I’ve played about six hours of Ubisoft’s new Avatar: Frontiers Of Pandora and my big takeaway is that Avatar sickos will love this game, Far Cry Primal fans will get a kick out of Ubisoft returning to this formula, and everyone else, well… uh…dang, the game sure is pretty, huh?
First announced in 2017, Ubisoft Massive’s open-world Avatar game has felt oddly hidden away by the publisher ahead of its December 7 release on PS5, Xbox Series X/S, and PC (where I’m playing). This is a game based on some of the most popular films in history and yet, we’ve not seen much of it. Is that because it’s a complete trainwreck? Or a horrible, ugly mess? Well, after a few hours with the game, I think the real reason Ubisoft hasn’t been showing off Avatar: Frontiers of Pandora as much as you might have expected is that if they did, it would have given away the fact that this really is just Far Cry with blue cat people.
I’ll admit, I’m being a bit reductive in calling this latest open-world Avatar game “just Far Cry.” But after about six hours of playing through the first quests and early side adventures, I can’t help but shake the feeling that I’ve played this before. I spent a large chunk of my time creeping around forests with a bow, sneakily clearing out enemy bases, gathering materials to craft upgrades, and fighting back against a powerful force alongside a ragtag group of rebels.
Yes, all of this features blue cat aliens and weird space plants, sure, but read that last sentence again. If you’ve played modern Far Cry games, that all probably sounds very similar.
In Avatar’s defense, it’s not simply a Far Cry palette swap. One big difference is you play as a large Na’vi alien, aka the aforementioned giant blue cat people. You were captured by the RDA as a kid, told your clan had left you behind, and then the evil corp tried to brainwash you and a few other young Na’vi into good little soldiers. This plan fails, due to events that happen in the first film, and you are put to sleep for 15 years in a cryo bed, only to wake up during the events of the second film. The evil humans are back and ready to take Pandora by force. Luckily, you are a special “good at everything” Na’vi and can help your people (and the few good humans) fight back to save the planet.
In my time with the game so far, playing as a Na’vi is easily the best part of the game. You are big. You feel big, towering over humans and having to crouch to enter their areas. But you aren’t a slow-moving tank. As a Na’vi, you can leap across trees and rocks with ease, mantling up walls in seconds. Hopping across the beautiful forest world of Pandora as a big ol’ Na’vi and landing next to some tiny RDA soldiers never got old. Neither did taking them out with giant arrows.
I also really enjoy the gorgeous and detailed jungles of Pandora. Exploring this alien world is a visual treat, with plants that react to you and all sorts of odd colors and glowing bits and bobs dangling about. It’s wonderful stuff. I just wish there was more here beyond the impressive visuals.
I know in the past we have complained about Ubisoft games feeling too overstuffed with side content and collectibles, and I don’t want that. But in my six hours or so with the game, the world of Pandora feels empty. It’s very pretty, with its exotic trees and alien creatures, but there’s not much to do or interact with in this digital Pandora. Sometimes I ran into some RDA forces hunting aliens, but that was about it, and it made the place feel so lifeless and cold despite all the noises around me telling me otherwise.
Likewise, the narrative—which is haphazardly dumped on the player with little context as the developers seemingly assume you’ve seen the movies and remember what happened—feels empty and hasn’t grabbed me yet.
The fact that the RDA are bad and doing horrible things and I should be upset about that seems to be the only motivating factor, which is odd as in the first 15 minutes of the game’s extended intro my sister was killed by them in cold blood. But that event doesn’t seem to factor into anything past the intro and a one-off mention later on.
I’m hoping that as I keep playing Avatar: Frontiers of Pandora, a larger narrative with stakes will start to form, but for now, the main reason I’m still playing is because I love hopping around Pandora as a big cat alien man with a large bow and machine gun. For now, that’s enough, but in 20 hours will I still feel the same way? I’m not sure.