Avatar: Frontiers of Pandora tech showcase explains how it looks so darn good

Avatar: Frontiers of Pandora dropped jaws when it debuted a gorgeous trailer at E3 2021, and a new tech showcase video explains just how Ubisoft is able to build such an immersive, photorealistic world.

The game, based on the universe created by James Cameron for the 2009 movie Avatar, is exclusive to new-gen consoles and PC. It runs on Ubisoft's proprietary Snowdrop engine, which the studio says needed a dramatic upgrade for Avatar: Frontiers of Pandora. Games including The Division, The Division 2, and Starlink have been developed using Snowdrop, but Ubisoft says Avatar: Frontiers of Pandora is a whole different animal.

"As the world of Avatar is so different from anything we've done before, we had to do some major upgrades, some big improvements, to our engine," said technical art director Sebastian Lindoff. "In the past, Snowdrop allowed us to build amazing cities, but to capture the natural beauty of Pandora, we needed to push Snowdrop even further."

"In every project we do, we push the engine further, but Avatar: Frontiers of Pandora is without a doubt the biggest leap we've made so far," Lindoff added.

Senior technical artist Kunal Luthra further explains that Snowdrop's advanced microdata system allows the devs to cram thousands of assets into a single frame, which is key in creating that uber-detailed look we saw in Avatar: Frontiers of Pandora's reveal trailer.

Another advantage to Snowdrop, Luthra says, is its ability to process highly complex shaders, which allows Ubisoft to create a ton of different interactive effects, such as real-time wind simulations and intelligent plants that react to your presence. Ubisoft also added a new volumetric cloud system to Snowdrop to make the skies in Avatar: Frontiers of Pandora look better.

Of course, the expanded capabilities of PS5 and Xbox Series X afforded Ubisoft the freedom to push boundaries without worrying as much about hardware limitations. Visual features like ray-traced global illumination and reflections, which aren't possible on older consoles, go a long way in making Avatar: Frontiers of Pandora come as close as possible to photorealism.

One more interesting touch the devs explain in the video is a new system that gives NPCs awareness of things like weather, player progression, and the time of day. That isn't a visual feature, per se, but it should add to the immersion.

Avatar: Frontiers of Pandora is scheduled to hit PS5, Xbox Series X, PC, Google Stadia, and Amazon's upcoming Luna cloud service sometime in 2022.

Looking for something a bit closer on the horizon? Check out our guide to all the new games of 2021 we know about.

Jordan Gerblick

After scoring a degree in English from ASU, I worked as a copy editor while freelancing for places like SFX Magazine, Screen Rant, Game Revolution, and MMORPG on the side. Now, as GamesRadar's west coast Staff Writer, I'm responsible for managing the site's western regional executive branch, AKA my apartment, and writing about whatever horror game I'm too afraid to finish.