In New Horizons you get to move in with a bunch of dumbass animals, and pitch a tent on your very own randomised deserted island (that you pick from a small selection). This excursion is arranged by that Bell-grabbing scumbag, Tom Nook, and a selection of animal folk join you at first. From here it plays out much like other games in the Animal Crossing series.
The beauty in this series is that you can play it however you want, with only minimal restrictions. Really the only goal in the series is paying off your mortgage, which incrementally increases every time you enhance your house by paying off the current loan. How you do that, or even how long it takes you to do it is entirely up to the player and there’s no pressure to achieve it.
You can fish, catch bugs, clean up shells and weeds, harvest fruits, and sell all of it to a pair of stingy (but cute) raccoons. These Bells can be spent on new furniture, clothing, plant life, and in the Special Goods menu of the Nook Stop that refreshes daily. New Horizons gives you a lot of scope in how to spend your easily acquired coins, much like other titles in the series.
In fact, a lot of the trimmings have returned: you can buy Turnips on a Sunday and sell them for profit if you’re lucky; donate fish, bugs and fossils you dig up to the museum; the Seasonal events are back and (if the Easter one is anything to go by) oddly annoying this time; and you can stop for inane chatter with your menagerie of residents. For the most part, it’s business as usual.
This isn’t to say there are no changes as, in one of the improvements for the series, there are a lot of customisation options. Your player character isn’t randomised based on dumb questions this time, and can have whatever hairstyle and face design you want. What’s more, these can be changed at any time simply by looking in a mirror (once you actually have one of course).
Should point out that the Able Sisters are killing it with the selection of clothing this time too, just saying. Never has it been more fun hunting out precisely the same shit I would wear in real life.
Also new for this iteration is the ability to craft items, tools and furniture, and this works great with the aspects of the game – most of the time at least. As long as you have access to a crafting bench, the recipe, and the resources you can continue to build to your heart’s content. But, this has led to one of the biggest downfalls of the title – fucking breakable equipment.
Just as weapon degradation has plagued several gameplay experiences in recent times, it has made its way into my tranquil island life too. All of your tools will break after certain amounts of usage, which increases with better iterations. This means trekking to a crafting bench constantly to build new tools, and even occurs with the top tier tools. So that’s great.
One other new thing you’ll notice during play, simply because Nook doesn’t shut up about it, is that by completing certain actions you will earn some of the new currency – Nook Miles. The objectives chart game progress in a way, and there’s daily bonus ones too. You also get bonuses for checking in at the Nook Stop each day up to a maximum of seven days in a row too.
These can be spent on the Nook Stop in the admin building too towards new crafting recipes and unique items. There isn’t really that many decent uses of the Miles at first, outside of some cute Nook gear, so you’ll likely be spending them on tickets to fly to a mystery island; taking yourself to a mostly randomised landmass to purge it of all resources like the British Empire.
With a ticket in hand you can head to the Dodo Airlines terminal (these birds are the best addition here – I love them so much), where you can fly to other islands, including those of other players. Visiting other players can be either locally or online, with the possibility of having a Dodo Code to narrow down the scope of people that could visit you to those with the code.
However, online isn’t the most seamless experience with long loading times (disguised as a flights board) resulting in waiting around if it even successfully connects. This is especially evident when you have a few visitors as the entrance and exit sequences freeze the gameplay. Previous titles have had better multiplayer, leaving the online component of this feeling rushed.
It also feels quite a lot of the time that the player’s progress is being blocked for what feels like arbitrary reasons. Instead of the gradual additions of new characters, enterprises and activities over time of earlier games in the series, New Horizons instead gates a fair amount behind a progression wall, including new villagers and the fun new features like terra-forming.
The worst of these arbitrary roadblocks is how New Horizons treats new villagers moving in. As opposed to in previous iterations where the villagers just move in over time, you have to pay 10,000 Bells for each new villager to have a plot on the island after the first set. Sure you can choose the exact locations for these, which is nice but it is still a blockade nonetheless.
Oh and no, the Nook Miles you are gifted for having new villagers move in is not worth it.
This being said, New Horizons does have various quality of life improvements made, with the best being a quick select wheel. Instead of cycling through the tools, you can quickly select one when you need it (and it isn’t broken) and switch them with ease. A minor annoyance with this is you have to purchase it with Miles, and it doesn’t clearly indicate this, so it can be missed.
Sadly, I’ve dropped off playing New Horizons a lot quicker than with previous titles, everything is here from before, just with an off feeling I couldn’t place. Then it hit me, the gameplay loop has been altered. Previously, the events of the village occurred around you as you pottered around doing whatever you wanted to do, so you felt part of a world instead of responsible for it.
New Horizons instead forces the player to break their gameplay loop regularly to complete a task to force the next event to happen, or craft another tool to replace the one they just broke, or some other such nonsense. The result is that the game unfortunately never falls into a satisfying routine or flow, instead playing out over subsequent (and fractured) gameplay cycles.
This is not a bad game by any means, and is a decent remedy to the current world situation. However, it pales in comparison to others in similar veins and even its own series. The few improvements and fresh additions fail to overshadow the frustrations with playing it. If you have the ability to do so, I would recommend playing New Leaf for Nintendo 3DS instead.