The world of Pandora is a mystical and unique experience the world has seen millions of times thanks to James Cameron and the teams that have brought it all to life on the big screen.
Despite the brand’s worldwide popularity and recognition, Avatar: Frontiers of Pandorais one of the first big titles based on Pandora and the Na’vi. Ubisoft showed off this game years ago, promising a massive open-world experience as one of the giant blue creatures in the first-person perspective.
I got a chance to play a couple of hours of the game recently as the studio opened up its game for exploration and story-based gameplay.
A Sprawling Landscape
The demo time began about 20% into the game. My Na’vi character was already customized and created for me, and a few skills on the skill tree were selected. Creating your hero and Na’vi will be in the full game release, and an expansive skill tree will also start from scratch, just like other action -RPGs and Ubisoft open-world titles.
I was placed in the open forest with a few weapons, including a bow, hunting bow, and an automatic firing gun. The first thing I did was run and jump through the terrain; I couldn’t help myself. Pandora is just as lush and lively in Avatar: Frontiers of Pandoraas it is in the films. Giant trees, glowing vegetation, massive root systems, and destroyed metal structures left behind by “the sky people” are all there to explore and traverse.
This came together quite nicely, as the game feels detailed and alive. Particle effects, bugs fly by, and plants light up at night, all in great detail. I’m not the biggest fan of the source material, but it’s hard to deny how creative and unique a place like Pandora is. That shines through in Avatar: Frontiers of Pandora.
Getting Your Bearings in Avatar: Frontiers of Pandora
Because the game takes place in an open-world environment, figuring out where to go and how to get there is part of the fun. In Avatar: Frontiers of Pandora, that can be done on one foot or in the sky (I’ll get to that in just a moment). You’ll also be able to use your Na’vi senses to track resources, smells, and sounds and see where your next quest is. I enjoyed this mechanic, and it gave me a great sense of place and immersed me in the world.
Ubisoft says there will also be a setting when the game releases that will turn off many hint markers and allow players to find their way using only discovered clues and their senses.
Moving around Pandora was fun. Running and climbing up giant structures and plants was easy and felt fluid. While on the ground, there are also some familiar tropes from other Ubisoft franchises like Far Cry. Finding resources to craft new ammo and items felt very a little too familiar, but also made sense within this world. It’s also pretty easy to prepare on the fly, with a similar weapon wheel system to games like Horizon Forbidden West.
At one point, I did have a hard time finding an essential resource for one particular objective. I believe this only happened because I felt that in some areas, the world was almost too busy, it was easy to miss small plant life or creatures. On one had it’s immersive to just get lost in Pandora, but on the other I felt like I spent far too much time running in circles for one small item that really slowed the pace of my preview time.
Taking to the Skies
In Avatar: Frontiers of Pandora, the planet as you know it is being attacked once again. You begin as a less experienced Na’vi, so you need to be taken through some traditional paths before you can truly help save the day.
One of the missions in the demo did just that. A previous objective leads you down a path of tackling the RDA (humans), but you need to approach part of this from the sky. That begins your journey to climbing a large, winding trail that carries into the clouds to be chosen by an Ikran, one of Pandora’s flying beasts. You can see most of this mission in the preview video linked above.
This was a great way to explore the detailed world analyze and use your surroundings, resulting in an epic story moment. Travelling up from River’s Run Camp involved a ton of traversal, but it was the end that had me smiling. Flying and controlling the Ikran was a ton of fun!
The controls are relatively easy to understand, with dips, dives, rolls, and the ability to fire your weapons. But the best part about this part of the demo, for me, was experiencing Pandora from this perspective.
Once I was in the sky, I not only felt the beauty of what the game had to offer but just how big it truly was. And it wasn’t just what was below me; the floating mountains and massive cliffs were all around me and accessible. Maybe when I play the whole game, it’ll feel too overwhelming; that’s a feeling I’ve gotten with many open-world games in recent years. But during this demo, I was in awe.
The Action Ramps Up
This same mission led me to a RDA base, complete with dozens of guards, machinery, turrets, and even wildlife roaming about. It was an enjoyable time trying to sneak my way around the facility and sabotage components without being seen. Eventually, all hell broke loose as I was discovered, causing arrows and bullets to fly for a solid 15 minutes.
Much like the Far Cry series, Avatar: Frontiers of Pandora provides ample opportunity to approach objectives as you please. I love being stealthy in games like this, but when it all (literally) blew up in my face, I still had a great time. I thoroughly enjoyed traversing the environment to get in a strategic position to take down my enemies. Whether it be with a bow or a gun, the combat felt impactful.
Looking Ahead to December
Avatar: Frontiers of Pandora is just over one month from release, and it appears Ubisoft has created a lush world filled with unique exploration.
Going into this title with mixed feelings about the source material, I was impressed with what I played. I found the immersion quite strong. Even flying high in the air in third-person, I could see and feel the details around me, and I was drawn in.
I have to admit that in two hours, I became far more excited about this game than I ever thought I would be. I’m cautious about many open-world games nowadays; their scale and “busy work” side quests often feel tired and forced. But if Avatar: Frontiers of Pandora can make those tasks more meaningful, Ubisoft could have something special.
Avatar: Frontiers of Pandora is scheduled to be released on December 7th, 2023, for PC, PlayStation 5, Xbox Series, and Amazon Luna.