Movie tie-ins are sometimes a tricky thing to get right for video games. For every Mad Max or GoldenEye 007 there’s an Aliens: Colonial Marines waiting around the corner. Thankfully though, Avatar: Frontiers of Pandora looks to have nailed the action experience, from freewheeling traversal with a togetherness with nature, to a jaw-dropping environment so reminiscent of Pandora it’s hard to know how developer Massive Entertainment could get it looking any better. Sci-fi Far Cry this may seem, but there’s enough of its own thing going on to make Avatar: Frontiers of Pandora a very exciting prospect indeed.
NPCs will understand the state of the world
In a push to add as much lifelike quality to the world of Pandora as possible, Avatar: Frontiers of Pandora’s development team have integrated NPCs that’ll react to happenstance in the game world and behave accordingly. Outlined by Lead Narrative Realisation Designer Alice Rendell in the game’s recent video showcasing the tech behind Frontiers of Pandora, there are systems designed to inform NPCs as to the state of the world. Player progression, time of day, or weather can impact NPC behaviour, with a range of activities and animations they can perform as a result.
In-house game engine Snowdrop pushed further than ever
Big improvements to Massive Entertainment’s proprietary game engine Snowdrop were required to render the game world in as much majestic splendour as it deserves. Upgrades include a microdata system capable of propagating thousands of assets in a single frame, automated placement to create a wealth of plant life, volumetric cloud systems, and complex shaders that interact with players. These improvements create a dense jungle floor brimming with life and an airborne aerial vista awe-inspiring in scale and beauty.
Real-time raytraced lighting
With Snowdrop’s raytracing capability Pandora can be illuminated in ways the developer hasn’t been able to achieve in any of their prior games. Real-time raytraced global illumination and reflections give a superb, natural, photorealistic quality to Pandora’s light. Perhaps the advantages to Frontiers of Pandora’s raytracing are best witnessed in its night-time, bioluminescent flora; neon-tinted foliage glows in the dark providing the game’s most vibrant environments to wander through.
Frontiers of Pandora will give players access to a wide range of weaponry. More traditional, native weapons like bows and arrows, axes, and hunting blades sit alongside assault rifles, shotguns, and grenade launchers in a player’s arsenal. Utilising materials scavenged from the land, players can create specialised weapons, ammunition, gear, and upgrades, all tailored to individual playstyle, thanks to the game’s in-depth crafting system.
Reactions mixed on traversal options
Yes, early play testers seem divided on whether walking on foot or travelling by air is the superior way to get around Pandora. Indeed, the dense jungle floor has been remarked as too dense by some; so dense, in fact, it’s a nightmare to find where you’re going. On the flipside, this jungle density is what makes on-foot traversal so interesting. Instead of on-screen waypoints, players are supposed to combine vision and their wits to get around. Observe landmarks, follow natural trails, that sort of thing. It’s an immersive quality to open world games that is often underutilised, so providing objectives aren’t too difficult to locate both traversal options will have their merits.
Navigation aids might need tweaking
That being said of on-foot traversal, some play testers and media outlets are reporting that the game’s navigation systems could do with a tweak, as certain locations have proved too challenging to track down whilst on foot. To highlight waypoints the game uses a beacon of light observable via vision, but allegedly this can be hard to see through thick canopy. As you get closer to your objective, the pillar of light changes to a small slash mark before disappearing altogether when you’re in the immediate vicinity. Locating the specific waypoint then becomes an exercise in bushcraft. Whether you’re into this or opposed depends on personal preference. It’s great that Massive Entertainment are trying a more immersive navigation system but if it leads to frustration, it’ll need a refresh post-release.
Skill tree apparently lacklustre
First off, the skill tree seems well thought out by the development team, with upgradeable skills narratively tied to memories our central character must rediscover. The issue some are reporting is that the skills themselves aren’t especially exciting. Extra damage points, more harvestable resources during scavenging, quieter stealth, these are the fruits of your ongoing labour.
