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Avatar: Frontiers of Pandora Wastes Opportunity with Hollow Gaming World

It was a bit suspicious when it felt like was burying the biggest game yet based on the world of “Avatar” at the end of the year, without the traditional run-up time for holiday shopping or best-of-the-year lists. Why would you take a game that could be this massive and hide it behind so many other major October and November releases? However, there was some hope when early footage and reports claimed that this open-world journey to Pandora looked like a late-season surprise. Having played the game for about a dozen hours, I can safely now call this clunky, hollow experience a disappointment. Could it expand into its potential in subsequent hours? Sure, anything’s possible, but the design and storytelling flaws seem too deep to resolve, signs that this game was not only rushed but never fully considered in the first place. Judged against the low bar of the traditionally horrible movie-to-game adaptation, it’s certainly not that bad. But those moments that reveal what this game could and should have been almost make the final product even more disappointing.

Sorry, Sam Worthington fans, you won’t play a character directly from the James Cameron films in “Frontiers of Pandora.” In fact, this story opens eight years before Jake Sully lands on Pandora. In 2146, the Na’vi orphan you play is kidnapped and trained as a soldier by the invading RDA, the bad guys from “Avatar” and “Avatar: The Way of Water.” When things get messy eight years later—remember all the booms in James Cameron’s 2009 film—the RDA is forced to leave Pandora, dismantling the training program into which you’ve essentially been kidnapped. So the game basically takes place alongside the movies, telling a similar story of rebellion from the viewpoint of the Na’vi. Those who love the lore of “Avatar” may be satisfied with that aspect alone, a way to enrich their experience with James Cameron’s ambitious creation.

Years later, in the game’s opening scenes/tutorial, you escape from the clutches of the remaining RDA, eventually finding your way to a base from which you will essentially become a major player in the resistance. You know those scenes from the movies of Na’vi warriors fighting back against the heavily-armed bad guys and giant mech machines of the humans? That’s the idea here as you largely, at least at the start, use arrows to try and hit weak spots on massive robots or get a silent kill on an evil human.

“Frontiers of Pandora” features an exorbitant amount of open-world exploration and travel. I have spent an insane amount of time just moving across the planet, trying to find something interesting to do. It’s an environment that feels unwieldy, often mistaking size for artistry. It’s only one element of “Frontiers of Pandora” that’s reminiscent of “Far Cry Primal” in that you will encounter wildlife and fauna that can be gathered to craft upgrades and even new gear altogether, but even that aspect feels half-considered. An occasional creature in a valley or plant that poisons the air around you over a hill does not make for a fully-realized world. So much of Pandora feels repetitive, something that likely improves as new regions of the massive map unlock, but a game that’s repetitive for 12 hours is still undeniably repetitive.

And it’s not just the repetition. The graphics often feel clunky, particularly when it comes to trying to shoot something at a distance. In general, the gameplay mechanics are frustrating. I have yet to really figure out how to slide between weapons, ingest food for healing, or perform other basic duties in the heat of battle, and I don’t think I ever will. The physics of combat, including the impact of arrows and the recoil of RDA weapons feel inconsistent too. It’s just a game that needed more time in development to refine these key elements of how it plays when a gamer in their hands.

The truly frustrating thing is how easy it is to see the DNA of a game that works here. If you asked me if I wanted to play “Far Cry: Avatar,” I would pre-order that game immediately. An open-world game and said world is Pandora? Sign me up. But games in the “Far Cry” series and ones like it work on two foundations. First, there needs to be freedom of gameplay, a desire to find every secret the world is keeping. The world here just isn’t rich enough to want to explore it. Second, there needs be new toy in every corner of the sandbox. I’m already tired of crafting items and cooking food. They’re just unrefined systems, and my guess is that I will be asked to devote dozens more hours to them, trying to keep straight the dozens of different ingredients that need to be combined to truly progress in the game.

Like a lot of people, I was a bit startled that “Avatar” surged back into pop culture as much as it did at the end of 2022 and startled at how much I enjoyed and admired “The Way of Water.” So I was ready to continue my exploration of this universe a year later, instead of waiting so long between film installments. With the third film now delayed until Christmas 2025, I guess “Avatar: Frontiers of Pandora” will have to do. Or maybe I’ll just watch one of the movies again.

The publisher provided a review copy of this title. It is now available for PS5, Windows, and Xbox Series X. It was released on December 7th.



Brian Tallerico

Brian Tallerico is the Managing Editor of, and also covers television, film, Blu-ray, and video games. He is also a writer for Vulture, The Playlist, The New York Times, and GQ, and the President of the Chicago Film Critics Association.

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