Animal Crossing: New Horizons – Reflecting on a Year of New Horizons

With it being officially a year from the release date, even if I technically started my island on the 19th due to the time zones, I wanted to try and gather my thoughts on how I’ve felt about the game after playing it every single day for a year now encompassing ~1,385 hours.

I think offhand those numbers would say that there was clearly tons to do in the game… But it’s less that there was a lot to do and more that certain things just… took a lot longer to do. And at least in my case, a lot of those hours were making patterns and catalog cross-checking to make sure I didn’t miss anything. That last part especially has taken SO much time, partially in combination due to how many items are only possible to check at Harvey’s Island due to the weird hidden nature of Seasonal items. At least Promotional Items have finally started showing in the catalog proper.

When it comes down to it, I still 100% feel I would’ve preferred the game take longer to release with everything in it than the rolling release updates we’re getting. I actually do not particularly enjoy constant content updates. I don’t like having to constantly recheck games (or have them installed in cases of non-physical titles) for some content that may be limited time. That isn’t to say all forms of this annoy me– Early Access games I expect as much and things like the 1 Year Anniversary Cake I genuinely find really cute and enjoy. That’s a cute bonus. But things like events we’ve had before or long-missed NPCs feel less like content updates and more like belated features. There are exceptions, of course, like the May Day Event where we got to see Rover again. Considering how we really only got to see him as cameos to begin with, and even he was missing for a while, it wasn’t odd to see him gone again, but that didn’t mean he wasn’t missed. And still, my only issue with the May Day Event was the fact that it was just one maze.

But I think especially with New Leaf, it felt almost like a love letter to fans from the beginning– it fixed a lot of issues people had with City Folk and improved on things from all three previous games, it brought back NPCs we missed, brought back characters (and even more in a huge content update years later), and added in things that had been missing. It gave us reasons to just enjoy playing, so many ways to help friends, and really built on those previous games– giving us more control than ever as Mayor and still letting us see what Tortimer was up to too. It felt like a true successor. And with some amazing new interior customization introduced in Happy Home Designer and some amazing items and interactivity through Pocket Camp, it really felt like the next game could truly take it all to new heights, especially if on another home console.

New Horizons, living up to its name I suppose, feels like a soft reboot more than anything. That isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but as someone who grew up with the series, seeing so much gone took a lot of the heart for me. Isabelle’s voice is different, the relationship between the characters feels off, so many characters are just not around. And one of the big things that stands out to me is the direction doesn’t feel the same. The game seemed to really want to focus more on a purely creative standpoint than a life sim, between less interaction with villagers (Sure, they can talk about some things around them now, but what does it matter when they apparently get annoyed as soon as you talk to them more than once a day), removal of tons of existing items, the smaller side rooms (and smaller height of the upper and lower rooms), and the emphasis on terraforming. You literally can not access certain parts of your island easily/without tools unless you terraform. And yet there’s still so many rules. The tiered nature of cliffsides made so many areas I had planned out become a lot smaller than I had originally wanted them to be and it made the one thing I was actually excited about with Terraforming feel more like a nightmare.

But it also highlighted for me how much I just don’t enjoy landscaping. I don’t enjoy that part at all. I’m very much a “work with what I have and mold it to what I want” than a “work from scratch” type of person and while I still did that, my favorite parts of customizing still felt empty due to the smaller sizes and certain features not happening after all such as ceiling items and customizing door ways and window styles from Happy Home Designer. Just imagine if you could even decide how Nook’s Cranny and the Able Sisters shops look this time based off certain design elements? I feel like they had everything there, but for whatever reason, chose not to take it.

And I think especially with New Horizons, it often feels like 1 step forward, 2 steps back. Flowers not permanently destroying if you accidentally run through them is great, but now you can’t store them which means you can’t really save any just incase.
Storage limits feel rougher without them upgrading it every single update as they pump in more items. Especially when so many people feel the need to hoard crafting supplies. Honestly, if crafting materials had their own private storage, I would be fine.
Villagers won’t move without your approval, but there’s still no way to just lock one in, the last villager you get can’t move out until another moves in (which may suck if someone gets someone they don’t want), and it takes much longer for them to prompt.
Villagers may ping a bit more often, but you can’t outright ask them if they need anything.
We no longer need to be suggested for special items to be put outside as anything can and the “special” items can be bought through Nook Miles… But colors can vary per island, you can only have one island per Switch, and Online now costs money. The irony that they made it so we can get seasonals through Nook Shopping so everyone can get them somehow (Yet still removed the events which still could’ve been featured regardless) but still added multiple factors that cause problems if you can’t pay for online, including online-exclusive items, is just another awkward change.

We don’t even have as many multiplayer features and in some cases, it feels even more limited because we can’t access our storage or anything while on another Island. We’re still limited to how much we can send and we can’t save as much mail. I guess because there’s no Post Office this time.

And that’s the thing, as much as I can think of that I may enjoy with New Horizons, every single one also comes with a downside– like a catch to that enjoyment. Such as more reactions, but tying them to specific villager types. Or how the posters can’t be cataloged properly unless you scan a villager or bring them in to Photopia which not all Villagers have Amiibo.

Obviously, I still play. The game is important to me and I also feel a real attachment to my villagers, even if they feel a lot emptier this time around. But it sucks feeling like all my favorite things to do are falling apart– keeping up with the catalog sucks this time between some items not showing up and not being told if you already have something like you could be in New Leaf (not to mention keeping track of different colors as well…). I’ve also gone on multiple rants already about how Nook Miles feel more grindy and less rewarding and take away the initial message of the badge earning, so I won’t repeat myself, but it’s sad to see such ridiculous numbers and ways to just make them even more exhausting to do such as how K.K. Slider’s concerts only count once per night in your own town.

And sure, I did play for hours recently with the Sanrio release, but none of it was enjoyable– it was just stressful as I panicked trying to figure out what to do and where. As much as I liked new things when the Welcome Amiibo hit, trying to fit everything sucked and wasn’t a fun time. I really enjoy planning ahead and this type of schedule doesn’t allow me to do that.

In exactly three weeks, it’s supposed to be my big town tour and main dream suite update, but it’s hard to be excited because who knows when something may come out that better fits and I’ll never be at a point where I know it can be done and I can be satisfied with it. I can’t just keep the date the same either due to how they keep adjusting things, including new content that is date specific.

When it comes down to it, at least for me, New Horizons doesn’t feel the same, and going by the name, I’m sure that was part of the point, but that doesn’t make it feel like a proper sequel to the game I loved so much in the first place. I just wanted a fun game where I could customize and hang out with my villagers– not super crafting landscaper with some NPCs that already ran out of all their lines.

It always feels hard to really put it all into words. I still keep hoping it’ll eventually add the things I really hoped to see, but at the same time, the fact that it’s being updated the way it is just really gets me down and it’s something that has caused me to burn out on a lot of games (such as Splatoon) and I’d hate to see it happen here as well.

Finally, if you’re enjoying New Horizons just as much or more than New Leaf or a previous Animal Crossing, that’s great! But the idea that people can’t be upset and complain is ridiculous, especially when a lot of updates just come across as refurbishing content that in other games was there from the start and making decisions that feel a bit stressful (Such as Bunny Day being adjusted for 2021 making it not be accessible in the past) for what they could possibly entail.

And in general, I’d love to actually play the game more. I’d love to help my villagers out and work on more things, but the game won’t let me. I can’t ask for more to do, it just tells me to stop. Until it drops something else and I have to go through a mess all over again.