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Avatar: Frontiers of Pandora Review (PS5) – Far Cry Meets Pandora In Ubisoft’s Latest Opulent Blockbuster

Avatar: Frontiers of Pandora is an open world action adventure game developed by Ubisoft and largely follows the open world template that the European publisher and developer has spun out across its various franchises. Previously, Ubisoft released an Avatar game in 2009 titled “James Cameron’s Avatar: The Game” and some fourteen years later, we get a new entry in the game series which releases just a year after the second Avatar movie, Avatar: The Way of Water. Avatar: Frontiers of Pandora takes place at the same time as the movies, but the story is entirely new and can be played solo or in two player online co-op.

Avatar Frontiers of Pandora PS5 Review


Far Cry Meets Pandora In Ubisoft’s Latest Opulent Blockbuster

In Avatar: Frontiers of Pandora, you play as a Na’vi, one of the blue-skinned inhabitants of the moon Pandora. At the start of the game you can create your own character, pick a gender, voice, and visual appearance before getting into the game proper. There is a ‘Guided’ mode that marks objectives and an ‘Exploration’ mode in which you must find objectives yourself – something that fans of the recent Assassin’s Creed games will recognise. Finally, you can pick between three difficulty settings, easy, medium and high, which scale the damage you deal and take.

While the game is set in the Avatar universe from the movies, it has its own unique storyline and takes place in a different continent, the Western Frontier. Humans have built bases around Pandora that pollute the environment and as a Na’vi resistance fighter you are tasked with the goal of destroying the human bases, thus cleansing the environment in the process. The overall story structure, world design, and gameplay are all very similar to previous Far Cry games, just set in a world that’s inspired by the Avatar movies – something that’s worth bearing in mind considering your mileage on those games.

Welcome To Pandora

After a short prologue you reach the open world of the Western Frontier. From here, you gain access to a regular bow as your first weapon and come to an outpost where humans and Na’vi live together. The humans there are friendly and help you fight the not-so-nice humans who are hell-bent on destroying the environment of Pandora. From there, you’re introduced to crafting, get a hacking tool, destroy the first enemy installation, and must then visit the three Na’vi clans who rule the Western Frontier to gain their support. Again structurally, this is Far Cry 101.

The game is split into three regions, each ruled by a different clan: Kinglor Forest (Aranahe Clan), Upper Plains (Zeswa Clan) and the Clouded Forest (Kame’tire Clan). By completing quests for each clan to fight the humans in their region you gain favour with that clan which you can exchange for unique items. In addition to main quests, there are also side quests for each clan and a range of open-world collectibles that get marked on the map when going near them.

All in all, finishing the story took me a little under twenty hours. A bunch of this time was spent levelling up, not least because if you are too under-leveled it’s difficult even on the easiest setting, so you can’t just rush through the story. There is no traditional XP levelling system either, instead your level is tied to your gear. In other words, there’s no “character level”, only an overall “equipment level” which is calculated from the stats of your equipped gear. Gear isn’t dropped by enemies, it comes from loot chests, crafting, or buying it from merchants and so in this sense, Avatar: Frontiers of Pandora greatly encourages exploration.

For the first five hours I found Avatar: Frontiers of Pandora quite fascinating. The world design is where the game shines, with the local flora and fauna feeling like alien lifeforms that serve a purpose for crafting and cooking, rather than just eye candy. The dynamic weather effects, paired with the lush jungle environment also give the game a survivalist feeling that you’re fighting the elements as much as you are your human enemies. It does look fantastic and if you like open world exploration there’s certainly something here for you. Unfortunately, after about five hours, you’ve seen all enemies and weapons once and nothing new gets added for the rest of the game. Needless to say, Avatar: Frontiers of Pandora gets very repetitive after that.

