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Avatar Frontiers of Pandora review

Stealing from the best can only get you so far.

Avatar Frontiers of Pandora boxart
Avatar: Frontiers of Pandora
3.5 out of 5 stars
3.5
Platforms
PC, XSX/S, PS5
Release date
7 December 2023
Price:
From $99.95 (Ubisoft Store)
Fergus Halliday
Dec 20, 2023
Icon Time To Read5 min read
pro
Pros
pro Gorgeous world
pro Stays true to source materials
pro There's a LOT to do
con
Cons
con Shootouts can feel like a slog
con Loot system feels shallow an unrewarding
con Often feels a little too derative

Reviewed on a  PlayStation 5.

Avatar has never been shy about cribbing from what came before it, so it’s little surprise that Ubisoft’s Frontiers of Pandora does much the same. 

Right from the announcement, the words ‘Far Cry’ have never been all that far from the Frontiers of Pandora. The other obvious comparison here is Horizon: Zero Dawn, though that one might say more about the mushy homogeneity of modern AAA open-world adventures than anything else.

Even if it's much better than 2009’s Avatar: The Game,  2023’s Frontiers of Pandora is just as much a product of its time. The saturated ‘scapes of Pandora have never been so lavishly realised, but the rest of the package never quite reaches the heights that it feels like it should given the pedigree and polish involved. 

Still, it is to Frontiers of Pandora’s credit that it does away almost entirely with the series’ titular conceit. The setup for the story here does what James Cameron won’t. In stark contrast to the adventures of Jake Sully, the narrative here is framed around the experiences of a group of Navi orphans who are kidnapped and raised by the human colonisers of the RDA. 

This twist in perspective allows for the game to feel somewhat fresh while also hitting many of the familiar notes that you’d expect a game set in this world would aim for. Following a few “deleted scenes” from the first Avatar film, you’re set loose and tasked with charting your own path across Pandora, pushing back against the latest encroachment on Navi territory by the RDA and uncovering the final fate of the clan that seemingly abandoned you. 

Overall, I’d hedge that your mileage with the writing in Frontiers of Pandora will vary based on how you feel about the writing in the Avatar films. It’s better or worse in spots but broadly very much in line with the self-serious tone of its source material. If you don't already like Avatar, this probably won't win you over. Even if that's here is arguably a better take on the tropes that James Cameron's films are working with, it's still made from them all the same.

Avatar Frontiers of Pandora screenshot

As far as open-world games go, Frontiers of Pandora is relatively linear and rarely surprising. Sure, you can pretty much pick a direction and walk where you want after the cutscene-heavy prologue is done with but you’ll want to stick to the main quest if you want to unlock the full breadth of systems that support more exploratory play engaging and rewarding.

In any case, what’s here resembles the open-world shooter template laid out by Far Cry. There’s no shortage of collectibles to find and enemy camps to clear. Look a little deeper and you might see shades of Cyberpunk 2077.

Like CD Projekt Red’s neon-lit noir, Frontiers of Pandora is all about immersing yourself in the fantasy of being a Navi. Your character doesn’t walk, they stride. They don’t jump. They leap. Even mundane things like crouching to get through human-sized doorways add to that sense of seeing the world through alien eyes. To that end, there’s even a Metroid Prime-like scanning mechanic that allows you to learn more about the ecosystem around you.

Much like Cyberpunk, Frontiers of Pandora ends up largely defined by its breadth rather than depth. There’s a lot of stuff you can do, though little of it is more consequence than it appears to be and the game doesn’t do much to bounce you between activities. You can scan and collect nearby flora, you can hunt and harvest meat from roaming fauna and you can use those components to cook meals and craft new weapons and armor for yourself. 

Frontiers of Pandora even eventually gives the ability to ride various creatures across Pandora, including the aerial Ikran. Once acquired, this unlock feels as transformative as something like a flying mount in World of Warcraft does, changing the way you approach encounters, missions and traversing Pandora in general. 

