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Within the first hour of Avatar: Frontiers of Pandora, you’re taking down a base in order to clear some of the map.
Rarely does a game set its stall out quite so quickly. It’s almost overwhelming just how much Avatar’s opening hours feel like a blue-skinned Far Cry sequel, and while it does do some things to slightly refresh the formula, from a gameplay perspective, the game rarely gets more exciting than that.
Avatar: Frontiers of Pandora opens with the player cast as a Navi child who was kidnapped by the RDA (the human colonizers) and forced into a re-education program. During a failed breakout, your character suffers a tragedy that will inspire them to escape into the outside world, reconnect with their heritage, and rid Pandora of the RDA.
Avatar is a big-budget open-world game from a previous era. It’s a rather good one of those, and we can’t help get the feeling that if this game had dropped 5 years ago, it would have come across as far stronger, but open-world fatigue, specifically Ubisoft open-world fatigue, still hasn’t worn off.
You’re going around the world collecting crafting materials that can improve your gear by negligible amounts. You’re spending time in menus debating the merits of tiny stat buffs, only for the items to be quickly made irrelevant by mission rewards.
The game offers two modes for the main campaign, each of which determines how much handholding the missions will offer you. One mode suggests general clues about where you should go next, or will tell you the name of a place rather than a specific quest marker, and it’s up to you to work out where you should go.
This is a much better way to play the game and offers a sense of exploration that is largely eliminated when you instead choose to have the glowing orb guiding you to your next mission.
The bow combat in Avatar is a lot of fun, and it’s still enjoyable to stealth through RDA camps picking off enemies one by one. It becomes a bit farcical when you remember that your character is around 9 feet tall, but it’s still better than the alternative: open fire.
For plot reasons, your character is trained with firearms, meaning when you get into the outside world, you can pick up an assault rifle and open fire on the RDA. This presents an imbalance that the game never addresses.
In a stealth game, if you get to the point where you have to pull out the gun and open fire, you’ve probably lost. Sure, you might not actually die, but it’s not how you’re supposed to play the game.
In Frontiers of Pandora, the guns are so powerful there’s no need to sneak around whatsoever. Combine that with an incredibly powerful stun grenade you’re given at the game’s outset, and you’re less wandering naive Navi and more John Ramblue.
This is all in aid of a story that is deeply inconsistent. There’s a huge amount of terms and place names thrown at you all at once, which becomes somewhat overwhelming. The game has a built-in fish-out-of-water device it could use to explain things at a bit of a slower pace, but Frontiers of Pandora gets bogged down into the weeds of lore extremely quickly.
“It’s a genuinely stunning game, and easily one of the best-looking open-world games we’ve ever played.”
It’s a typical rebellion story, including some strangely dated references to real-life political unrest, but it’s far from a memorable story, making it one of the most true-to-IP elements of the game.
While the story didn’t do anything for us, the real star of the show is Pandora itself. Pandora is an incredible open-world local to explore, and a breath of fresh air from the realistic wildernesses of the last decade of open worlds.
Much like the films, Frontiers of Pandora gets to have fun ripping the laws of physics to bits, going absolutely wild with the bioluminescent paints, and making the world pop. It’s a genuinely stunning game, and easily one of the best-looking open-world games we’ve ever played.
The music in Avatar Frontiers of Pandora is also a highlight, with well-timed musical cues routinely injecting a sense of majesty and epic scale to what you’re doing. The first time you take off on your flying mount across the skies of Pandora is very moving. It’s a game that has its presentation absolutely nailed down, but this does come at the price of performance.
Even on top-of-the-line PC hardware, we encountered consistent slowdown when transitioning in and out of cutscenes, often leaving characters frozen in place while dialogue played. At other times the game would be running flawlessly at the highest settings, then suddenly shudder to a halt and crash down to single-digit frames per second.
Avatar: Frontiers of Pandora is a good game that has one massive blue foot in two different generations. While presentationally, it’s sublime, from a gameplay perspective, it rarely offers anything new, and still relies on much-mocked map-clearing clutter.
Avatar: Frontiers of Pandora is a serviceable open world game elevated by a stunning presentation. While the visuals will utterly wow you, it's a shame it doesn't introduce more original ideas.
- One of the best looking open-world games we've ever played
- Stunning music
- Pandora is fun to fly around
- Dated mission structure
- Open world busy work