Published on December 6th, 2023 | by Ali Arkani
Avatar Frontiers of Pandora Review
Summary: My relationship with Ubisoft in the past couple of years has been sort of a love-hate situation but Avatar Frontiers of Pandora has broken the cycle and feels like a breath of fresh air.
Avatar & Far Cry Fans!
My relationship with Ubisoft in the past couple of years has been sort of a love-hate situation. As an avid Prince of Persia and old-timer Ubisoft fan, I played its recent titles with disdain. I felt it was just the same ideas and gameplay mechanics put in a different environment. But Avatar Frontiers of Pandora has broken the cycle and feels like a breath of fresh air.
The game follows a group of Na’vi children from the almost extinct tribe of Sarentu – the storytellers and historians of the Na’vi- raised in captivity by humans on planet Pandora. As one of these children, the protagonist of the game eventually escapes captivity and embarks on a journey to free his people from the tyranny of “Sky people” and connect with his lost cultural heritage.
Everything in Avatar Frontiers of Pandora feels inspired by the Far Cry series and the story is no different. The protagonist faces the antagonist John Mercer – the Executive Vice President of human operations on Pandora – multiple times and has a personal grudge against him just like the recent entries of Far Cry but what makes the story more compelling here is the supporting characters. The protagonist has to go ahead and unite different Na’vi tribes and in doing so, he meets a cast of genuine characters. While the story itself may look unoriginal, the journey it takes to complete it and the people you will meet on the way will turn Avatar Frontiers of Pandora into a great experience.
Avatar Frontiers of Pandora is a first-person shooter focused on traditional weapons such as bows and spears. Players can use firearms such as assault rifles and shotguns, but bows and arrows are deadlier, more accurate, and also stealthy. The enemy variety is acceptable and each enemy type needs to be faced using specific strategies. For example, some of the AMPs – the combat exoskeletons seen in the movies- have a weak spot on their back and can be destroyed with one hit but others are armored and should be stealthily hacked first to disable their armor. Of course, going in guns blazing is always an option -even though it usually fails- but the game provides so many opportunities to deal with the enemies more efficiently and intelligently that not using them made me feel like a noob!
The first interesting fact about the game is that while there is a leveling system in the game, killing enemies does not award the player with XP points. As the Na’vi people are focused on being in harmony with all the living creatures, taking such a radical decision makes total sense. Instead, the player levels up by equipping better weapons and armor or unlocking new skills in the skill tree by finding and connecting with the memories of your Na’vi ancestors using Trees of Soul.
To find better quality weapons and equipment, the player has to craft them and that is where the game’s hunting and gathering elements come into play. The resources needed for crafting can be gathered from different plants and animals that can be found in different parts of Pandora. These resources have a rarity system in which the rarer the ingredient, the better the item made by it. While normal ingredients can be found relatively easily, the most exquisite items can only be made by exploring the world and collecting high-grade resources from special biomes across Pandora. This ingenious and indirect requirement highly encourages exploration.
Side-quests and activities are also abundant in Avatar Frontiers of Pandora. Players can help other Na’vi with their problems or disrupt human operations -called RDA bases- that are exploiting the natural resources of Pandora, polluting and killing the planet. While helping Na’vi doesn’t feel very rewarding -since there is no experience gained from them as already mentioned-, hitting RDA bases is really satisfying. The more of these bases such as drilling stations destroyed, the more life is restored to the planet and new species of plants and animals return to their biomes. The fact that these new species are gradually introduced to the game feels like the actions that the player takes are more than just the usual “free the outpost and unlock fast travel point” we see in games and have a deeper emotional impact.
It’s impossible to talk about Avatar and not mention its beautiful nature. Avatar Frontiers of Pandora perfectly paints the picture of a living and unique world. The open-world map of the game consists of multiple regions each inhabited by different Na’vi tribes, unique flora and fauna, and also special environmental conditions.
Ubisoft took the much welcomed open-world design approach as previously seen in Tom Clancy’s Ghost Recon Breakpoint for this game. The game provides two options when it comes to exploration. One is “Guided” which uses waypoint markers that show the next objective and the other is “Exploration” in which the player has to find the place of the next objective using the geographical info provided in the quest log. Players can explore regions using mounts such as the iconic flying Ikrans or nimble Direhorses but due to special environmental conditions, not every mount is available readily in every region.
The unique activities and conditions in each region are another added innovation the Ubisoft’s usual open-world formula. Some Na’vi tribes will ask for your help with finding and tuning their so-called Air Flutes across the region while others request destroying RDA air balloons in the region. Doing these tasks will earn the player “Clan Credit” which can be used to buy weapons, armor, and resources from clan merchants.
The environmental conditions are also another noteworthy feature of the game. For example, the Upper Plains region is windy and there are wind tunnels that can be used to boost the speed of Ikrans while flying. Another example is collecting resources from hunted animals in the Clouded Forest which should be done fast before the fly-like Shrouds gather around and ruin the hunt. The special conditions and unique side activities in each region not only make exploring Pandora feel like a never-ending surprise but also create an immersive experience.
Avatar Frontiers of Pandora is a must-play for Avatar and Far Cry fans. While the game uses the same proven and tested game mechanics and open-world design as Ubisoft’s famous FPS franchise, it manages to add enough innovation to each aspect of the game to emerge as a unique experience and not just “the same ideas and gameplay mechanics in a different environment”.