In my mind, Avatar is such a weird franchise. The original film was one of the biggest films of all-time, with a box office return of almost three billion. It’s remembered for its groundbreaking special effects and ostensibly being the poster child for 3D cinema. Despite there being almost no Avatar related media in the thirteen year gap between the original film and its sequel, it’s still managed to pul in well over two billion dollars.
It seems only fitting that one of the biggest film franchises would find itself being adapted into a video game by one of the biggest video game publishers. I’ve had some time with Avatar: Frontiers of Pandora and, even though we don’t know a whole lot about this part of Pandora, they’ve done a great job at creating a lush and vibrant world that fits in with the vibe that the films were going for.
I was able to spend a few hours with the game ahead of it’s December release and came away feeling fairly positive. The gameplay is familiar to other shooters that Ubisoft has published in the path, but it’s the differentiating factors that set Frontiers of Pandora apart. The unique setting is the primary one, but there are some gameplay mechanics that are also quite unexpected.
As soon as I was set free into the open world, it became immediately obvious as to how beautiful Pandora is as a setting. This is Ubisoft’s first ninth generation exclusive console games and it’s absolutely gorgeous. The world is vibrant and the uniquely designed flora and fauna really help to set it apart from any other Ubisoft game. It’s a world that’s teeming with personality, inviting you to explore every corner of its colourful ambience.
It surprised me just how much densely packed variety there was in the environment. One second I was in a dense and lush forest full of vivid colour. Seconds later I was in a darker rainforest that felt different to other areas of the map. In my time with the game, I only was able to experience a small segment of this variety. Needless to say, I’m excited to see what the rest of the map holds and whether the indoor environments will have as much variety.
It was hard to grasp how the larger game is structure, as I only got to play a handful of missions which were shortened for the sake of time. But I’d expect that Frontiers of Pandora will be similar to Far Cry games in the sense that you’d expect light exploration, taking over of outposts or bases and light puzzle solving.
In the missions I started with, I was scavenging fruits from trees to return to my camp. Another one guided me through a series of mountains in a dense forest to find an Ikran (who I got to name as my precious Floof). This segment took up a bit of time and relied on puzzle-solving through using plants to get to different areas. It weirdly felt reminiscent of Horizon: Call of the Mountain, which I wasn’t expecting to get from an Avatar game.
From there, I was unleashed with my Ikran to explore the world from the sky, which did feel great to get around. On the Ikran, I was not only able to get around more quickly, but I could also engage in combat in the sky. I could take down RDA drones whilst flying on the winged beast. Again, it only made me want to explore the world more, which I wasn’t able to do with this demo as much.
The rest of my time with the game focused on combat. I managed to do battle with a large variety of wildlife and troops from the RDA in both foot combat and in the air. I even got to use a mech-like contraption to do battle as well.
The combat is interesting as the game shifts between first-person when you’re on foot and third-person elsewhere. I didn’t get that It feels like an odd design choice, given how iconic and large the Na’vi race is. I didn’t get that sense of scale and being larger than life that I’d expect from an Avatar game, with it feeling like Far Cry for the most part. It’s not a bad thing, and I assume this decision was made for a good reason, but it does make the game feel less distinct than it could have been.
In terms of weaponry, you can wield weapons belonging to both the Na’Vi and the RDA. On the Na’Vi side, there’s a range of bows and spears to take down enemies with. On the RDA side, it feels lifted straight out of Far Cry with an assortment of shotguns, machine guns and even RPGs to take down heavier wildlife and groups of enemies.
I like the idea of having a mixed set of weapons, it felt like mixing together the best bits of Far Cry Primal and Far Cry 5. When I was in the midst of an intense battle, it was fun to play around. It definitely feels like a fun gameplay loop that I’m keen to explore more.
Outside of this, Frontiers of Pandora has all of the hallmarks of a Ubisoft open-world. There’s gear, crafting, cooking and even a pretty big skill tree that was featured prominently in my time with the game. Stamina also plays a big role in controlling your character, so cooking is more important than it would’ve been in previous Ubisoft games. Stamina depletes pretty quickly, so you’ll have to rely on food to restore it.
I enjoyed both Avatar films, so I’m excited to see how much of the world I’ll be able to uncover in Frontiers of Pandora. I am eager to see how this game shapes up. I hope that it remains fulfilling throughout the entirety of it’s campaign, rather than feeling like a re-skinned Far Cry, as I feel that this franchise would hugely benefit from the unique sense of wonder that only the world of Pandora can provide. I’ve already felt that sense of wonder in the game, so I can only hope that will continue when the games releases next month.