The Avatar movies were a lot of fun but never really blew me away with the original story line. Instead, translating familiar formulas into a vibrant and visually arresting alien world elevates the films. Avatar: Frontiers of Pandora follows the same strategy, featuring first-person exploration and combat that borrows liberally from franchises like Far Cry. But here, a vast and detailed fantasy world brings the experience to life, making it more engaging and sometimes unnecessarily hazy – but always with the flair of the source material.
Concurrent with the films, Frontiers of Pandora tells a separate standalone story about a small group of young Na’vi raised by the villainous and environmentally reckless RDA, and the gradual rediscovery of one individual Na’vi’s heritage and connection to nature. The franchise’s overt environmental themes are highlighted by a pointed indictment of the segregation and forced re-education of children among the local population. Developer Massive Entertainment has done a fantastic job capturing the unique fictional nuances of the Na’vi, adding several fresh wrinkles in the form of new clans and personalities. This is a real treat for fans of the franchise, adding considerably to the lore.
The game involves running and jumping through dense forests, plains and caves, while learning the many secrets of Pandora’s flora and fauna. The richness of the ecosystems is unmatched in any game I’ve encountered. I enjoyed learning the characteristics and abilities of many strange creatures along my way. As I did, new skills and gear increased my ability to navigate and I steadily rose to mastery.
The visual presentation is gorgeous and does justice to the many colors and magnificent natural backdrops from the movies. Surprisingly, the lush and detailed world is both a joy and a distraction. At times, the game becomes visually confusing as the onscreen visuals are too overgrown and difficult to parse. I often get lost in overwhelming stimuli, missing important items or clues amidst the chaos.
Moving through these richly presented landscapes is a lot of fun, thanks to a generous system of climbing, jumping, sliding, and environmental objects (like plants that bounce you high into the air) that combine to memorable effect and lead to smooth and parkour-like navigation. Enhancing the quest is your dragon-like Ekron mount, which allows you to fly easily and quickly across the vast map.
Along the way, combat using bows and assault rifles adds punch to the action, with the option to take an alternate stealth route instead. I found both experiences good but not great. Very few tools and abilities allow stealthy approaches, so taking my chances with a fast and direct approach is usually much quicker. The battles themselves are intense and deadly but rarely rise above trying to peek from behind cover points for pot shots at the bad guys. Active close-range melees are more in line with the expectations set up by the movies, but that approach is often not feasible.
Hunting, gathering, gathering and cooking are central features. There’s a lot to experiment with, and sometimes it’s exciting to create a new brisket or fish dish. But I eventually found the breadth of options overwhelming. Dozens of different tree barks, mosses, animal skins and pine cones – many of which can only be collected during the day or at their best under weather conditions – eventually began to swim together in my mind. The game virtually demands that you engage with these mechanics in order to make meaningful progress, and I often found that it got in the way of narrative pacing, or it was just too frustrating to track down the things I wanted to.
Between the action and the exploration, Frontiers of Pandora puts a wealth of little mechanics and systems your way. Again, these are as disruptive as they often add to the fun. Hacking constant power systems and doors, tedious investigations for forensic clues on the scene, tracking multiple currencies and siding with clans – there’s so much here that it sometimes distracts from the real fun: the action and exploration of the breathtaking alien landscape.
Even so, I found a lot to love in Frontiers of Pandora, including the welcome addition of two-player online co-op play, which allows players to enjoy the game with friends. Over time, the many interlocking features began to make sense, and I pushed past any frustrations to find a game that was remarkably large and rewarding. Enter Pandora’s vast wilderness with patience and a willingness to take a measured march toward understanding, and I suspect you’ll discover what I did—a flawed but still admirable addition to this burgeoning sci-fi universe.