On the moon of Pandora, the RDA exploit the lush natural resources for their own gain. For their Ambassador Program (or TAP) run by John Mercer, they have kidnapped several Na’vi children to create the ultimate soldiers under the guise of sharing culture. After their defeat at the hands of Jake Sully and co., you and your fellow students were put into cryo sleep and forgotten. Now, sixteen years later, the RDA has returned and recruited your class to help stop them. To heal the western frontier of Pandora, you need to discover what it means to be Na’vi and reckon with your human upbringing.
James Cameron’s Avatar was an OK film, but established a fascinating world with environmentalist and anti-colonialist messages. I enjoyed the movie for what it was: a shallow story held up almost entirely by some spectacular visuals. I don’t remember a single character and I wouldn’t watch it again, but it was enjoyable. I do see a lot of potential in the universe, however, and held out hope Avatar: Frontiers of Pandora would deliver on that promise. It doesn’t, but just like the film, it’s still fun to explore this setting. This is a step in the right direction.
After a short introduction (in which you’ll easily be able to guess where the rest of the story goes), you create your character. The game is in first person, so this is mostly for co-op and looking at yourself in the menu. There aren’t a ton of options, but you can unlock more as you progress through the game with the ability to change most options including your voice (out of three choices) at any time. It’s always cool to create a non-human character though, and with the way the player character was brought up it’s easy to get in their headspace to learn about different Na’vi clans’ cultures.
Since your character was kidnapped at birth, they have no idea about what it means to be Na’vi, much less part of their clan. As such, that is the bulk of what Frontiers of Pandora is – learning to be Na’vi. You learn to hunt and properly respect your kills, bond with an Ikran to fly, ride through the plains on a direhorse, and more. It takes a while to unlock all of these things, but it does keep new and interesting things coming throughout your adventure.
Hunting and gathering have a surprising amount of depth to them. For the former, you want to hit the animal in their weak spot exclusively, and ideally only take a single arrow to do so (RDA weapons will ruin any materials you could have gathered afterwards). The closer you get to this ideal, the higher quality meat, horns, bones, and other crafting items you’ll gather after you pay your respects. It makes you approach hunting with purpose rather than just killing everything in sight. You have to choose your weapon and ammo type wisely, and then make sure you have breathing room to actually collect the materials afterwards.
Gathering introduces a small minigame in which you pull a fruit, some moss, or other plant gently in various directions to learn which will come off easiest. You don’t want to pick something quickly and have it break in the process after all. You also need to consider the environment when gathering, as some plants are ripest when it’s raining or at night.
All of these materials can be used for cooking food for buffs or crafting new gear. You’ll always want to have food on you to fill the hunger meter under your health bar, as the fuller it is that faster your health will begin to regenerate. The buffs from food can mean life or death in certain situations, like some spicy food to resist the flamethrowers from an AMP mech or increased damage for a few minutes while you take out a drilling facility polluting the area. You are very squishy in combat, so anything to help or keep you out of a straight fight entirely can go a long way.
Gear also comes with stat boosts that contribute to your overall power level, but I rarely engaged with this or the crafting system and just took whatever made my number go highest. Crafting good gear requires very specific qualities of materials, and I never had enough to actually make anything better than what I had on. Part of this is because your crafting material inventory is so small and your storage isn’t factored in when crafting, even at Resistance HQ. Even so, I usually kept up with the main quest power levels by doing side quests, and even when I was a few levels behind I enjoyed the challenge it provided.
Frontiers of Pandora is a pretty hard game, too. When fighting the RDA, you really need to leverage your speed or stealth to survive each encounter. You can go headfirst into every base and take them all on at once, but the game very much encourages you to at least try stealth first, as you’ll get more and better loot from bases if you can sabotage them without being spotted. That’s a lot harder than it sounds, especially when you need to get a mech out of your way to flip a switch. You can take out normal soldiers with a single arrow, but AMPs need to be hit hard in their tiny weak spots. Others are definitely going to notice the explosion regardless, so it may be better to set up explosive traps beforehand or simply hack the mech with your SID to disable it for a time. You are presented with a good amount of options for both combat and stealth that it always feels like there are multiple ways to tackle every situation.
One of my favorite parts of Avatar is actually the platforming. As a Na’vi, you have a chargeable jump, a small air dash, and an incredibly satisfying slide. Moving around the world quickly by touching blue plants for a speed boost just feels good, even if the overall quickest way to get around is on your Ikran. The game is at its absolute best when it plays like Mirror’s Edge but with significantly better combat. Unfortunately, not many missions leverage this.