Crafting feels misplaced
There’s a layer of tactile problem solving inherent in Frontiers of Pandora’s looting. Collected fruits must be harvested from their pods by a certain stroke of the mouse or analogue stick, that is, if you can locate the plant you’re looking for amongst a forest’s worth of similar looking flora. Whether this extends to routing through human waste bins for titbits that’ll boost armour remains to be seen. Likewise, crafting gear and ammunition reportedly has a ‘tacked on’ feel, as if the developer are imposing their established gameplay philosophy rather than understanding what best fits Frontiers of Pandora’s gameplay loop.
Structurally akin to Far Cry
To be clear, this isn’t Far Cry set on some interstellar forest moon. No, Avatar: Frontiers of Pandora is very much its own thing, but there are certainly elements from the Far Cry playbook in how its missions are structured. Sneaking into RDA compounds, sabotaging their entire operation with the pull of a lever, taking down outposts in a blaze of glory – these aspects will feel familiar to anyone who’s played Far Cry. Whether the contrast between the mechanised human threat and the dense natural world illicit a deeper emotional connection in the player remains to be seen; let’s hope the developers have applied some creative flair to the Far Cry formula.
First-person action reminiscent of Mirror’s Edge
The freewheeling, first-person parkour game Mirror’s Edge is a touchstone on Frontiers of Pandora’s action. The vast, knotted jungle entwined with vines and canopies is said to provide a gracefully uninterrupted speed run for the players, and this would make sense seeing as you are in a natural habitat. The controls have also been nailed here, with sprinting through the jungle with ease is one of the principal reasons behind this.
Bow combat takes leaf out of Horizon’s book
You know Aloy’s ability to use her Focus to highlight weaknesses and aim-points on Horizon’s mechanoids? Well, Avatar: Frontiers of Pandora applies a similar trick with its vision which can be utilised to identify weak points on human-made mechs. Different arrow varieties can be crafted via a weapon wheel on the fly too. To be clear, this isn’t a bad thing: Horizon’s combat arc is amongst its best gameplay features; combat that lifts from Horizon’s best bits is certain to be a plus.
A welcome tie-in to the game’s movie roots, hunter-gatherer mechanics are said to play a sizeable part in Frontiers of Pandora’s open world game loop. For instance, picking fruit, hunting animals, and preparing meals for yourself, whilst important to regenerate health, is an integral prerequisite to surviving Pandora’s natural world.
Alongside hunter-gathering there are a raft of side activities on offer in Frontiers of Pandora, including the removal of RDA tags from wild animals, requiring a peaceful approach to garner the animal’s trust before ejecting its unwelcome tracking device, and freeing wildlife caged by the RDA, with sneakily killing its captors along the way an optional extra. There’s a real sense of harmony with nature in the game’s side activities. Even hunting animals requires they be honourably killed with weaponry; using bullets renders the meat inedible.
Objectives not spoon-fed
It’d be a travesty would all this natural splendour be spoiled by unnecessary quest markers. Instead, Frontiers of Pandora requires players manually mark their objectives on the map, but it doesn’t offer any planned route or way through. Instead, players are free to utilise free-running skill to fluidly platform through the jungle.
Avatar: Frontiers of Pandora will release to Xbox Series X|S, PlayStation 5, Amazon Luna, and PC. With the game pushing Snowdrop way beyond its prior technical capability, presumably it’s going to be a very demanding title for PC players. Indeed, a bare minimum 16GB of RAM, GeForce GTX 1070 or RX 5700, Intel Core i7-8700K or Ryzen 5 3600, and Windows 10 64-bit are required to run the game. Ideally, graphics cards should be updated to NVIDIA GeForce RTX 3060 Ti or Radeon RX 6700 XT with CPUs running Intel Core i5-11600K or Ryzen 5 5600X to reach the graphical prowess the game is capable of. Also, you’ll need 90GB of storage available to install the game.