Avatar: Frontiers of Pandora is Ubisoft developer Massive Entertainment’s latest open-world game, and I loved it. It tells a standalone tale on the moon Pandora, and much like James Cameron’s first two films, it is stunningly beautiful. Unlike those films though I finally found myself connecting to the franchise in a way that went beyond the eye candy. The Na’vi still look like weird, giant cat people, but the world they inhabit is one I adored. Frontiers of Pandora is an incredible canvas. One of the best maps I’ve ever experienced, both on the ground and in the air. For fans of the franchise, it is a dream come true, to frolic, fly, and fight your way through this amazing landscape. As always I’ll keep the story and any cool/secret game mechanics as spoiler-free as possible.
The Western Reaches
The game begins with your character and a few other Na’vi children being trained by the RDA (menacing bad guys) to be a bridge for them in their conquest of Pandora. You’ll choose your look and eventually embark on a restrictive but exhilarating escape sequence. The game feels good, and running, jumping, and sliding around as an over ten-foot-tall furry felt great. As you escape your school/prison and enter the open world for the first time it is a “leaving the vault in Fallout” style moment. Great gameplay, music, and action all pale in comparison to the splendor that is Pandora in this game. I’m normally not that into taking screenshots in-game but (as you can see in this review) I couldn’t stop taking them here.
I played fully maxed out on PC with FSR 3 and frame gen on. PC code had the day one patch available earlier thus my lack of time on Xbox. I’ll do my best to have footage for the review as I’ve been assured I’ll get access pre-embargo. Myself, Gyozo, and Jon from the team have various PC/laptop setups and the game looks and runs incredibly well on all of them. Massive and their Snowdrop engine are wizards, creating visual splendor rarely if ever seen before but having it optimized so well that damned near anyone can enjoy it.
A: FOP is a map game, but not an icon-filled one. Exploration is at the heart of the title, though those looking for a more direct experience can choose to be guided by waypoints if they choose. From afar this looks like a Far Cry type of title, in practice though it just feels different. You’re fast, the world is alien, and you can eventually fly nearly anywhere on the back of your Ikran. I want to live in these Frontiers, check every nook and cranny for upgrades, and take in just how damned beautiful it all is.
A: FOP’s main quests are routinely excellent. They expertly change between smaller character focused pieces & bombastic action free-for-alls when the time feels right. I completed the game in roughly 23 hours and still have enough side content for another 20+ if I wanted. While the main campaign is consistently high in quality the side content is a mixed bag. Avatar: Frontiers of Pandora has a focus on living off the land. You’ll be constantly crafting, cooking, and doing fetch quests for your fellow Na’vi and humans in the resistance alike.
This game feels big budget, mostly. When it doesn’t is mostly during side quests or open-world activities. You’ll go from an incredible set of bespoke animations and lines of dialogue in one mission into a copy-and-paste response from the fiftieth random Na’vi you’ve seen out in the open world. They’ll hand you gifts like cooking materials, armor, weapons, etc. with the same lines over and over again. I met the same fisherman who was having “terrible luck today” at least 40 times. This is no Red Dead Redemption 2, famous for its incredible, costly dedication to variety.
There are lots of side activities you can do to bolster your character’s strength. You have a couple of systems to level up. First is your basic experience system for skill points. You can improve your survivability, combat effectiveness, hunting prowess, and more. There are skill points located in the open world, certain plants when interacted with give you one, and all skill points spent add to your combat effectiveness. This is a system telling you how ready you are to fight the various high-level foes in the game. Every time you equip a piece of armor, weapon, or mod for either the numbers go up or down and it works well enough.
The inventory management is ok, though it took me some time to get used to how everything works. There is a lot here, and sometimes I wouldn’t interact with a particular system for a few hours and have to wrack my brain to remember how something worked. You’ll get multiple armor pieces and up to four equippable weapons at a time. There are three bow types (short, medium, and long-range), a spear thrower, grenade sling, assault rifles, and shotguns found through quests and chests. You can craft items too, and will need to build up clan favor or find spare parts as your two currencies to spend. There are a lot of systems that work great once you’re comfortable with navigating them.
