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Avatar: Frontiers of Pandora Review (PS5, Xbox Series X/S, Amazon Luna, & PC)

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Avatar: Frontiers of Pandora Review

As far as blockbuster film and video game adaptations go, it’s been a little bit tricky for studios to nail every aspect of the gameplay to perfection. Often, one element suffers in service to the other, whether the story, environment, or combat. Funny enough, the graphics almost always come out stunning. 

However, with the rampantly aesthetically pleasing modern-day games of today, a visual spectacle alone just doesn’t cut it anymore. That said, I crossed my fingers upon the arrival of Avatar: Frontiers of Pandora, desperately hoping that Ubisoft somehow manages to appeal to the soul in all the ways that matter. Let's get started with this Avatar: Frontiers of Pandora review.

Big to Small Screen

avatars and humans

Any fan of the Avatar series knows its alien jungle environments are the film’s best-selling point. There’s something magically inviting about it. 10-foot-tall blue Na’vi galavant their way across lush, green flora. They soar the skies atop dragon-like aerie mountain banshees native to Pandora. Meanwhile, humankind, in their thirst for power and mineral resources, forced their way into Pandora’s peaceful haven. They strip the Na’vi’s home for parts and spread industrial poison that threatens posterity. As tensions rise, the Na’vi tribes have no choice but to wield primitive spears and bows, joining forces to drive off the human faction to oblivion and restore the natural order of peace and life to Pandora. 

It’s essentially the blueprint Ubisoft needs to capture the true essence of what makes the Avatar films so great. The studio needs to embody the film’s dreamy environment and thematic storyline – with pretty heavy societal issues at its core. Plus, deliver an epic showdown between the Na’vi and the humans that closes off the game's curtains in style. It’s all easier said than done, of course, but such is the demand to deliver, and after Ubisoft’s Far Cry and Assassin’s Creed, I believe they’re certainly up to the task. So, shall we see how good of a job Ubisoft manages to accomplish? 

My, Oh, My

flora in pandora Avatar: Frontiers of Pandora

I mean, wow. Stepping into Pandora feels like a dream. The natural flora and fauna brim with life and sheer beauty. Each one is a variation of real-world creatures and plants, but still out of this world in their design and behavior. Flowers shoot spores out their breadths, bestowing upon you the power to run faster than usual. Vines hanging loosely above you can be used to swing from point A to point B. Meanwhile, the dragon-like aerial buddies from the film can be tamed to let you connect to them and soar the skies aboard their backs. 

Everything you can imagine from the film has been adapted into Avatar: Frontiers of Pandora to perfection—at least where the flora and fauna are concerned. If anything, they seem more expansive, with three major areas to explore. If you’re a sucker for free-form exploration, Avatar: Frontiers of Pandora is the perfect venture for you. It never restricts you to the beaten path. Neither does it dictate how you choose to carve your own path. 

Moving On

climping up

In fact, there are no quest markers on-screen to nudge you toward a preset path unless you choose to turn them on. Otherwise, it’s all up to you to decide which way to go and what to keep yourself busy with. Of course, free-form exploration can be a double-edged sword in open-world games, and within a few hours with Avatar: Frontiers of Pandora, the fatigue starts to kick in. With so much to see—and I mean, diverse biomes sprawling for miles upon miles, trekking on foot—however fast the 10-foot-tall Na’vi move begins to feel like a drag. Even when you mount your Ikran, it’s marvelous indeed, taking in the cliff sides and mountains floating in the air, but only for a while before it starts to feel like a bit of a slog. 

And so, Pandora’s saving grace becomes how interesting the things you can do between points of interest are. But I hate to say that they’re the usual by-the-numbers hunting and gathering tasks that have become Ubisoft’s M.O. With hints of survival gameplay, you need to eat to replenish health and stamina. Alternatively, gathering resources helps replenish community stocks to gain their favor when completing side quests. Or, they can help craft valuable equipment to upgrade your character’s skill level. 

With Dignity

Killing an animal wth an arrow

Avatar: Frontiers of Pandora does have an exciting twist on conservation, where there’s a right way to gather and hunt for resources. You can’t just press ‘X’ to pluck away fruits from trees. Instead, you have to caress them first and find the sweet spot to gently pull them off their stalk. The same goes for animals, where gunning them down won’t give the best yield. Instead, you’ll want to use arrows or spears to get the best quality yield. Pandora even goes ahead to dictate seasons for gathering – some fruits are the most ripe in the rainy season, and such. 