Far Cry: Pandora Edition

The shortest and bluntest way to sum up this game would be “Far Cry reskin”. Gameplay-wise it’s most similar to Far Cry Primal as you rely primarily on your Bow for combat rather than a massive arsenal of firearms. Besides the bow there are also throwable spears and a neat staffsling that can be used to lay traps. However, the staffsling isn’t used quite much as its ammo requires rare crafting materials. There are also three human weapons that you can use: an assault rifle, shotgun, and rocket launcher. You can employ these in battle too but can’t craft ammo for them so they are of limited use. For the bow and spear you can always craft ammo by collecting sticks in the wild, thus they are the go-to weapons.

Arguably, Avatar: Frontiers of Pandora biggest flaw is the lack of enemy types and weapons. There are only three enemy types: human soldiers that die in one hit, mechs (bipedal robots) and helicopters. The enemies you spend the most time shooting at are the mechs and these come in different forms, with guns, mortars and flamethrower variants. Effectively, you are just shooting arrows at mech-robots for most of the combat and as you might expect they are big chunks of metal that make easy targets, just with a lot of health. Doing this on repeat gets boring after conquering the first few bases.

The lack of enemy variety is compounded by the lack of weapons. The enemies kill you super quick, even on easy I would die in two to three seconds when getting close to enemies out in the open. The only way to stand a chance is to peak around a corner, shoot an arrow at the mechs and then rinse and repeat until they are no more. This peek-a-boo style gameplay of shooting arrows at mechs doesn’t offer much variety at all and while you can theoretically use a stealth approach, objectives in bases are densely surrounded by enemies which often makes stealth impractical. If you shoot an enemy it will instantly alert all the others.

So most of the time you spend hiding behind a corner, shooting one arrow after another at the mechs until all enemies are cleared out. Another repetitive feature is the hacking tool. Hacking electronics starts a simple rat maze puzzle where you must guide a dot from one end to the other. There is no variety with the puzzles and nothing that requires thinking outside the box. It’s absolutely formulaic stuff.

Huge Unused Space

The map is huge and is roughly 250km² (around 16×16 km). It took me over eight hours to fully unfog and mark all points of interest with a flying mount. What made this daunting was that you have to tap the X button repeatedly to speed up and keep feeding your mount to fly fast, this is okay for shorter distances but doing it for hours on end was more annoying than fun. There are no viewpoints to unfog the map, so you must manually fly everywhere to reveal it in a radius around you. The ability to fly in each region unlocks as the story progresses.

World of Avatar Frontiers of Pandora Unfogged

However despite its overwhelming size, almost all of it is empty jungle, with a bunch of enemy bases here and there and a couple of repeated points of interest. Avatar: Frontiers of Pandora is simply too big for its own good. Even with the flying mount getting from one place to another takes too long, making the map feel unnecessarily large and empty instead of serving a purpose. There’s a lot of copy and paste with the game assets too. Smaller would certainly have been better in this case.

When it comes to the technical side of things, visuals and performance on PlayStation 5 are pretty good, but there is frequent texture pop-ins – particularly trees in the distance just manifest frequently out of nowhere as you move around the environment. All the same, I would highly recommend picking the sixty frames per second Performance Mode over the thirty frames per second Quality Mode for a more fluid gameplay experience, quite simply the small visual quality trade off for responsiveness is more than worth it.

That said, in my thirty plus hours with the game I didn’t encounter any bugs and it’s clear that Ubisoft did put a lot of work into designing an authentic Avatar world, but the combat doesn’t have enough variety to keep it interesting over the long term.

Avatar: Frontiers of Pandora Releases on December 7, 2023 for PlayStation 5, Xbox Series X/S and PC.

Review code kindly provided by Ubisoft.

Score

7

The Final Word

Avatar: Frontiers of Pandora offers a visually appealing open world that fans of the movies will certainly enjoy. That said, Avatar: Frontiers of Pandora is routinely held back by repetitive gameplay, while a lack of enemy types and weapons stops the combat from being quite as enjoyable as it could have been. Technically impressive and satisfying for the most part, it's also clear that Avatar: Frontiers of Pandora feels essentially just like another Far Cry game from a game design point of view, rather than the sort of entirely fresh offering one would expect from a modern day Avatar video game.