“Far Cry, but you’re big and blue.” That’s basically the elevator pitch for Avatar: Frontiers of Pandora, Ubisoft’s latest open-world epic. And really, it’s a fairly accurate description. There’s more than a smattering of The Division DNA here too – unsurprising, considering Ubisoft’s Massive has been working on it – and even a little taste of Watch Dogs. One thing’s for certain then: this sure is an Ubisoft game.
If you love getting lost in a huge world, filled to the brim with stuff to find, quests to complete and random bits and bobs to interact with, Avatar: Frontiers of Pandora is a dream come true. No matter how you feel about James Cameron’s movie series, there’s no denying that Pandora makes for a rather epic playground. It’s a beautiful planet, bursting with colourful, magical flora and fauna – and that has carried over exceptionally well to the game. Wow, this truly is stunning. It’s one of those games that’s a struggle to concentrate on because you’re too busy opening up photo mode for the 27th time in the last ten minutes.
The beauty here is truly captivating. Whether you’re stood on the edge of a cliff, admiring the vista in front of you, or whether you’re deep in the forest, surrounded by tall trees, alien bamboo and flowers of just about every colour of the rainbow, you’re going to be impressed. This is a world you’ll want to explore. Sometimes, I simply ran for the sake of it; eschewing missions for the joy of exploring and merely existing in the world. It helps that you’re never far away from something to discover, whether it’s a new species of plant or animal, an abandoned hideout or an enemy camp.
“If you love getting lost in a huge world, filled to the brim with stuff to find, quests to complete and random bits and bobs to interact with, Avatar: Frontiers of Pandora is a dream come true.”
There is, of course, a main campaign to follow in Avatar: Frontiers of Pandora. It took a little for me to warm to it, but even despite not having seen the latest Avatar movie – and not remembering a great deal about the first – I soon came to care for my big, blue protagonist and her companions. You take on the role of a Na’vi who grew up in an RDA facility – i.e. the human enemies – after being kidnapped as a baby. Stepping foot outside in the world of Pandora for the first time, your journey involves a healthy mix of discovering who you are, and kicking human butt.
There’s a lot of combat here, and it can be a little unforgiving – particularly in the early hours. This is a game that wants you to be stealthy, but doesn’t really provide the toolkit to do so successfully. I mean, you’re nine feet tall and bright blue, for crying out loud. Your natural form is encumbered further by the fact that there’s not always adequate cover, you have no means to perform stealth takedowns, and even when you’re firing a (rather silent) bow and arrow, nearby enemies seem to be alerted to your presence.
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Much of the time, then, you’re forced to simply jump into battle with both feet, running and gunning your way around the battlefield with reckless abandon. Coming up against giant mechs and large armies of humans means you’re often outnumbered and it’s easy to get yourself in a situation where you’re taking fire from all sides. Death comes easily if you’re ill-prepared – even on the easiest difficulty – so expect to see more than your fair share of ‘game over’ screens.
Thankfully, things do get a little more manageable later on when you have better gear and more weapons at your disposal. If you manage to sneak into an enemy outpost and get yourself a high vantage point, taking out foes one by one with a powerful longbow is a lot of fun. The chaos of running around with a shotgun is fine, sure, but being able to take a more measured approach is definitely what Avatar: Frontiers of Pandora intends for you to do. It’s just a shame it’s not always achievable.
“The smaller, quieter moments in Avatar: Frontiers of Pandora are some of my favourites.”
Rather than levelling up in a traditional manner in Avatar: Frontiers of Pandora, your character level is tied more closely to the gear you have equipped. You’ll gain skill points as you progress through the game and complete missions, but your overall level won’t increase until you spend them and equip better items. The onus is always on you, then, to ensure you have the best weapons and pieces of armour equipped – which you can either find or craft. It took me a while to get a loadout I was happy with, making progress feel a little slow to begin with, but as you progress through the campaign, more and more gear will be thrown at you, keeping upgrades plentiful.
Of course, combat isn’t all you’ll be doing here. And honestly, the smaller, quieter moments in Avatar: Frontiers of Pandora are some of my favourites. There’s an incredible set piece a few hours in that leads up to you getting an ikran – a flying mount – for the first time. You’ll make your way up a twisty mountain, cutting through caves and jumping over ledges, and the whole thing is thrilling. It’s spurred on by a gorgeous orchestral soundtrack – one of the rare times it truly shines in the game – making the whole sequence feel rather magical.
The payoff is fantastic, too: being able to ride your ikran through the skies, dashing through valleys and dodging between trees, is an incredible feeling – and a great way to once again admire just how beautiful a game Avatar: Frontiers of Pandora really is. It’s hard to go back to being on the ground once you’ve taken to the air – but it helps that your Na’vi is rather nimble despite their large stature. You can gather up some pretty decent speed and a sizeable jump makes getting around a doddle.
“The beauty here is truly captivating.”
Away from the beautiful, colourful nature of Pandora, you’ll also spend a fair bit of time inside abandoned human structures. The stark contrast between the dull metal constructions as they’re taken over by Pandora’s vibrant nature is rather striking, making them feel rather unique to explore. It’s in these areas that you’ll find that sprinkling of Watch Dogs: you’ll regularly have to hack electrical devices and reroute circuits to power up terminals and more.
These sections add a nice bit of puzzle relief to an otherwise action-centric experience, but they do feel a little out of place in a game where your relationship with nature is king. The same game has you connecting to your ancestors via a magical weeping willow, then ten minutes later you’re using a weird gun to hack into a PC. Is this really a problem with the game though? Not really; it mostly speaks to the strangeness of the Avatar universe.
“The gorgeous world of Pandora makes for a fantastic playground that simply begs to be explored.”
I’ve tested Avatar: Frontiers of Pandora on both PC and PS5 and have been impressed with the performance on both. I’ve sunk more time into the PC version, running on a machine with an RTX 3070 and 11th gen i7. With the settings on high, I’ve had a smooth framerate with very few instances of slowdown. On PS5, I’ve had similar performance – and on both, it’s looked absolutely sublime. I’ve had very few hiccups, too; no doubt there are some glitches out there that I haven’t encountered – this is an open world experience, after all – but in my experience this is an incredibly well-polished game.
If you’re a fan of Ubisoft’s open world formula, you’re going to love Avatar: Frontiers of Pandora. No, it doesn’t reinvent the wheel, but it doesn’t have to. The gorgeous world of Pandora makes for a fantastic playground that simply begs to be explored. And if that’s not enough, you’ve got some epic set pieces, an enjoyable story and a great variety of side content to look forward to, too. It’s open world game 101, and I’m just fine with that.