It’s a nice touch, considering the film’s central theme has always been conservation, but the concept, while thoughtful, doesn’t take away the ‘trash collection’ feeling Ubisoft has been sticking its guns to, where you’re merely piling up resources but not for any critical reason down the line. Even in a world as beautiful as Pandora, collecting resources for the sake of it eventually grows dull.

Story Time

Ahari shot

It would certainly help speed things along if the storyline was compelling enough to stick around for longer. So, briefly, Avatar: Frontiers of Pandora tells the story of a young Na’vi captured by a military group under the rule of a mean John Mercer and raised in a cycle of brutality and abuse. Years later, you manage to escape and set forth to earn the trust of the Na’vi tribes, urging them to join forces with you and take down the humans for good. 

So, the main missions kick off, often sabotaging smaller military bases that pollute the environment around them with their poisonous emissions. Each successful takedown brings back lush green flora and reinstates fauna back to their natural habitat. You can take on side missions as well, running errands for the tribes' people and forming relationships that influence story progression down the line.

But the issue is that everything is skimmed over rather quickly. Said brutality and abuse young Na’vi was raised under barely has enough screen time to properly set the antagonistic stage. In fact, the villains, RDA leader John Mercer and the head of the military muscle, General Angela Harding, mainly appear via Zoom screens, and to convey just how big of a threat the humans are, you’ll have to endure the Na’vi’s complaints. If that weren’t misguided enough, the Na’vi people themselves are almost interchangeable. They hardly have striking personalities that make you care. In the end, we’re left with a decent story that’s only held together by the heavy themes alluded to via shallow conversation or in-depth knowledge of the films. But perhaps combat does it better?

War is Here

shooting

Hopping from one military base to the next, thwarting operations by infiltrating and sabotaging core systems, Avatar: Frontiers of Pandora’s main combat stems from the Na’vi people facing off against the human invaders. Usually, enemy types will be soldiers, mechs, or aerial helicopters. Soldiers are pretty easy to dismantle, thanks to their longer limbs and bigger spears. Mechs, on the other hand, depend on their numbers. A solo runaway is a piece of cake. But five swarms can be a bit of a frenzy to pull off. 

Fortunately, Avatar: Frontiers of Pandora’s Parkour is top-tier. Your movement is pretty fast-paced, often swinging into action and out of it to safety in the blink of an eye. Some moments are pretty tense, having to switch weapons on the fly, thanks to constantly low ammunition and, well, the effectiveness of shotguns, rifles, arrows, spears, etc., for different situations. If you’ve played the Far Cry series, you should have a smooth handle on the mechanics. It plays pretty much the same, and thankfully, it is fluid and smooth as always.

While riding on your Ikran, you can take out helicopters, too, which can be pretty fun, especially when you add the freedom to jump off a cliff and have your Ikran meet you halfway. I have to say, combat is pretty fun overall. However, it can grow on you after a few runs because, ultimately, the enemy variety isn’t as deep as one might hope. Neither are the missions, which become repetitive after a few runs. 

Verdict

Alma holding down human

On the three essentials I feel would have made Avatar: Frontiers of Pandora truly embody the essence of the Avatar films, I’m afraid only two of them have managed to hit the bull’s eye. It’s no secret at this point that the environments are to die for, whether or not you’re an Avatar fan. But visual spectacle alone isn’t enough to make a game truly great. So, it comes down to the story and combat. While the story dangerously lingers too closely on the dull side, combat manages to deliver worthwhile ounces of fun. 

Avatar: Frontiers of Pandora is the perfect game for die-hard Avatar fans. It’s definitely the best adaptation that the open-world genre can offer. As for newcomers, perhaps only those looking for visually stunning open-world experiences will have the time of their lives with this one.

Avatar: Frontiers of Pandora Review (PS5, Xbox Series X/S, Amazon Luna, & PC)

Far Cry in Blue Skin

It’s fantastic to see the Avatar films finally get their video game adaptation, and Avatar: Frontiers of Pandora outdoes itself as far as capturing the film’s alien jungle environments is concerned. 

 

Evans I. Karanja is a freelance writer who loves to write about anything technology. He is always on the lookout for interesting topics, and enjoys writing about video games, cryptocurrency and blockchain and more. When not writing, he can be found playing video games or watching F1.