Avatar: Frontiers of Pandora is frustrating. I’ve never seen a game that looks as brilliant as this, but the game’s art direction is let down by so-so combat, awful AI, and weapons that just aren’t satisfying.
A beautiful world to explore
Moving around as a Na’vi feels fluid
You’re really big, offering valuable tall representation
Braindead AI and poor combat mechanics
Sluggish pacing and well-hidden quests make Avatar feel grindy
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Platform reviewed: PC
Available on: PC, Xbox Series X|S, PlayStation 5
Release date: 7 December, 2023
If there’s one thing that Ubisoft can do better than anyone else, it’s open-world collect-’em-ups. Avatar: Frontiers of Pandora is, ostensibly, an open-world collect-’em-up. However, somehow, despite Ubisoft being the reigning world champion of games where you mosey around a map polishing off side-quests and hoovering up loot, Avatar: Frontiers of Pandora fails to make the moseying, polishing, or hoovering particularly compelling, making the game hard to recommend.
On the surface, Frontiers of Pandora presents itself like a Far Cry game. In reality, poor combat and some slight jank make it worse than most of the titles in that franchise. This is unfortunate because with the Na’Vi protagonist being so invested in stealth, the superhuman abilities they possess, and the giant jungle for you to stalk your prey in, this actually feels more like Far Cry than many of the games that followed it in its own franchise.
As it stands, the main reason to play Frontiers of Pandora is to visit the world of the game’s title, with the moon of Pandora offering up vibrant plant life and one of the best jungles in video game history.
Sadly, the artistic brilliance of the world of Avatar: Frontiers of Pandora feels somewhat unfocused. It’s beautiful, but the weapons and gear you find feel much less interesting, and the UI looks average. But, from the second you first step into the trees after the game’s tutorial, you’ll fall in love, and that sense of amazement doesn’t go away.
Hard to Na'vigate
Avatar enthusiasm isn’t enough to support the entire game. The narrative is a little too earnest for my liking, but that’s a criticism that I also level at the Avatar movies, so it does feel authentic enough, and the story does feel somewhat distinct from the many other “gather strength and wage a guerilla war” games that have come out over the last decade. You spend a lot of time with an assortment of forgettable faces early on, and I struggled to care about many of them. Mostly because the glacial pace meant that I was often being sent out into the world to find new character after new character even while I petulantly kicked my heels, desperate to be allowed to get out and kill the bad guys. I get that this is a problem with me, but it still takes Frontiers of Pandora a really long time to get started, and it makes it a tough game to get invested in.
When you do get stuck in, there’s something that feels distinctly off about the combat. In my first real engagement, an enemy mechanized suit seemed unable to notice me, looking blankly into the horizon as I plinked arrow after arrow into his suit until it exploded. Human sentries, half my size and largely ineffectual, blended into the shrubs until I found them by the pulsing red icons showing me where damage was coming from.
Exploring Pandora, the fictional moon where Avatar: Frontiers of Pandora takes place, is divine. Your character is fast and agile and the world is perfectly designed to have you leap between giant trees and slide around at lightning speed.
At first, you fight with Navi weapons, a bow, and a sling that can fire proximity mines. These are fine for the early fights and I whooped the first time a critical hit on a mech suit with the bow saw my arrow plow through the hardened glass and kill the human operator inside. However, as the enemies start to get more durable, few of the weapons in Frontiers of Pandora feel like they have a real impact.
Nowhere is this felt more than with the bog standard assault rifle, which plinks rounds into enemies with an unsatisfying whump, closer to Nerf gun than a lethal weapon, and in comparison, I’d rather just be smacking people with my giant alien knees.
Over time you’ll level up, explore a skill tree filled with uninspiring skills and craft, loot, or hunt down a variety of different gear and resources. The jungle, beautiful as it is, doesn’t have a whole lot to do in it, but you’ll have to plow on with it anyway because progression is gated behind certain abilities or levels.
It’s okay because the best way to amuse yourself on the way is to massacre Pandora’s local wildlife.
Far cry me to the moon
Avatar has an incredibly strong environmental message: the Resources Development Administration (RDA) that you fight all of the time is destroying Pandora’s natural environment with their very existence: wilting the local wildlife, spewing pillars of smoke into the air and just being very naughty boys for the environment.
But honestly, I’m not sure my Na’vi is any better. The most tonally dissonant part of Avatar is how much pulling up roots, hunting animals, and running through the jungle mashing the F key to gather items goes against the ecological message at the heart of both the game and the Avatar movie series as a whole. Yes, no one doubts that hunting for food or crafting new leather gear is what the Na’vi in the universe of the film get up to, but it feels like murdering scores of native wildlife to get yourself a new pair of gloves every 30 minutes isn’t really in the spirit of things, you know? If I’m taking out an entire herd of animals so I can flog their parts for profit, am I really that different from the RDA?
A user interface menu has a highly customisable color blind mode that allows you to customise the colours while looking at a tester screen to see how it's working for you. The gameplay menu lets you make the gathering or several other areas instant instead of the usual minigame, which could suit for many people.
Frontiers of Pandora isn’t interested in these questions, only in a byzantine crafting system that triggers my fight or flight response every time I have to interact with it. The Breath of the Wild-inspired cooking system gets a pass just because it makes me laugh to make an eggy salad or mushroom-stuffed fish, though.
Unfortunately, Avatar: Frontiers of Pandora ultimately feels like the movies that inspired it: a beautiful world and fascinating setting are let down by the shallow world around it. If you’re a true Avatar head, this is your dream, but if not it’s hard not to think of the many better examples of the genre I’d rather be playing instead.
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Jake Tucker is the editor in chief of TechRadar Gaming and has worked at sites like NME, MCV, Trusted Reviews and many more. He collects vinyl, likes first-person shooters and turn-based tactics titles, but hates writing bios. Jake currently lives in London, and is bouncing around the city trying to eat at all of the nice restaurants.