Avatar: Frontiers of Pandora is no spin-off.
The video game, which was released this week, shares more than a world with the film series, it is a direct continuation of the story James Cameron started in 2009.
“It’s a big responsibility,” laughed game director Ditte Deenfeldt.
“But I feel really confident that we’re delivering something that truly is Avatar.”
Deenfeldt’s studio, Massive Entertainment, started work on the game in 2017.
After six years collaborating with Cameron and his production company, Deenfeldt couldn’t contain her excitement as physical copies started arriving in her office during an interview with 9news.com.au.
“I am feeling all of the emotions all at the same time,” she said.
“The collaboration with the movie-makers at Lightstorm Entertainment, they’ve been helping us so much to make sure that this is part of the universe.
“This is Avatar but we’re actually delivering completely new things, new places, new regions, new experiences, hidden things that you haven’t seen before.”
As a player, it’s a lot of “new” to wrap your head around.
But Frontiers of Pandora quickly and adeptly grounds fans in a story they already know and love.
Jake Sully’s attack on the humans at the end of the first Avatar film is the catalyst that kicks off this campaign. In a delightful example of cause and effect, text appears on screen describing the attack in the opening few minutes of the game, triggering a series of events that unleashes your character, an “orphaned” Na’vi, on Pandora.
“Because we are a canon expansion of the universe, we really have to make you understand and believe that you are on Pandora very quickly,” Deenfeldt explains.
“Even if you haven’t seen the movies, you can still play the game and be excited about the level of detail and the cool characters that you’re going to meet.”
One detail players will immediately notice is Avatar’s sense of scale, both big and small.
The Na’vi are three metres tall and by comparison, the humans you fight or collaborate with feel tiny.
“It’s something that we worked really hard on,” Deenfeldt said.
“If you get the chance to play as this 3 metre tall, cat-like blue person, you want to feel like you’re tall and fast and agile and powerful.
“When you move and when you press those buttons, it needs to give you a reaction that really aligns with the sense of being, that tall, that powerful and that agile.”
Jumping is a perfect example of this.
Holding the A or X button for a moment will charge a longer and higher jump.
Human compounds aren’t built for creatures your size either so you’ll have to duck and slide through doors.
Both are wonderfully subtle ways of driving home the feeling that you are embodying a Na’vi.
“So much work went into not just the controls, but also the world … so that when you make a really far jump or a really, really high jump that you sense that you’re big,” Deenfeldt said.
“Of course, when you’re standing next to a human or like a human chair, suddenly you realise how big you actually are and you feel it straight away.”
It’s a feeling you’ll be able to share with a friend, too.
Frontiers of Pandora can be played in co-op but only after you’ve completed the opening sequence.
“You come to a certain point where it kind of opens up.
“Now we’re sure that both [players] know exactly what’s going on and then you can play the rest of the campaign after that.
“There is a world ‘owner’ and you play in their world, but you get all of your progression back in your own world if you are the co-op player.
“You can play through the entire campaign together and experience the story together and go hunting and fighting together if that’s what you want to.”
But gathering resources is the tip of the iceberg.
There are layers upon layers of tiny intricacies for players to discover and exploit. You gather more resources if you harvest resources carefully and every Ikran (those giant birds from the movies which you can mount and fly in the game) has a randomised food preference to learn.
It’s a level of depth some players will love but if that’s not something you’re interested in, Deenfeldt says players won’t be forced to complete side quests to play through the story.
“You can have an absolutely great experience if you just play through the main campaign and just go through that but if you do that, you are not going to see everything, you’re not going to meet everybody, you’re not going to find everything,” Deenfeldt said.
“If you want to do everything, you can do that too, but there’s still some stuff that’s pretty hard to find as well.
“I’m really excited to see if people find it or how many will find the more hidden things.”
Avatar: Frontiers of Pandora is available now on PC, Xbox Series X/S and PlayStation 5.