We know almost nothing about Avatar: Frontiers of Pandora, the upcoming open-world Ubisoft game from Division studio Massive Entertainment. Announced in June 2021, it was originally slated for a late 2022 release – but ihas since been postponed to 2023. The cinematic reveal trailer and short description provided by Ubisoft revealed that it will take place in the Western Frontier, a never-before-seen part of Pandora that looks almost identical to the already-been-seen locations in the original Avatar.
That’s perfectly understandable. Pandora’s jungle is core to its iconography just as the na’vi are. When you visit Pandora at Disney’s Animal Kingdom, you’ll see the floating islands, the bioluminescent foliage, and the rivers and waterfalls that have defined Pandora’s topography for more than a decade. Ubisoft wants to tell its own story that branches off from the films and doesn’t conflict with the ongoing series, but still maintain the elements of Pandora we know – or at least, what we knew before Avatar: The Way of Water.
As the name implies, the Avatar sequel explores a new part of Pandora that wasn’t present in the first film. The planet’s seas have their own culture, mythology, and ecosystem that is completely different from the one Sully learns about when he meets the Omaticaya people, and The Way of Water is an exploration of that new world.
This isn’t a detour or one-off adventure either. The end of The Way of Water makes it clear that Sully and his family are here to stay, and rumored titles of the future Avatar sequels indicate that the sea will play a significant role in the entire story. If you’ve seen the movie you may have a guess as to who the titular rider is in Avatar 4: The Tulkun Rider, but one thing that’s certain is that the only place anyone is riding a Pandoran whale is in the ocean.
My concern is that Frontiers of Pandora will take us further into the territory of the original Avatar while the films continue off in this new direction. This wouldn’t matter if the game had come out at any point in the last 13 years, but now that we know where the story is going, Frontiers of Pandora risks feeling dated before it even comes out.
There are so many great gameplay opportunities for an open-world game that lets you explore the ocean. As iconic as Pandora’s jungles are, we’ve seen plenty of jungle-based first-person Ubisoft games already. What we’ve never seen is how a traditional open-world game would work underwater. As much as I’m excited about the opportunity to explore Pandora myself, I know I’m going to be disappointed if the sea isn’t a component in it.
I imagine there’s only so much Massive Entertainment was privy to about Cameron’s plans prior to the release of The Way of Water, and it's safe to assume Frontiers of Pandora has been in development for many years – possibly even before The Way of Water was written. I suspect it will be a spin-off to the original Avatar that doesn’t acknowledge the existence of Metkayina Clan or the sea at all, and possibly doesn’t even acknowledge the major technological advancements the RDA has made in Avatar – just based on old mechanics and gunships we see in the reveal trailer. I’ll understand if the game is limited to the settings of the first Avatar, but I’ll still be disappointed. After all this time the series is finally moving forward, and it will be a shame if the game doesn’t move forward with it.
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