The Ubisoft showcase at E3 2021 wasn’t exactly heavy on surprises, but it’s safe to say no one had Avatar: Frontiers of Pandora on their list. While Ubisoft has reassured us several times work on the game is ongoing, this is the first tangible proof of its existence.
Time to look at what we’ve got so far—here’s all the info currently available on Avatar: Frontiers of Pandora. Most of the info on the game is still tightly under wraps, because it’s arguably still early days for the game. Ubisoft is even still hiring for it. Nevertheless, there are some interesting things to dig in based on the game’s relation to the source material and development history.
Currently, Frontiers of Pandora is slated for release in 2022. This is still quite vague, but for a game we haven’t heard from in so long we almost believed it to be canceled, that’s a pretty concrete time frame. Ubisoft’s overall lineup is perhaps slightly less busy than in the years prior, with no fixed release dates for any Ubisoft PC games aiming for 2022, so it doesn’t seem far-fetched to hope for a release next year.
This nearly three-minute long trailer consists mostly of cinematics, rendered in-engine, with what could be morsels of pre-rendered in-game footage thrown in whenever the camera switches to first person.
The trailer begins with a look at some lush foliage, before a Na’vi tries to approach a mountain banshee. This is followed by more wildlife enjoying a misty morning. At this point I can’t help but think about what the satirical Outer Worlds 2 trailer meant when it talked about how a quiet, peaceful setting makes games seem big and important. The scenery does look gorgeous in the cinematic though, and it also features the flying jellyfish creatures everyone liked to paw at when watching Avatar in cinemas.
The trailer shows off more of Pandora’s fauna, including the gazelle-like hexapedes, grazing sturmbeests and some Na’vi riding direhorses, some raise their heads to the sky, making it clear that danger isn’t far off. Soon after, military forces riding large mechs and reading jets enter the picture. The logo on these machines and nearby crates shows this is the RDA, the paramilitary force from the film that didn’t know how to take no for an answer. There is a fight high in the air, where you can clearly tell the trailer has been made in engine (look at the Navi’s faces at 2:26, for example). The Na’vi emerge victorious. the end. For now.
While it shows off a beautiful world, this trailer effectively says nothing about what the actual game is like, likely because it’s simply too early to show off.
Avatar: Frontiers of Pandora will be an open world game in first person perspective, according to Ubisoft’s official website. “Avatar: Frontiers of Pandora brings to life the alluring world of Pandora with all of its beauty and danger in an immersive, open world experience,” it reads. There isn’t much here beyond buzzwords, but you can reasonably expect fights with RDA forces, hopefully some fun flying gameplay, and maybe some hunting.
The PCGamer team got together after the announcement to exchange reactions on the announcement. Strong feelings were had on the movie itself, but we’ve also looked at Avatar’s potential as a game world. Fact is, Ubisoft is very good at making first-person games in beautiful settings, you only have to look at the Far Cry series for that.
Several studios are working on Avatar: Frontiers of Pandora. The project is helmed by Massive Entertainment, also known as Ubisoft Massive. Ubisoft acquired Massive Entertainment from Activision in 2008. Subsequently, Massive collaborated with Ubisoft Montreal on parts of Far Cry 3, which could work in their favour here. Since 2016, Massive Entertainment is known for the The Division series, but Avatar is handled by a separate team. In addition to Avatar, Massive Entertainment is also working on a as of yet untitled open world Star Wars game. The Avatar team first announced the game back in 2017, albeit without any footage whatsoever.
Shortly after the announcement of Frontiers of Pandora, Massive Entertainment studio head David Polfeldt stepped down from the company in order to take a sabbatical. While a large-scale shift in management like that would normally spell bad news for a game, Ubisoft apparently has a replacement for Polfeldt ready.
Massive Entertainment is collaborating on the game with Ubisoft Studios in Germany and China. As is standard for a licensed game, Ubisoft also lists Disney, who holds the rights to the film, as well as Avatar’s production company Lightstorm Entertainment as its collaborators.
If you’ve forgotten(I don’t blame you, it’s been a while), Avatar is the world’s highest-grossing film of all time, partly because tickets to 3D film showings are more expensive than regular screenings, by the way. Avatar was directed by James Cameron, whose film Titanic held the record for the highest-grossing film worldwide prior to Avatar. It’s still the highest-grossing film in several countries, but has been surpassed by Avengers: Endgame in countries like the US and Canada in 2019.Avatar was lauded for its beautiful use of 3D, ushering in an era where every film had to have at least some element of 3D.
Avatar’s story on the other hand is the reason that 12 years on, many try to pretend it never existed—it’s basically Pocahontas with very tall, blue aliens. An organisation called the Resources Development Administration (RDA) mines the faraway planet of Pandora for a valuable mineral. Turns out Pandora’s inhabitants, the Na’vi, would much rather humans stop digging up their planet, but because that would be the reasonable thing to do, the RDA sends an avatar of a former marine to the planet instead. Since Pandora is toxic to humans, they use avatars, essentially copies of themselves in a Navi’s body, to be able to access the planet still. The Marine falls in love with a Na’vi, decides the Na’vi people are worth saving, actually, and does that. In the aftermath, humans are banned from Pandora, and only he gets to stay.
Ubisoft has said that Frontiers of Pandora will feature a new, standalone story and play in a part of Pandora we haven’t seen in the movies. It’s unknown whether it is set before or after the events of the movie. Both are possible, but since the RDA is openly fighting the Na’vi in the trailer, it’s more likely the days of their collaboration are firmly over.