Avatar: Frontiers of Pandora – Na’vigating A New World

Avatar: Frontiers of Pandora has been out for a few weeks now, and it’s time to render a final verdict. I posted a review in progress on its release, but after putting a whole lot more time into it, have my opinions changed? For the most part no, but I kinda wish they had.


The first thing I want to say is if you’re a fan of the Avatar films, and you don’t actively dislike Ubisoft’s open world formula, this game is going to be for you. This is a game for the fans, particularly those who are invested in the lore of Pandora and want to know more about the culture of the Na’vi. The Way of Water spent a lot of time on the politics between Na’vi clans, but I’d argue that the game goes deeper in its exploration of culture and traditions. It does, however, do so with the layer of a narrative steeped in colonialism overrshadowing its genuine depth. Of course, the movies do that too – so if you’re a fan of the movies, you’ll have a great time here. 

If you aren’t a fan of the movies, you might fall into one of two camps. If you actively hate them, then there won’t be much for you here. Enjoyment of Frontiers of Pandora hinges heavily on your desire to be immersed in the world of the Na’vi, and if that isn’t your bag, you can probably give this a miss – there are other games that will scratch the same itch that you can turn to instead (like Far Cry, I’m told, though I’ve never been into the series so take that advice with a grain of salt). If you, like me, feel ambivalent towards the films, but do have a passing interest in the world of Pandora itself – there’s fun to be had here. With some caveats. 


The plot of Frontiers of Pandora is tonally not too different from that of the films. You play as a Na’vi from the Sarentu clan, who along with several others, was taken as a child and brought up as part of The Ambassador Program (TAP) – a program which was designed to turn you into Na’vi-human ambassadors. After some general conflict that ensues mostly because kidnapping children and ripping them from their family is bad, you’re thrown into cryo-freeze by one of your mentors as they attempt to save your life, before being woken again sixteen years later and introduced to the new state of the world. Some of the members of The Ambassador Program have become part of the Resistance – a group that is now fighting against Mercer, the classic ruthless soldier villain we’ve come to expect from these films. It’s a more complex and interesting plot than I’m making it seem, but it’s also nothing particularly new in terms of an Avatar plot. 

With the Resistance on your side, your new goal becomes taking down Mercer, and that requires extra power. You’ll need to gain favor with the other clans throughout the game’s open world, some of whom will welcome you with open arms, and others who might need some convincing. Winning them over usually means obtaining items they need for crafting, cooking, or ceremonies, or (in most cases) helping them take down bases belonging to Mercer’s goons – the Resources Development Administration (RDA). These quests, again, present opportunities for learning about Na’vi culture. By foraging for certain plants and bringing them back to a camp, you might learn about a particular clan’s traditional dish, or the way they produce inks and dyes for use in ceremonies and rituals. But, mechanically, you are just moving from place to place foraging plants. Which is fine if you are invested in the reason for doing it, but if you aren’t doing it for the love of the Na’vi, it can get repetitive fairly quickly.

Taking down RDA bases also gets to feel pretty same-y before long, though I will say it provides a challenge every time. You have an arsenal of weapons at your disposal – three types of bows, several guns, a spear-thrower and a slingshot style Na’vi weapon – all of which can be upgraded and customised on your travels. But you, yourself, no matter how much you up your health metre or increase your healing slots, are very easy to kill. Picking enemies off from a distance only works until you come up against one who can’t be one-shotted, and then the whole camp is alerted to your presence, and you become a target. A few shots from one of the common mech-suit style enemies and you’ll be dead. In a more open area where you can run from enemies to regain health, it’s fine, and you can implement strategy, but if you find yourself in close quarters with even one enemy, you’re about two shots away from death. I’m willing to accept that part of the problem is that I’m just bad at this game, but it was hard not to get frustrated when I’d spent a good amount of time strategically picking enemies off from afar only to be absolutely ruined by the last two and forced to start the whole thing over again.

This game is absolutely at its best when it just lets you explore it on a mount, for more than one reason. The first is that it’s stunning. Much like the Avatar films, this game is pushing the boundaries of the visual medium, and the world of Pandora is an absolute feast for the eyes. Every plant, every creature, and the Na’vi themselves are lovingly rendered and a true testament to the team’s skills. It is a beautiful game. But that brings me to the second reason – mounts put you into a third person view, and all I want is to be able to play this game in third person. It would be a literal game-changer for me. I know there are reasons the devs have made the choice to leave it in first person, and I’m sure many of them have to do with immersion – and it does help with that. But if I could have just had more visibility of the walls I was trying to scale, or the enemies I was trying to fight through long grass when they could clearly see me, it would have made life much more enjoyable. The Na’vi senses you can use to scan your surroundings did help with the enemy situation, but I would have rathered I didn’t need to rely on them so heavily.

The mounts themselves are also a great inclusion. One of the game’s best moments happens when you’re meeting your Ikran (bird mount) for the first time, and the lead-up is an almost cinematic experience. It’s one of many moving moments the game offers, and that I wish there could have been more of. Your Ikran, like your character, can be customised with different accessories, and truly made your own, and flying around on her was my favourite part of this whole experience. 


Overall, this game is fine. When it’s good it’s great, but those moments are few and far between, and rely on you being invested in the existing lore of Pandora. If you’re a fan of the series, you will be able to forgive the UX and UI gripes like bad quest markers and occasionally-confusing instructions. If you aren’t, there’s still a fun experience to be had, but it’s probably one that can be found elsewhere. When thinking about this game, I’m going to choose to forget about everything involving combat, and just remember the time I spent soaring through the skies on my Ikran, Fury, marvelling at the colourful landscape below. 

Avatar: Frontiers of Pandora was reviewed on PC using a code kindly provided by the publisher. 

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