I was one of those kids. You know, the ones older folks like to claim don’t exist anymore: the illusive outside children.
I spent my elementary school years tromping around in the woods at the end of our neighborhood cul-de-sac, soaring up homemade ramps on my bicycle into the clear blue sky before crashing a whole two feet. But damn, did it feel like I was in the clouds. I begged my dad not to cut down a willow tree in our backyard that was getting in the way whenever he’d mow the lawn. National parks were always my favorite vacation spots, far away from crowds, noise, and clogged streets.
Maybe it’s my natural affinity to nature. Maybe it’s because I grew up watching Fern Gully and Captain Planet. But either way, when Avatar was released in theaters, and I first experienced Pandora in 3D, I felt like I’d found a second home.
And now, the new Frontiers of Pandora video game from Ubisoft has arrived. Even though I beat the game within days, I never want to leave.
I’ve tried to move on. I finished Starfield right before starting Frontiers of Pandora, and Bethesda’s genius approach to Starfield’s New Game Plus has me itching to go back for a replay. I have an unwrapped copy of Assassin’s Creed: Mirage waiting for me right beside my PS5.
But even though I’ve finished FoP’s main quest, hit every RDA base polluting Pandora, meditated at every Memory Painting, and found every damn shadow puppet for the Kame’tire, I can’t seem to wrench myself out of this beautiful game.
The magnificent graphics that bring Pandora to life are certainly part of its long-lasting appeal. Parkouring through bioluminescent jungles.Rriding across wind-swept plains. Soaring through mist-cloaked mountains. All are grand enough to suck me in for hours just…looking at the scenery. Even so, I have to question, for a game with a limited number of activities to accomplish within its comparatively vast world map, why can’t I get myself to leave?
My answer traces back to that little girl tromping in the woods, flying off a bike ramp, and begging her dad not to cut down a tree. Frontiers of Pandora feels good to play. Cozy, feel-good games usually do nothing for me. I love action combat games. Give me Assassin’s Creed, God of War, Fallout, Far Cry, Horizon… The list goes on.
Gritty stories, phenomenal characters, dark drama, and, yes, a modicum of hope. Frontiers of Pandora’s narrative arc certainly tells a revenge story. A group of Na’vi children, stolen from their homes by the evil human-run RDA, finally escape and must relearn how to live amongst their own Na’vi people. They must reconnect with their ancestors and Eywa, and heal their moon, which is being polluted by humans, all while seeking personal revenge against the man who kidnapped them in the first place.
Not Just a Revenge Tale
But the primary focus of the game is not on revenge. In fact, there’s even a moment where we, the players, are offered a choice of whether to accept the past and focus on a future of saving Pandora as a whole or continue a path of personal revenge.
While that choice has little impact on the game story itself, it had a profound impact on me.
Yes, I continued to shoot down RDA soldiers, hurl grenades at guys in massive AMP suits, and take down helicopters while flying on my badass Ikran. I get all the fantastic action-based combat I crave from my video game experiences. But I also felt a sense of soothing warmth as I watched the beautiful nature of Pandora wash over the cruel, truly disgusting polluted land the RDA had ruined.
I enjoyed the journey to high, floating mountaintops for which the sole focus of a quest was to find the best observation point for a magnificent view so the main character could wax philosophical about the meaning of life.
Overall, Frontiers of Pandora is a feel-good game wrapped in an action-combat package.
That’s a combination that I’ve never been able to find anywhere else. The notion of becoming yet another morally gray, hellbent warrior or assassin simply isn’t doing it for me right now. Not when I can dig into my Fern Gully, Captain Planet, National Park-fueled roots and be an eco-warrior for just a little longer.