Mission structure is the game’s downfall. Almost every main quest has you encountering RDA soldiers to either take them all out or bring down their base. Side quests have a bit more variety, like collecting materials or investigating and following sent trails. That said, I had to abandon at least 5 side quests because I couldn’t find the final clue to progress with how dense the foliage is.
These bases all start to feel the same after a while, and with a very small pool of enemy types most quests just blend together. The final mission thankfully takes things up a notch with bombastic action sequences and tense stealth sections, but other than that, only two quests stick out in my memory, both of which put more focus on movement and exploration. These are the Ikran bonding quest, which sees you climbing their rookery to prove yourself to your bond, and one taking place in what’s essentially a graveyard canyon where you tune instruments that play on the passing wind. These moments where the themes, mechanics, and world all come together mark some incredibly high highs, but are sadly few and far between.
The story likewise plays it too safe for my liking. As previously mentioned, you can see where it’s going to go within the first five minutes, and that would be fine if the game had interesting characters to back it all up. Right now, I’m really struggling to think of characters’ motivations or personalities. There’s one great moment involving your former teacher, Alma, who’s in an Avatar for most of the game. Priya is nervous and fun, and I like where Teylan’s character ends up, but overall there’s just not much going on here. I would have loved to really explore the idea of reconnecting with your roots and reckoning with your upbringing, but the game doesn’t really do that. Like the films, it’s all just too safe.
From a technical perspective, again like the film, Avatar: Frontier of Pandora is a masterclass. The game is gorgeous from top to bottom, with the most dense foliage we’ve seen in a game to date. This can be problematic at times as it can make locating a quest objective clue rather challenging, so this advancement cuts both ways. Combined with the excellent facial mocap, Avatar: Frontiers of Pandora is a showcase of the technical skill at Massive, and a hint at some of the forward-looking capabilities of their Snowdrop engine that powers this game and many others for Ubisoft.
Some games have integration with DualSense, but few make good use of it. Avatar falls into the latter category. In the beginning you are given a basic tutorial on how to safely remove fruit, supplies, etc. to preserve them. It comes with an indicator that shows the direction and how hard you should pull. After a while, that tutorial goes away, as does the indicator. The haptic triggers provide sensitivity that you can’t get anywhere else, with actual tension you can feel as you tug on a piece of fruit. Similarly, drawing your bow provides commensurate tension in the trigger pulls. Firing a machine gun is a visceral experience, as the controller bucks and shakes with the strongest chunking thumps it can provide. It’s incredibly immersive and I highly recommend you give it a shot if you have a DualSense available – it’s clear Ubisoft put a great deal of work into this feature, and I’m glad to see it included on PC and not just locked to the PlayStation 5.
David is the kind of person to wear his heart on his sleeve. He can find positives in anything, like this is a person who loved Star Fox Zero to death. You’ll see him playing all kinds of games: AAAs, Indies, game jam games, games of all genres, and writing about them! Here. On this website. When not writing or playing games, you can find David making music, games, or enjoying a good book.
David’s favorite games include NieR: Automata, Mother 3, and Gravity Rush.
Ron Burke is the Editor in Chief for Gaming Trend. Currently living in Fort Worth, Texas, Ron is an old-school gamer who enjoys CRPGs, action/adventure, platformers, music games, and has recently gotten into tabletop gaming.
Ron is also a fourth degree black belt, with a Master's rank in Matsumura Seito Shōrin-ryū, Moo Duk Kwan Tang Soo Do, Universal Tang Soo Do Alliance, and International Tang Soo Do Federation. He also holds ranks in several other styles in his search to be a well-rounded fighter.
Ron has been married to Gaming Trend Editor, Laura Burke, for 27 years. They have three dogs - Pazuzu (Irish Terrier), Atë, and Calliope (both Australian Kelpie/Pit Bull mixes).
Avatar: Frontiers: of Pandora
Avatar: Frontiers of Pandora has some excellent mechanical depth let down by repetitive missions and a very safe story. When you’re flowing through the environment taking out RDA soldiers with volleys of arrows, it feels fantastic. Unfortunately, the game doesn’t provide many opportunities to use the full breadth of its systems. Still, it’s drop dead gorgeous and very fun for what it is.