Avatar: Frontiers of Pandora learned the wrong lessons from Far Cry

Avatar Frontiers of Pandora gameplay
(Image credit: Ubisoft)

Avatar: Frontiers of Pandora has given me whiplash. Massive Entertainment promised a world of contrasts with its new action adventure, but I wasn't expecting that claim to be so surface-level. On one side, I'm looking at an open world with the potential to be among the most visually captivating ever conceived; and on the other, combat encounters spread across desolate RDA facilities that look as if they have been throttled by the ghost of Far Cry's past.   

I'm disappointed to discover that Avatar: Frontiers of Pandora is effectively a first-person shooter at heart. Avatar presents one of the most wondrous worlds in popular culture, and our primary tether to it appears to be through an armory of assault rifles, shotguns, and rocket launchers. I don't like to be dismissive, particularly for a video game that I haven't yet had the chance to play, but there does appear to be a dichotomy between presentation and possibilities here. 

"I'm disappointed to discover that Avatar: Frontiers of Pandora is effectively a first-person shooter at heart."

Avatar: Frontiers of Pandora will have you role-play as a customizable Na'vi who is effectively outcast – a stranger to their homeland. You'll explore the Western Frontier of Pandora while reconnecting with your lost heritage, and regain the trust of three distinct Na'vi clans. It's in this narrative frame where Massive sets out a theoretically compelling gameplay loop, one which may feel more in keeping with Avatar's broader themes of environmentalism, history, and spirituality. 

To the north is the Upper Plains, where the Zeswa clan live in harmony with giant beasts amongst beautiful rolling hills; earn their trust, and they'll teach you how to tame and ride Direhorses. To the east, the unknowable Clouded Forest where the Kame'tire clan lives in hiding, an opportunity to connect with your ancestors lies in their domain. And to the west, the stunning Kinglor Forest which sits in the shadow of floating mountains; here you'll learn the basics of hunting from the Aranahe clan and develop a bond with your own Ikran – a flying banshee whom you can name, feed, customize, and use to explore the world of Pandora from the skies. 

Lock and load

Avatar Frontiers of Pandora gameplay

(Image credit: Ubisoft)

That's a compelling foundation, one which needn't necessarily tumble into the Far Cry and Just Cause archetype of region control. Slide through drab slabs of mud while squeezing off shots against RDA soldiers strapped into AMP Suits; infiltrate control centers to remove wires from glowing boxes; blow up fuel tanks until the facility is rendered inoperable. Complete this routine, and the most aesthetically-miserable areas of the open world will be reclaimed by nature. 

There's a time and a place for this type of action, and I didn't expect to see it here. Not in a game that appears to be otherwise occupied by peaceful exploration, and activities such as hunting, gathering, and cooking. Frontiers of Pandora is a stand-alone adventure set within the Avatar universe, and I have to wonder whether a more interesting threat could have been found outside of the Resources Development Administration. 

Areas outside of RDA control look truly awe-inspiring. Pandora is a beautifully dangerous world, and Massive seems to have a real handle on that aspect. I'm beyond excited by the opportunity to get lost in lush rainforests and stretching skylines. Particularly when gameplay teases at side activities focused on healing nature and wildlife, gathering ingredients to create different meals, or the opportunity to advance your natural agility and control over mounts. 

How free Avatar: Frontiers of Pandora will leave you to engage with this side of the experience before ultimately thrusting you towards what appears to be rather flat combat encounters with human weapons remains to be seen. In fact, it's the big unanswered question as I look towards the December 7 release date. Outside of the action, Frontiers of Pandora looks like a truly expressive, and transformative open-world experience; but within it, it looks suspiciously like every other open-world shooter I've played since Far Cry 3 set the standard a decade ago. 

Avatar: Frontiers of Pandora is one of the upcoming Ubisoft games with a 2023 release date, with the open-world adventure set to launch on PC, PS5, and Xbox Series X on December 7.

Josh West
Editor-in-Chief, GamesRadar+

Josh West is the Editor-in-Chief of GamesRadar+. He has over 15 years experience in online and print journalism, and holds a BA (Hons) in Journalism and Feature Writing. Prior to starting his current position, Josh has served as GR+'s Features Editor and Deputy Editor of games™ magazine, and has freelanced for numerous publications including 3D Artist, Edge magazine, iCreate, Metal Hammer, Play, Retro Gamer, and SFX. Additionally, he has appeared on the BBC and ITV to provide expert comment, written for Scholastic books, edited a book for Hachette, and worked as the Assistant Producer of the Future Games Show. In his spare time, Josh likes to play bass guitar and video games. Years ago, he was in a few movies and TV shows that you've definitely seen but will never be able to spot him in.