Avatar: Frontiers of Pandora’s second best quality after its incredible-looking world is its gameplay. You’re a gigantic cat, who can run and jump better than any human could dream. Holding jump gives you a higher leap and you can claw your way up walls like a mountain goat. The game’s movement always feels fantastic. From the start until the end I got a slow power ramp of new ways to move and fight, allowing me to take on every situation however I wanted. While the game is easier if you’re good at stealth you can beat every fight going full DOOM Eternal on the RDA’s asses.
Starting with a long bow it felt good to great depending on the situation. As I unlocked more weaponry the possibilities felt damned near endless at times with how I would go about destroying a refinery to heal the land around it. After 5 hours or so I had my flying mount, and my Ikran named Fury and I became devasting dealers of death from above. Using the Long Bow I could pick off enemies or get to high vantage points to use my Na’vi senses to take out prey during a hunt.
Sadly, some severe difficulty spikes sour a few of the later campaign missions. As long as you maintain your Combat Effectiveness level I think most will be okay, during this review period I did rush a little more than I would have naturally but I still found a few of the late fights to feel unfair with how much incoming damage I was taking. Still on the whole the game’s combat and platforming are excellent. It far exceeds what is possible in a Far Cry title because you’re not restricted by what a human body can normally do.
For any of the Na’vi weaponry, you’ll be constantly in the game’s weapon wheel to craft ammo, which could get a bit tiring early on. There are upgrades to how much you can hold and make at a time that alleviates things but it did slow down my typical full-throttle combat style for the first half of my playthrough. Your main enemies will be humans on foot and those in AMP suits. I found the humans on foot to be far more deadly than the AMP suits as their tiny little guns did way more damage to me for some reason. It’s a weird thing and I have to imagine it is a bug, and one that’s fixed before launch if not soon after. The game does feature 2 player co-op, though it feels like an afterthought. It’s there, you can have fun, but it’s not really fleshed out at all.
An Avatar Story I Actually Liked?
As always I’ll be as spoiler-lite/free as possible. While the bad guy could have easily been called “Menacing T. BadPerson”, with how one note he was, I enjoyed the story of Avatar: Frontiers of Pandora way more than I have either movie. It’s not a crazy plot, or anything too deep, but the character writing and development were solid (mostly). It can be predictable, and one character’s motivations were constantly puzzling, feeling more like a set-in-stone thing that had to be than something earned. Outside of those instances though I cared a lot about my character, her friends, and everyone I met along the way.
There is consequence. Deaths feel impactful and not plot-driven. The solid writing is supported by excellent voiceover work. Na’vi and humans alike are well-directed, matching the situations well much as the incredible soundtrack does. I’ve asked PR for the OST so that I can put it behind the video review for this one because it is awesome. Combat music gets the blood pumping, gorgeous chants make exploration a dream, and hitting the open planes on a direhorse as the wind sweeps everything up around you and the beats hitting just right is sublime.
On the bug front, I had a few crashes on PC. I’ll update my review once I get to play on console but you’ll want to keep an eye out for anyone covering the game that was able to get an Xbox code before me (if there are any). I did play a bit on a Lenovo Legion Go, utilizing FSR at a mix of low and medium settings, it ran well at 1200p. Not ideal but extremely playable.
Performance on Xbox
I got Xbox code in the day before this embargo. I’ve played 3+ hours now and it runs and looks fantastic. The game starts with a 30fps Quality mode but I swapped over to a 60fps Performance one the moment I could. There is an FOV slider as well and while there is some light FSR shimmering I think it looks pretty damned great overall. I’ll be posting the first hour+ of gameplay up on the Xbox Era YT channel on launch day so you can see what it looks like.
Wrapping Things Up
Avatar: Frontiers of Pandora puts a bow on an incredible 2023 for PC and console players. It’s the best type of Ubisoft open-world title. One with a focus on fun gameplay, excellent storytelling, and respect for your time. It is perhaps the best-looking game I’ve ever seen. A delight for fans of Avatar, this game is so damned good that even one apathetic to the IP like myself couldn’t help but fall in love with it.
Avatar: Frontiers of Pandora
Ubisoft Connect (PC)
- Stunning Graphics
- Great Gameplay
- Incredible OST
- Good Writing
- Great Voice Acting
- Difficulty Spikes
- Lower Quality Side Content
- Bit of A Slow Start