Avatar: Frontiers of Pandora is at its best when it remembers its Na'vi roots

Ubisoft and Massive Entertainment's Avatar game has a chance to be interesting if it sticks to what makes the source material so special.


The Avatar series has been an exceptionally lucrative one, originally for 20th Century Fox and later for Disney. While the movies have been unarguable successes, the franchise has yet to hit those heights in the video game space. Ubisoft and Massive Entertainment hope to change that with the upcoming Avatar: Frontiers of Pandora, which puts players in the role of a new Na'vi character. To learn more, Shacknews recently tried it out and saw the potential for some exciting worldbuilding, assuming it can manage to avoid settling into familiar patterns.

Avatar: Frontiers of Pandora has been in the works for a long time, first announced all the way back in February 2017. It returned to the public consciousness during this year's Ubisoft Forward presentation with a new gameplay trailer and unrevealed story details. Players take control of a Na'vi orphan who was originally abducted by the human military forces of the RDA and trained as a soldier. Fifteen years later, they find themselves broken free and must reconnect with the Na'vi people to help lead them against the hostile RDA forces.

Taming an ikran atop the Ikran Rookery in Avatar: Frontiers of Pandora

Source: Ubisoft

Players will navigate the unexplored Western Frontier. The Kinglor Forest was an unfamiliar sight when our playthrough started, but the lush plant life, exotic fauna, and colorful biomes made it feel like another continent in the rich world of Pandora. It takes a moment to orient one's self, especially as some plant life will immediately defend itself with poisonous spores or other entrapments upon stepping too close. It takes a moment to realize that players can use their Na'vi Senses function to find their way to their next objective, whatever it may be.

For the purposes of this demo, our main objective was to take a major step forward in our Na'vi existence. Our character had to bond with an ikran, one of the continent's flying wildlife better known as the banshees. However, the banshee would prove skittish and fly farther up the nearby rookery upon getting too close. Na'vi guide Eetu recognized it was simply a test and that the main character's persistence would win the banshee over.

This mission was a test of platforming patience, as the rookery's floating islands often proved dangerous. They also illustrated how players would proceed through parts of the Western Frontier, mainly by solving plant-based puzzles, opening leafy barriers by gathering nearby stems, making precision leaps, and launching vertically through the use of certain vines.

Facing down the RDA forces in Avatar: Frontiers of Pandora

Source: Ubisoft

After reaching the end of the rookery, the banshee submitted and allowed the bonding process to move forward where players could select from some pre-selected names in a nice touch. This is where Frontiers of Pandora began to stand out from the average open-world adventure, as players could now call upon their banshee mount at any point. Specifically, the banshee could be summoned while falling through the skies. This was put to work as the main character was instructed to take down RDA aerial devices patrolling nearby islands. The airborne machine could be taken down by solving a hacking puzzle to bring up attached explosives, which could be ignited through a single gunshot. Once the device exploded, players would have to jump away and call upon the banshee to catch them in mid-air.

While that was a fun example of how Avatar: Frontiers of Pandora could stand out from its contemporaries, the next mission left me with a little more pause. The demo's last mission was to sneak into an RDA hydro-oil extractor outpost, shut down the drill towers, and turn off the internal generators. This is where Massive's game stopped feeling so unique and more like just about every other open-world shooter on the market with average stealth gameplay, run-of-the-mill enemies, and generally the type of action that's been done to death in games like this.

Overall, Avatar: Frontiers of Pandora showed the potential to be something special, as well as the potential to be just another average open-world shooter. The whole premise of a Na'vi trained by RDA military already comes across as a narrative excuse to give players guns. Having tried it out, this is a game that could be intriguing if it leans into what it means to be Na'vi and less so if it relies on being just another human soldier. This is especially true given that the Na'vi and their world proved to be the most interesting part of our early playthrough, whether it was the original characters, their backstories, or their ability to pick plants and use them for a robust crafting system.

Avatar: Frontiers of Pandora is ready to tell its story, but whether it matches the quality of the ones told on the big screen remains to be seen. Look for it to release on PC, PlayStation 5, Xbox Series X|S, and Amazon Luna on Thursday, December 7.

This preview is based on an early PC build played remotely via Parsec. It may not be representative of the final product.

Senior Editor

Ozzie has been playing video games since picking up his first NES controller at age 5. He has been into games ever since, only briefly stepping away during his college years. But he was pulled back in after spending years in QA circles for both THQ and Activision, mostly spending time helping to push forward the Guitar Hero series at its peak. Ozzie has become a big fan of platformers, puzzle games, shooters, and RPGs, just to name a few genres, but he’s also a huge sucker for anything with a good, compelling narrative behind it. Because what are video games if you can't enjoy a good story with a fresh Cherry Coke?

From The Chatty
Hello, Meet Lola