schemes significantly reduce the experience. At the same time, the sparse UI and exploration-heavy mission structure demonstrate that someone at Ubisoft is prepared to explore.
Of course, given how strongly the game was pushed for its PC capabilities, we had to put it through our review procedure. We tested the game with 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
First and foremost, the game supports ray tracing and upscaling. However, the ray tracing technique in Frontiers of Pandora is somewhat different. Current-generation games usually make raytracing an optional toggle. After all, this is an NVIDIA-specific feature. We didn’t locate a toggle in the case of this game. Instead, your lighting choices are raytracing options. As a result, depending on the quality selected, raytracing quality increases, but performance degrades.
You can recover lost performance using NVIDIA DLSS upscale and AMD FSR, as well as various PC-specific settings such as shadows and textures. Visually, the Snowdrop engine does a lot of heavy work here. While the notorious Ubisoft dead-face NPCs remain, their appearance has improved due to the engine’s general human quality.
Division 2 features some good NPCs, which Frontiers of Pandora inherits. And the western border is gorgeous day or night. You’ll like every location, whether it’s the lush rainforests or the broad plains. I’m not sure what magic Massive created with the engine, but this is undoubtedly one of the best-looking games of 2023.
Our CPU and GPU performed a lot of work for performance. We had a CPU load of 74%, and the GPU maxed out at approximately 98%-100%. Frame rates varied, with lows of 56FPS in areas with foliage and intricate architecture and averages of approximately 100FPS elsewhere. This was using DLSS’s maximum quality settings. We only had around 30-45 frames to work with when we were not using DLSS, and even less at stressful times.
The game looks gorgeous, thanks to the Snowdrop engine and the lush Pandora, and a mid-tier 30-series or 40-series card should suffice.
Verdict: Is Pandora Worth The Trip?
Surprisingly, Avatar: Frontiers of Pandora has a strong canonical movie tie-in. This is one of the most captivating sets in the movie. The game bears justice to James Cameron’s vision, providing a compelling story to bridge the gap between the two movies. The fighting cycle is gratifying, and exploration adds to the obstacles. I hope to see more of them in future Ubisoft releases.
However, level-gating story missions with a forced gear system disrupt the game’s flow, and after a time, you’ve seen everything. These elements significantly degrade the overall experience. However, try it if you like watching movies and playing video games. For the rest, it comes down to whether you’re willing to put up with gear optimization and exploration.
Ubisoft scarcely released any games in 2023, and this game, like Assassin’s Creed Mirage, is a solid offering from the French publisher. Hopefully, we will see another Avatar title soon, expanding on the themes in this game and providing another good experience. We have a new Avatar movie in 2026, so you never know.
Avatar: Frontiers Of Pandora Pros & Cons
- A fantastic addition to the wider Avatar Universe.
- The battle cycle feels fun, and the guns make you feel powerful.
- Pandora’s Western Frontier is lush and wonderful to explore.
- Exploration-heavy gameplay enhances the difficulty nicely.
- Level-gated growth and a forced gear scheme destroy the flow and fun.
- No substantial activities after a long period leave something to be desired.
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Avatar: Frontiers of Pandora is a brand-new canonical story about the struggles of Na’vi residents against the invading RDA on Pandora. While the game adds a good extra plot to the universe and has fun exploration gameplay, the same cannot be said for its advancement and activities. However, this is a good offering from Ubisoft for a movie tie-in title.