Hallelujah!! After six years of waiting we finally got to see gameplay of the next entry into the Animal Crossing series, subtitled New Horizons, during Nintendo’s 2019 E3 Direct.
In a very different approach to previous titles, instead of moving into an existing town the player is relocating to a deserted island as a part of a package offered by industrialist Tom Nook’s new company Nook Inc. Both the Direct trailer and the Treehouse Live footage contained a lot of information, in addition to a number of later interviews with director Aya Kyogoku and producer Hisashi Nogami during E3 (via IGN), so let’s break down what we know.
From the ground up
New horizons indeed, this time around there’s almost nothing in the beginning. No town, just a wilderness full of weeds and trees, and even Nook is doing it tough in a little tent. This wilderness has a lot to give however, in the form of crafting collectibles. Yep, you heard right—crafting has come to the mainline series—before you get all angry about it though (as some fans have), it is completely optional! Crafting does come with the added appeal of being completely free as long as you have enough ingredients, but otherwise you can sell everything for bells and buy things that way instead. Tree branches, multiple types of wood, stone, clams…all sorts of collectibles can be very easily picked up from the environment (and thankfully stacked in the inventory) and taken to Nook’s little green tent. Inside the tent is Nook’s Crafting Bench where the player can create tools, furniture and from the tabs in the footage we can see that drinking and wall hanging items, wallpapers, carpets and what are potentially accessories and miscellaneous items can also be crafted. There is also a hammer icon in addition to the tools tab that is currently unknown, I speculate that it might be related to crafting materials. When new craftable materials are collected the player is notified that a new crafting recipe is possible, all of which are stored on the player’s Nook Phone (similar to the phone in Pocket Camp) within the DIY recipes app. From what I’ve seen thus far the crafting mechanic seems much more appealing and rewarding than in Pocket Camp, and I think they have gone about this the right way. It is possible at a later stage to get your own crafting bench as seen in the trailer.
When moving to the island the player will be joined by two animal villagers (sometimes called islanders) as well as the familiar tanukis Tom Nook, Timmy and Tommy. Other NPCs such as Isabelle will apparently return with new potential roles but the player will have to complete unknown tasks, potentially repay a certain amount of debt or progress to a certain point to unlock their return. Kyogoku did mention there would be a system to invite villagers to be a part of a town but not necessarily a specific animal. The villagers this time around are also in debt with Tom Nook and will pay back their own loans independently to how fast or slow you do.
Southern hemisphere settings
A win for us gamers in the southern hemisphere, New Horizons will permit the season settings to be changed from that in the northern hemisphere for the first time ever. This allows players to choose whether they want the seasons to finally match what is happening outside their doors or keep them opposite as in earlier titles.
New tools, tool levels, inventory and moving items?
The trailer and Treehouse gameplay showcased that players initially can build a ‘flimsy’ set of tools including a net, fishing rod, shovel, watering can and axe. In past titles there was standard, silver and gold tools, so it is a possibility that the player will be able to upgrade their tools once things become more established or better crafting materials are found.
The trailer also showed off two new tools, a vaulting pole that allows the player to pole-vault over rivers to keep exploring (as there are no bridges on a deserted island). The second is a trowel that can be used to make your own paths! A much better solution than using patterns as in past titles.
By using different types of tools you can collect different crafting materials. If you shake trees, tree branches fall out, but using an axe yields different types of wood (wood, softwood and hardwood). Using an axe or shovel on rocks yields stone, iron and clay. In the trailer it looks like shovels can now dig up fully grown trees which you can then pocket in typical Animal Crossing fashion. It might be possible to move rocks as well, as one seems to disappear in the trailer, but this has yet to be confirmed.
The player’s inventory has also been expanded to twenty slots (from sixteen), and potentially has a separate inventory for clothing. Items, or at least crafting materials can be stacked. We have only seen stacks of up to ten thus far but hopefully we can stack up to 99, and if dropped the stack remains as one item.
