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Avatar: Frontiers of Pandora Review — Out of this World?

Does Frontiers of Pandora live up to the spectacle of the Avatar film franchise?

Jeremy Proome

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Anyone who played 2009’s Avatar video game tie-in will remember a relatively straightforward run-and-gun adventure, which, while fun, didn’t manage to capture the magic and majestic nature of its namesake film. Well, much like James Cameron patiently awaiting for film technology to evolve before embarking on the admittedly excellent sequel, The Way of Water, so did Ubisoft when it came to the development of Avatar: Frontiers of Pandora. The development house has utilised all its skills and learning over the past decade and a bit in order to produce a game that’s more in-line with its big-screen counterpart, delivering a fun and immersive open-world adventure.

Let’s get the elephant in the room out of the way: many who saw initial trailers of the game undoubtedly thought: “that looks like Far Cry” — and the truth is that it kind of is, in the best of ways. The tyrant-toppling, district-by-district franchise has proved to be a great formula for many games, and it works well with the Avatar world. Teaming up with a ragtag group of Na’vi and humans, you have to elevate and motivate the surrounding tribes, all of whom have different agendas, to fight back an RDA contingent led by John Mercer, who makes for a really compelling bad guy.

You find outposts, clear out enemies, destroy mining machines, blow up munitions factories, and do a lot of RDA sabotage as you slowly take back the planet of Pandora, all while unlocking weapons, upgrading abilities, and getting distracted by side-quests. It’s all familiar but what makes this such a unique experience is full appreciation and embracing of the Avatar world, lore, and smaller details.

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In this sense, the real highlight here is the world. It’s astonishing how well the team at Ubisoft recreated the atmosphere and world of Pandora, as it doesn’t feel like a neon-coloured skin on a generic open world, but rather as bizarre and alive as it appears in the movies, with gorgeous moving flora, creatures howling in the background, and gorgeously detailed rivers and canyons. It feels dangerous and unpredictable, but in Avatar fashion, the idea of you being connected to the world is there. Plants react to your presence, seedlings give you temporary buffs, and parkouring through the world feels fantastic, especially utilising the raised log routes, which propel you with a speed boost. Working out how to move around the environment (and take advantage of it in combat) is incredibly rewarding and makes playing through Frontiers of Pandora feel like it’s you and the planet fighting back.

This focus on the environment really does affect how you approach combat. While you are double the size of any human while playing as a Na’vi, you are essentially always outgunned, with mechs, exosuits, and gunships often guarding most areas. Therefore, players have to utilise what’s around them before approaching a location, whether it’s picking off enemies one by one, luring them into some poison plants, or setting off a series of explosions before going in guns-blazing. The combination of trap-based combat and first-person shooting (whether it be with Na’vi or human weapons) is really engrossing and makes each encounter feel more dynamic than simply shooting till nothing is left moving.

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It’s by no means a weakness, but one of the lesser interesting parts of Frontiers of Pandora is the story, which tries to do something different by following more outcasted Na’vi characters, but eventually feels a bit dull in amongst the captivating action. It keeps things ticking along, and having the evil presence of Mercer constantly reminding you what you’re fighting to stop is great, but it sometimes feels like conversations are drawn out for the sake of length.

But again, Frontiers of Pandora is a really well-executed game with an absolutely stunning world that, like the films, plays a big role and acts as far more than a backdrop, allowing you to use the environment in clever ways to get the upper hand in traversal and combat. If you’ve been craving an open-world, dictator-destroying experience, and are an Avatar fan, this is the game you’ve been waiting for.

Avatar: Frontiers of Pandora is available on Xbox Series X/S, PS5, and PC.

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