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Avatar: Frontiers of Pandora review in progress - gorgeous and predictable

Na'viing a laugh so far.

Avatar: Frontiers of Pandora promo artwork showing a Na'vi riding an Ikran towards the camera.
Image credit: Ubisoft.
We're still making progress through Avatar: Frontiers of Pandora, but so far it's been just the game you'd expect: a lush and vibrant world spread over the typical Ubisoft formula.

You know that bit at the beginning of The Wizard of Oz? When the twister stops twisting, the farmhouse plummets, and Dorothy pulls back the door to reveal that bright, glorious world stuffed with mystery and magic? That's exactly how I felt when I first stepped out into Pandora.

It's a joyous, breathtaking, mesmerising rush of colour and texture, where light dapples through the canopy and sprinkles jewels of white light into the lakes and streams and waterfalls below. There are birds and fish and deer - well, kind of; the fauna here is fantastical reimaginings of the wildlife we know on Earth - and at first, there's just so much stuff, it kind of hurts your eyes. It kind of hurts your brain. What, exactly, are you supposed to be looking at here? The tree? The vines growing on the tree? The plants growing on the vines that grow on the trees? The deer-esque silhouettes eating the plants growing on the vines that grow on the trees? Where does one life begin and the next end? Where am I supposed to go? What the hell am I supposed to do?

Avatar: Frontiers of Pandora even nails The Wizard of Oz's sneaky bait and switch, too. For the first thirty minutes of your adventure, you're confined to the dull, terminally grey world of humankind, a cold place of concrete, steel, and fluorescents. There is no colour here. No light. No hope. It's only after you scurry through dark vents that you'll burst into Pandora, thrown head-first from a life of monotone monotony into a strange, thrilling new technicolour world that you and the Sarentu you embody must explore together.

Here's 10 minutes of Avatar: Frontiers of Pandora gameplay to show it in action.Watch on YouTube

You don't have to be familiar with any of the Avatar media that's come before to make sense of Frontiers of Pandora, and I can say that with confidence because I've never seen the films or even know very much about the franchise. It doesn't matter, though; the metaphors here are neither subtle nor sophisticated.

The areas of Pandora where humankind has stamped its claim are beaten and broken, and the machines we invoke belch noxious gas that pollutes for miles, killing not just the flora but the wondrous wildlife, too. Humankind is selfish and stupid and small-minded - told you; subtle this ain't - and utterly incapable of preventing itself from making exactly the same mistakes that saw them flee Earth in the first place. It's only the regions untouched by man that thrive, and it's only the indigenous Na'vi themselves who can commune spiritually with the world around them. Your job, then - as a newly liberated Na'vi Sarentu, raised in captivity and cryogenically frozen for over a decade - is to scrub all traces of the Big Bad RDA and the arrogance of Man from this world.

Avatar: Frontiers of Pandora screenshot showing Inside the RDA facility. Lots of steel and concrete, and "red means scary" lighting.
Avatar: Frontiers of Pandora screenshot showing A tunnel opening out into a glorious, lush paradise.
Avatar: Frontiers of Pandora screenshot showing Iridescent flora glowing mysteriously against a dark night.
Avatar: Frontiers of Pandora screenshot showing A moonlit shot of Pandora's rocky outcrops.
Image credit: Ubisoft / Eurogamer.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, if you're well-versed with Ubisoft's open-world formula, there's plenty here that will feel familiar. I've made no secret that I've always been a bit of a sucker for it, quietly sated by the pursuit of collectibles and upgrades and idle exploration. Avatar is never better than when it lets you unfold its world in your own time, at your own leisure.

Much has been recycled from Ubisoft's established blueprint. You'll un-fog a gargantuan virtual playground step by step, mission by mission, shooting and stealthing and crafting, learning how to co-exist with the wildlife - or not, as the case may be (there's a special place in hell for Viperwolves) - taking down outposts and running errands for the locals as you go.

That said, Ubisoft has freshened up the formula by throwing in a handful of new systems, including a light-touch survival bar, which means you shouldn't set off unless you have a half-dozen ready meals under your belt. There's also an expanded traversal mechanic to get you around quicker... or at least, that's the theory.

Avatar: Frontiers of Pandora screenshot showing A close-up of fellow Na'vi Nefika as she looks closely at you.
Avatar: Frontiers of Pandora screenshot showing A brown, decimated wasteland demarcates the scars of humankind.
Image credit: Ubisoft / Eurogamer.

Ostensibly, you're meant to navigate through the vast, knotted canopy of trees in a blue blur, leaping and dancing and pirouetting from branch to branch, tree to tree, jumping and bouncing and stretching as though you're at one with the forest. In reality, though, I only felt like I pulled off these moves accidentally, more akin to Buzz Lightyear's "Falling with Style" than communing meaningfully with the rainforest. Yes, this may very well be a me-thing rather than a game-thing - I may be 25ish hours in, but Avatar is massive, so I feel like I've barely scratched the surface of what's out there, let alone unlocked all the skills - but I'd thought by now that I would at least feel more confident gliding about the place. Later, when you unlock your giant flying dragon-dog pal, you'll get to soar across the plains and getting from A to B feels a little less of a slog. But that won't happen for several hours, my friend, so don't let that stop you from at least trying to finesse the parkour elements.

