The New Avatar Game Gets One Thing Very Right 

The New Avatar Game Gets One Thing Very Right 

Review: Avatar – Frontiers of Pandora

James Cameron’s two Avatar movies – the highest and third-highest grossing films of all time – are surprisingly divisive despite being enormous hits. I come to this game, set within the timeline of the movies but on another continent, as a huge fan of those films. A large part of the appeal here, for me, is getting to explore Pandora in first-person, running through its jungles, swimming in rivers, witnessing the planet’s flora and fauna in harmony.

On this front, Avatar: Frontiers of Pandora is a huge success. After an initial introductory area set in a human research facility, your character – a Na’vi that players can craft in the game’s character creator – is set loose upon the lush, gorgeous world of Pandora. As I played through Frontiers of Pandora, my fondness for the planet grew. Just as the original Avatar film is about Jake Sully falling in love with the planet and its people, so too did I find that my misgivings with the game tended to slip away when I was running through a forest, climbing up snaking branches and cutting through the undergrowth. Visually, Frontiers of Pandora is a truly exquisite title – it might not look exactly like the film, but this game offers a better approximation than would have been possible on PS4. It’s a gorgeous, beautiful world. The whole game doesn’t quite live up to the promise of this gorgeous setting, but Pandora is such a star attraction that fans of the films will likely still find something to love here.

Frontiers of Pandora casts you as a member of the Sarentu tribe, a storytelling clan that was thought extinct. You and your kin were captured as children and trained within a human research facility your whole lives, which is a clever set-up for the game – the player, a human, must reconcile the character’s upbringing with their shared wonder over the world outside, and the natural abilities of the Na’vi. Running, jumping, and exploring this world is a delight – and when you unlock your Ikran and can fly all over the map you’ll feel even more free. 

The game stumbles somewhat, though, when you’re asked to engage with its combat systems. If you’ve played a big open world Ubisoft game in the last decade or so, especially one from the Far Cry series, you’ll know roughly what to expect – enemy outposts to clear, spotty stealth mechanics, weapons that feel slightly light and plasticky when you fire them. I found myself slightly dreading it when it became clear that the game was about to throw me into combat: the Na’vi are agile and tall, but also quite fragile under fire. You can mitigate damage by spending time crafting new armour and eating food mid-fight, but the combat itself simply doesn’t feel great. You’re encouraged to use stealth to sneak through enemy encounters and pick enemies off individually, but the stealth systems feel insufficient for coordinated plans. The game is not as combat-heavy as many open-world games are, but I found that when a mission asked me to go and clear out an enemy-heavy environment, it felt like a roadblock rather than the next interesting challenge. 

The game also suffers from an overabundance of resource management. The armour and item crafting requires that you keep gathering resources everywhere you go, throwing things out as your virtual pockets fill up, making sure that you’re as well-equipped as can be. Although exploring the natural world for material is more enjoyable here than it is in several other games, gearing up is all in service of the parts of the game that feel the most like busywork. Thankfully, there’s plenty of missions and objectives in the game that lean into its strengths, too – quests that focus on exploration, navigation, and appreciating the world of Pandora. 

Avatar: Frontiers of Pandora is an enormous game, and exploring the whole map will take a long time. I found myself sometimes slipping into a zen state as I tore off in a new direction, exploring an uncharted part of the world. The screen is less cluttered than is typical of open-world games – you need to use your Na’vi senses (which highlights certain objects) to find objectives and identify key points on the map, which feels like a natural use of the license. You could comfortably spend dozens of hours with this game if you want to do everything, and while some of that time will be a little tedious, there’s always the promise of turning a corner or wandering out of an overgrowth and being stunned by the vista in front of you. 

For all its flaws, and moments that I did not enjoy, I still had a good time with Avatar: Frontiers of Pandora. It’s the closest I’ll ever get to really exploring the world of the Na’vi – and if nothing else, this should tide me over until Cameron’s next Avatar movie. 

Avatar: Frontiers of Pandora is available now on Xbox Series X/S, PS5, and PC. A PS5 code was provided for review.

James O’Connor has been reviewing and writing about games since 2008.


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