Avatar: Frontiers of Pandora is one of the strangest gaming stories of the year. It’s been in development for ages, made by one of Ubisoft’s top studios, Massive, responsible for The Division, which was a huge breakout success when it launched.
But as one of the last games released in a phenomenal year for gaming in general, there has been close to no conversation about Frontiers of Pandora. No buzz. I would not be shocked if many people didn’t even realize it was out. Review scores were relatively low, putting it in the bottom half of all PC games released this year (it’s also on console). However, user scores are high. Like, very high. Higher than really any mainline Ubisoft game in years.
So, this was enough of a paradox where I figured I would check it out. Yes, I have a backlog which includes probably 200 more hours of Baldur’s Gate 3, but an action-based game like Avatar here is more my speed.
These are first impressions from the initial hours I played yesterday. I realize I’m not exactly doing this in a timely fashion but hey, lots of games to play, shows to watch.
This is…a strange game.
First of all, it is gorgeous. Like one of the most gorgeous games that currently exists? Alongside maybe Cyberpunk on path-tracing max settings. However, this is mainly about the environments, the lush jungle that has more dense foliage and fauna than I think I’ve ever seen in a game, harkening back to when Crysis ruled the graphical world. The character models are…less impressive. No flawless James Cameron motion capture for the Na’vi. But Pandora itself is genuinely the most beautiful place I’ve seen in a game in very long time.
The game itself seems…well it seems like Far Cry. Specifically, Far Cry Primal, given the nature setting and the old school bows and arrows and spears and such (though you can also use human guns). It all just feels close to identical in these initial hours. So much material collecting and animal hunting to make upgrades for your gear. A skill tree that’s fairly limited. Bases to clear out to “cleanse” regions as you venture out into the map. Thankfully there are no “Ubisoft vision towers” from what I can tell, but this is very much an Ubisoft game in a way that so far, feels like 80% of a Far Cry experience.
And of course you have staples like “Na’vi vision,” which allows you to see animals, enemies and relevant plants glowing in the world. But you desperately need it, given that the foliage is so dense in the games, trying to play it without highlighting stuff is close to impossible as everything blends into the jungle. Better for immersion, I suppose, but genuinely difficult to parse as a player without Eagle Vision. I mean Na’vi vision.
I will say that so far gameplay and combat is better than most Far Crys I’ve played. It’s less clunky, and with a few upgrades movement and traversal is much more fluid and fast as a giant, powerful Na’vi. It’s definitely an improvement from other, similar games.
I don’t really understand why this is so similar to Far Cry, given that this is Massive, the studio behind third person cover shooter, The Division, rather than…any of the Ubisoft teams that have made the Far Cry games. Not that you can’t change as a studio, it’s just sort of strange. I get why this style of game was chosen, given the world context where hunting, gathering and jungle stalking makes sense, but it is incredibly hard to escape the Far Cry comparisons, with perhaps a tiny bit of the Horizon Zero Dawn series mixed in.
Nothing I’ve played so far is bad, and again, this world is beyond gorgeous and worth spending time in by itself. But I can see why initially this does come off as just another Ubisoft game, even if it does offer improvements on the formula.
But I have more things to unlock more places to explore, more story to unwind. This is just a first impression, and I will circle back when I’m finished for a fuller examination.
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