As mentioned earlier the player has a smartphone from which they can browse DIY recipes, but the phone also contains a number of other apps. There is a map app which we haven’t seen in use yet but likely gives a more detailed map view. There’s also the Nook Miles app where you can claim Nook Miles from completing tasks like making tools or picking weeds. These miles can be exchanged for items, recipes or other ‘activities’. Using the Call Islander app allows you to play in couch co-op mode, bringing in another player character that also has a house on the island to come and play with you. Tools are shared during this mode and leadership (denoted by a flag above the players head) can easily be transferred. The Switch has a camera button, but the Nook Phone also has a camera app where you can change the zoom, filters and take more detailed photos. New, unknown apps will also be available.
Put yo s*** anywhere
One of the biggest and best things added to New Horizons is the ability to place furniture items not just in your house but anywhere you like. You can even plant your tent on the beach! This is going to lead to an amazing amount of individuality and customisation. We don’t currently know the limit of how many items can be put outside, hopefully it’s really high, but I’m sure there will be some kind of limit.
Au Naturale or Civilisation
The player can choose to live forever in their tent if they wish, instead of paying off their initial debt and getting a house as they develop their island. Nook will monitor the player more in this game and will take the player’s choices into account through his “Resident Services’. Though staying in the tent will most likely limit what happens within the player’s island town, in terms of what unlocks. The natural elements within the game have had a huge upgrade. Just the addition of the wind alone is a big change, you can hear it and see it moving the leaves and weeds, creating such a serene and ‘alive’ environment. Mr Nogami mentions that the wind can potentially be at different strengths and should be seen in the movement of the leaves. There are many more varieties of weeds, and flowers now appear to take time to grow and can be harvested multiple times, instead of acting as a singular instantaneous item. Dynamic weather also appears to return (we see sunny weather, rain and snow in the trailer), and cloudy days have the added detail of creating shadows on the ground. It also appears that multi-tiered terrain has returned, though we have yet to have a really good look at it aside from indirect glimpses in the trailer.
In the past, your appearance in Animal Crossing was determined by a series of questions as you arrived into your future town. In New Horizons however, the player will be able to select their appearance from the outset and modify it whenever they like (similar to Pocket Camp). This time around skin tone has also been added, on top of hairstyles, eye colour and facial appearance. Hairstyles and facial features are also gender neutral with new options to choose from.
Real estate choices
It has been confirmed that from the very beginning, every additional villager that wishes to move to the island will check with you first about their house placement, allowing you to leave it to chance or (for the first time ever) relocate their houses. No more wanton destruction!!!!
Out of work
Poor Mr Resetti has lost his job as the angry no-save monster due to a newly introduced auto-saving feature. Even if you quit your game while playing, it will be saved. Kyogoku did tease that ‘Mr Resetti is looking for a new job’ so let’s look forward to that…
One island to rule them all
Unlike many games on the Switch, New Horizons does not allow the player to make a new save file for each user account. Only one island is allowed per game, with each user being able to create a player on the island. This choice was supposedly made to promote co-op gameplay. However for those that like having multiple towns, there is a potential work around in the form of owning extra international copies, which each get their own icon and save file on the Switch.
The development team mentioned that as you work through the game the sense of progression, while initially different, should reach a state familiar to previous players. They made sure to inform fans that the experience will be ‘new’, but with lots of elements familiar to the Animal Crossing franchise. Mr Nogami did state that the unlock order of certain buildings and elements won’t be the same as it was in the previous title, New Leaf.
- Animals now have sleeves, if the piece of clothing actually has sleeves.
Backpacks and shoulder satchels exist, we don’t know if they are only aesthetic though.
Fences can be crafted and appear to be freely placeable.
- No direct connectivity with Pocket Camp but there are some collaborative items for the two games in the works.
- No new personality types.
- Up to eight players can be in a town online or over local wifi at one time. Up to four players in couch co-op.
There are so many details that we don’t know; like how do we get the museum and what do we have to collect this time around? How much new stuff is there? Are there still events? New species of villagers? Only time will tell…
Animal Crossing: New Horizons was, unfortunately, delayed to March 20, 2020, but this was to ensure that the final game is amazing and playable for many years, as well as to protect the wellbeing of the development team. Animal Crossing: New Horizons is coming exclusively to Nintendo Switch.