There’s a Destiny 2-like power system attached to your in-game gear so you’ll need to chase better loot to keep up with your adversaries. There are also weapon mods you can use to customise your gear further, though the modifiers never get any more interesting than doing five per cent more damage to this or taking three per cent less harm from that.

One of Frontiers of Pandora’s more inspired twists on this formula is that rather than disassemble or scrap unneeded loot, you can donate it to a given Navi community to improve your reputation with them, unlocking new items, recipes and quests. It’s a small touch that goes a long way towards complementing the specific themes of the story and setting involved.

For better or worse, the progression systems in Frontiers of Pandora often leave it feeling uncomfortably close to a kind of single-player MMORPG. The world is sprawling and lush, but lacking in the kind of focus that pulls you forward through a game of this scope and size.

Avatar Frontiers of Pandora screenshot

While combat is a big part of Frontiers of Pandora, it’s far from the only or the most important ingredient in the mix. Sometimes, you just want to vibe in the gorgeous landscape around you, gather a few funky-looking fruits and track down a secret collectible or two and the game does a great job of supporting that more laid-back style of play.

Whenever you do end up in a scrape though, the gunplay feels like one of the weakest links in the experience here. It's serviceable enough but rarely does it feel all that thrilling. Human enemies can be taken out silently with melee attacks of Navi weapons, but those stomping around in mech suits require a little bit more thought. Similar to something like Horizon, you can pick away at their weak points, use the environment around them or lure them into traps for massive damage. 

Despite the breadth of tools at your disposal, firefights in Frontiers of Pandora sometimes feel like they boil down to the element of surprise and little else. You can get upgrades for your health that make you a little more survivable, but even then only a few seconds of direct fire will take you out. This, combined with the lack of a proper cover system or more nuanced stealth mechanics, can lead to some pretty frustrating situations. More than once, I ended up almost softlocked by a mid-mission save.

Frontiers of Pandora does right by James Cameron’s Avatar in ways that its 2009 counterpart never could, but the repetitive progression and rote shootouts rarely live up to the well-realised world around them.

Avatar Frontiers of Pandora screenshot

Is Avatar: Frontiers of Pandora worth the money?

Given the rut that Ubisoft’s gluttonous approach to annualised franchises seems to have left it in, it’s all too tempting to see Avatar: Frontiers of Pandora as a template for the path forward for this style of open-world adventure. Even if you’re well and truly tired of Assassin’s Creed and Far Cry, maybe trading out the assassins, templar and charismatic psychopaths for a different set of names and nouns is enough to get you to roll the dice. Even if Avatar doesn’t do the trick, the upcoming Star Wars Outlaws might. 

However, for all that Frontiers of Pandora does to show off the potential upside of this model it can’t help but shed light on a few of the limitations. It’s gorgeous to behold and more than merely a component on most fronts, but there’s something cynical to the shallowness of the various vectors involved. It’s a destination game built for tourists. The longer you sit with it, the less it looks like a great one of those and the more it feels like an inoffensively fine one.

Then again, Avatar has never been a franchise seeking to subvert or reinvent the wheel. Perhaps it’s fitting that Frontiers of Pandora should fall into this same no-man’s land. 

Avatar Frontiers of Pandora trailer

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What can I play Avatar Frontiers of Pandora on?

Avatar Frontiers of Pandora is available now on PC, PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X and Xbox Series S.

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*Pricing and deals only accurate as of last page update. 

Fergus Halliday
Written by
Fergus Halliday
Fergus Halliday is a journalist and editor for Reviews.org. He’s written about technology, telecommunications, gaming and more for over a decade. He got his start writing in high school and began his full-time career as the Editor of PC World Australia. Fergus has made the MCV 30 Under 30 list, been a finalist for seven categories at the IT Journalism Awards and won Most Controversial Writer at the 2022 Consensus Awards. He has been published in Gizmodo, Kotaku, GamesHub, Press Start, Screen Rant, Superjump, Nestegg and more.

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