Avatar: Frontiers Of Pandora

Platform(s): PC, PlayStation 5, Xbox Series X
Genre: Action/Adventure
Publisher: Ubisoft
Developer: Massive Entertainment
Release Date: Dec. 7, 2023


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PS5/XSX/PC Preview - 'Avatar: Frontiers of Pandora'

by Adam Pavlacka on Oct. 30, 2023 @ 9:00 a.m. PDT

Avatar: Frontiers of Pandora is a first-person, action/adventure game set in the open world of the never-before-seen Western Frontier of Pandora.

Avatar: Frontiers of Pandora may share a world with James Cameron's movies, but the game charts its own course in both story and environment. Whereas "The Way of Water" focused on Pandora's Eastern Sea, Frontiers of Pandora has players exploring the Western frontier of the moon. This part of the moon has multiple biomes, so you'll get to explore different environments on land and in the air.

The preview build provided an abbreviated version of the story, but the gist is that you're playing as a Na'vi who was originally raised by humans but has now returned to your people to fight off another incursion by the RDA. Your upbringing makes you a bit of an outsider among the Na'vi, but it also means you're well versed with RDA weapons. A bow is nice for silent kills, but a machine gun can be very handy when facing the armored forces of the RDA.

Immediately after jumping into the game, I noticed the scope of the world. The playable area in Pandora is large, and you start out on foot. While this limits the speed of movement, it also forces you to look around and appreciate the detail in the environment. The environment artists at Massive have put in a massive effort to create a believable ecosystem. It's not uncommon to run across wildlife as you explore; some of it is friendly and some of it hostile, but all of it can blend in well. Natural camouflage is a thing, so if you don't want to be surprised, you'll have to make liberal use of your Na'vi vision to keep track of wildlife and the RDA.

Mission goals across the demo were varied. The first mission had me searching for a specific kind of fruit and then using the analog stick and a trigger button to gently pluck it without damage. It was your basic fetch quest, but it highlighted the usefulness of Na'vi vision.

More challenging was making my way up a floating mountain to find an Ikran to partner with. This was where I got to grips with the Na'vi navigation controls, but I wouldn't call myself graceful. Due to their natural athleticism, the Na'vi can jump higher and farther than humans, and that's reflected in your traversal abilities. For the most part, it's a matter of knowing when to use a charged jump or an air boost. Thankfully, you don't need to have perfect timing. Button-mashing will get you most of the way there.

Unlike in many open-world games with very visual markers for interaction, the clues in Frontiers of Pandora were more subtle. While climbing up the rookery, the key was to keep an eye on the vines. They offered clues to the correct path and connected the multiple gateway lilies that were blocking the way. The gateway lilies were one environmental puzzle. Getting past them was relatively simple (shoot to trigger), but the challenge was in finding all of the target locations.

Once at the top of the rookery, I had to soothe the Ikran before bonding with it. The soothing mechanic is also used with wildlife in the open world. After bonding, you get to name your Ikran, and it's off to the races.

Flying is a much faster way to travel compared to being on foot. Your Ikran also doubles as a lifesaver if you ever fall from a great height. In fact, falling is how you call it. Just jump off a cliff, and call your Ikran to have it come to you.

You can both fly and fight while on an Ikran, and there are skills that make it more useful when facing RDA copters. For the preview, I was tasked with taking out floating RDA antennas. This required landing on them, scanning them, and hopping back on the Ikran before shooting the power cells to blow the platform. Weirdly, this is one element that sounds cooler than it felt. Perhaps it was my limited time with the game, but combining all of those steps felt a bit forced, as opposed to a smooth combination of game mechanics.

The final demo mission was a base infiltration. I made heavy use of the Na'vi vision and sent out scan pings almost constantly. This mission required hacking and disabling various gear in an RDA base. Going head to head with them wasn't an answer — I tried and it ended badly — so I opted for stealth.

Stealth infiltration in Frontiers of Pandora is all about environmental awareness. You can eliminate enemies to help you even the odds, but it isn't required. The key is knowing where your opponents are at all times and then moving in between the gaps in their patrol patterns.

After completing the main story missions in the demo, I had some time to explore a side mission in the open world. Aligning with the environmental theme running throughout the franchise, there are a number of polluted areas in Pandora thanks to the RDA. Eliminating a drilling rig gets rid of the immediate RDA forces and reduces local pollution. In this case, the drilling rig I attacked was much smaller than a base, so I opted for the machine gun over stealth.

The available missions in the preview build were limited on story, but they did a good job of highlighting the gameplay elements in Frontiers of Pandora. For Avatar franchise fans who would like to explore the world at their leisure, Frontiers of Pandora is likely to be a hit. Purely as an open-world game, though, it's more difficult to predict success.

While all of the individual elements were well polished, it didn't always feel like they meshed smoothly into a coherent whole. It was more like using a set of required features than the emergent play that makes open-world games shine. Assuming the full game can smooth out those rough edges, Frontiers of Pandora could be as popular as one of the movies. If not, Frontiers of Pandora could end up being more flash than substance. We'll have to see how the final game comes together before passing judgment.

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