Avatar: Frontiers of Pandora Combat Explained
8 mins read

Avatar: Frontiers of Pandora Combat Explained

The moon of Pandora is host to a pair of different worlds; the harmonious, nature-loving Na’vi and the industrial, destructive humans of the RDA. In Avatar: Frontiers of Pandora you play as a native Na’vi, but that doesn’t mean you’ll be restricted to using just their traditional tools and weaponry.

“As a child of two worlds, someone that was brought up and trained by the RDA forcefully, you do have the knowledge of human tools,” explains Magnus Jansen, creative director of Avatar: Frontiers of Pandora. “Not just weapons but their technology and other things as well.”

But if you have access to rocket launchers, assault rifles, and grenades, why would you ever use the Na’vi’s comparatively primitive weapons? We spoke to the developers at Massive Entertainment, who told us all about the gameplay styles and choices offered by human and Pandoran equipment.

“Human technologies are loud and destructive and kind of dirty in a way,” says game director Ditte Deenfeldt. “Whereas the Na’vi tools are usually more powerful, more stealthy, more precise.”

The Na’vi source almost all of their equipment directly from nature and so their arsenal is predominantly based on archery. Each bow is tooled for a particular approach: the shortbow for fast attacks, a heavy bow for high-damage sniping, and a longbow for general purpose shooting. These are, as you’d expect, silent killers.

“So the Na’vi weapons, they’re all about precision and they’re also stealth tools, so they preserve your stealth loop,” explains associate game director Drew Rechner. “They’re all using that idea of precision and planning and quiet takedowns.”

There’s a special ammo type where you actually duct tape grenades to an arrow.

But how can a wooden arrow destroy an armored mechanical exo-skeleton? It’s simple, really: you aim true. “All of our enemies have weak points,” Rechner reveals. “Sometimes it’s an unprotected pilot that you can just take out with one shot if you’re accurate, but other times it’s the [exhaust] vents in the back. With a well-placed arrow you hit [and] it explodes, and you can take it out really efficiently. And that’s a lot more difficult to do with the human weapons because they’re so imprecise.”

“But if you don’t want that, we also have special ammo,” adds Rechner. “So there’s a special ammo type where you actually duct tape grenades to an arrow and you can shoot that arrow and have it explode. And of course that’s fantastic for that AMP that’s giving you trouble and you can’t seem to flank it because maybe the space isn’t allowing for it.”

Special ammunition can also be crafted for the Staffsling, a sort of lacrosse stick-like weapon used to hurl traps and explosives. Like special ammo arrows, the Staffsling represents the merging point of two cultures; it’s a Na’vi design enhanced by explosive RDA manufacturing. But such a blend of technologies can only be used in certain situations; for some activities you’ll be restricted to certain weapons.

“When it comes to hunting, we really encourage players to be merciful and to get a clean kill as well,” reveals Deenfeldt. As a result, you can’t use any human weapons or tech to hunt Pandora’s wildlife.

The Na’vi, they’ll smell it a mile away that it’s got metal and it’s been tainted by the human technology,” explains Jansen. As such, you’ll always need to use bows to kill animals you intend to use for cooking and crafting.

While Na’vi weapons are encouraged for precision and hunting, there will often be times when you need speed and aggression. That’s where your character’s early life with the RDA will come in handy; they know how to use all the human weapons, from assault rifles to rocket launchers.

“They’re perfect for the run and gun,” says Rechner. “My personal preference is to start with stealth. Usually I fail in some spectacular fashion and then I bust out the shotgun and the assault rifle and just blast my way through the last few enemies.”

“[Human weapons are] not what you want to use for stealth because if you’re sneaking, well, a loud boom is going to give you away,” says Jansen. “All of the human weapons are loud. But they are incredibly fun because they’re loud. They are very powerful against machinery, against the AMP suits, against all of the things. So they’re very, very effective when you get into action.”

I expect most players to play a mix of both and choose the right tool for the right situation.

As powerful as the human weapons are, though, you sadly won’t be able to use the RDA’s coolest machines. You can’t use an AMP suit or fly in a helicopter simply because you’re too big,” says Deenfeldt. “The AMP suit may be your size on the outside, but inside it can only fit a tiny little human.”

The story of Frontiers of Pandora will focus on your character reclaiming their Na’vi heritage. And so, should you wish to fully roleplay that narrative, you can choose to use only Na’vi equipment. But Massive Entertainment has designed the game to be played with both technologies, pivoting between them as the situation demands.

I think more so than you doing one thing over the other, I expect most players to play a mix of both and choose the right tool for the right situation,” says Deenfeldt. “That’s really why we have this background story, to give players the opportunity to play with all of the different options that we have to give you. We can add some technology, we can add some weapons, but you can also live the Na’vi dream.”

I think this is a choice that people like and it’s something they recognize where, yeah, I can go loud, I can go in guns blazing [with] human weapons, but that is going to draw attention and there might be reinforcements, they could send in more people,” says Jansen. “This is a classic pro versus con situation where yes, I could go loud and it’s fast, but in the end it might not be that much faster because I’m going to draw more people in and it’s going to take more time.”

The contrast between humans and Na’vi isn’t restricted to weapons, though. As you explore the world you’ll find very different environments depending on who lives there. Those disparate environments provide very different gameplay opportunities.

The human locations are much more structured,” says Deenfeldt. “You have a straight line, straight angles. You have an environment that in many cases are much easier to read, so it is easier to make quick decisions on where to move, which means that agility that you have, you can really use it in combat.”

“As beautiful as a natural environment is, it’s also naturally just more chaotic,” she adds. “And so I think that’s one of the big differences. But we also have other environments than the rainforest. We have really big open plains, in the upper plain as an example, where that changes how you approach these things as well.”

By starting with a protagonist who belongs to both Na’vi and human cultures, Massive has been able to build a game with both multiple play styles and environmental texture. We’ll see if that blend works in harmony or if the RDA guns are OP when Frontiers of Pandora launches on December 7.

Matt Purslow is IGN’s UK News and Features Editor.