And it's... noisy. Aurally and visually. Pandora's lush, alien flora is sincerely jaw-dropping and an absolute delight to explore, but huge, weighty leaves, swaying branches, and rippling brush make it really hard to focus on what, exactly, is in front of you. This wouldn't be so bad if Avatar didn't magpie Assassin's Creed's investigation gameplay, which sees you study the immediate surroundings to link together clues and decipher what, exactly, happened before you rocked up. It wouldn't even be that bad if those investigative sequences were mostly confined to the parts of Pandora where humankind has trashed the place, either; the dull, muddy backdrops would make it considerably easier. But because investigations sometimes require you to locate tiny items or clues - and because Pandora itself is alive, endlessly moving around you - it makes for some very frustrating sequences, unfortunately.

Avatar: Frontiers of Pandora screenshot showing A beautiful Na'vi dressed in purple gazes downward at something we cannot see. A fluorescent tree glows to her left.
Avatar: Frontiers of Pandora screenshot showing Tag enemies in outposts. Use your Na'vi senses and they will glow even behind walls.
Avatar: Frontiers of Pandora screenshot showing An open fireplace, and an example of some of the recipes you can craft, including Fruity Seafood. Yum.
Image credit: Ubisoft / Eurogamer.

And I'm certain it's Pandora's thriving ecosystem that gets me lost all the time, too. Yes, it's now well-known that I have no sense of direction and can get lost in an empty room, but Avatar's endlessly undulating world and swaying scenery make it hard to keep track of where you've been, let alone where you're going. Sometimes you'll hear a voice - perhaps a local forager or healer - and even with your super-awesome Na'vi senses firing, you can't find them for love or money... even though they're eleven-gazillion feet tall and bright bloody blue.

It's the same for the internal habitats, too; Hometree, Resistance HQ - they're huge, swarming mazes of rooms and offshoots and different levels, but there's no mini-map or wayfinders to help you locate, say, the Community Basket (where you contribute scavenged items to curry favour with the locals), or your stash, or the crafting table. All you can do is keep hammering your Na'vi sense and hope that, eventually, something vaguely familiar will shimmy into view.

Avatar: Frontiers of Pandora screenshot showing A kinglor in flight.
Avatar: Frontiers of Pandora screenshot showing Strange snail-like plants cluster in the foreground. Behind, are bright pink trees.
Avatar: Frontiers of Pandora screenshot showing A glance at the skill tree. Which is an actual tree, funnily enough.
Image credit: Ubisoft / Eurogamer.

The combat, too, feels like a stumble backwards rather than the step forward I'd been expecting. You'll be gifted two combat styles from the off courtesy of a stealthy bow and the spray-it-and-pray-it assault rifle, and whilst I revelled stealthing through Ubisoft games of old - oh, the hours I wasted, perched up on a clifftop, silently taking out combatants one by one until there's no one left to ring the alarm! - there never seems to be the mountainous topography I crave near RDA outposts.

Consequently, I always feel like I'm taking the High Chaos route no matter how hard I try to keep it on the QT, and once your enemies know you're around, they never de-escalate, even if you go into hiding. This is particularly problematic when your supply of traditional metal-and-gunpowder ammo falls low because guess what? Your ammo supply will always be running low. And sometimes you just don't have the time - or luxury - of carefully lining up a headshot with your bow. Not when there are five murderous mechs trained on you, anyway.

But hey - it's early days. For all I know, I may be one mission away from my perfect weapon, and as my map is still maddeningly fogged up, my level is still in single digits, and my progress has been stymied by an issue that may or may not be a bug, right now it's neither fair nor right to slap a star rating on Avatar: Frontiers of Pandora. And between us, that's okay with me. I don't want to skip the side quests. I don't want to rush. The magic of these games lies not in the missions they give you but in the journey between them, so I'll focus on that and come back to you just as soon as Pandora's shown me everything it's got. I can't wait.

A copy of Avatar: Frontiers of Pandora was provided for review by Ubisoft.

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Avatar: Frontiers of Pandora

PS5, Xbox Series X/S, PC

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Vikki Blake avatar

Vikki Blake


When​ ​her friends​ ​were falling in love with soap stars, Vikki was falling in love with​ ​video games. She's a survival horror survivalist​ ​with a penchant for​ ​Yorkshire Tea, men dressed up as doctors and sweary words. She struggles to juggle a fair-to-middling Destiny/Halo addiction​ ​and her kill/death ratio is terrible.