It’s been a stressful time, adventurers. With many people finding themselves shut inside to avoid a dangerous virus, there are understandably a lot of folks who are nervous about the state of the world. So a video game about a relaxing getaway on an island where you have total creative control is a pretty fantastic escape. It’s the hero we need right now, and today many folks will be beginning their island vacation. I started at midnight as one of many bad decisions I have made as coping mechanisms for my stress today, but doing so has allowed me to see the many ways in which New Horizons makes it easy to jump in and get some exciting stuff done right away.
You start off by designing your villager, selecting from a variety of hair options, skin tones, and facial features in order to define what you’ll look like starting out. You’ll also select from four different randomized island shapes to determine what your deserted destination looks like. Pretty much any given configuration will have a good chunk of the island cut off from you by water, dividing your exploration into manageable chunks by not giving you access to the whole island at once. This can be frustrating if there’s a really cool place on the other side of the water where you want to set up your tent, but presumably you’ll be able to move things around later.
When you play the game for the first time, you go through a quick tutorial sequence that shows you the controls and allows you to set up your island. The player chooses the location of their own tent as well as the tents of the animals who move onto the island with you. You’ll learn how to pick up objects and shake trees, and finally get an opportunity to name the island. My wife Destiny and I decided to name ours Windfall after the island in Wind Waker. (Note that whatever you name the island, villagers will just refer to it by that name, with the word “island” not attached to it.) Once that is done, Tom Nook hands you a smart phone and your bill and gives you free reign of the place.
The Nook Phone is important because it enables many of the core features of the game. If your goal is to play local multiplayer right away (that’s what Destiny and I intended to do), one of you will have to get to this point in the game and then save and quit to give the other player a chance to create their villager and move onto the island. The process is much quicker for the second player as they don’t have to go through the tutorial and there is less dialogue. Once both players exist and have access to the Nook Phone, you can use it to call a resident into the game for local co-op. So while you won’t be able to play side by side right at the beginning, once you push through the character creation process co-op essentially becomes drop in/drop out, making it easy to play together locally.
The big advantage of the Nook Phone is a program called Nook Miles, which is similar to the OWL program in New Leaf. Think of these as achievements: you meet a predetermined goal and in turn receive a stamp as well as some miles for your trouble. The miles can be used as currency to purchase items at the Nook Terminal, but more importantly than that they allow you to pay off your debt to the company president rather than trying to save bells. This is a significant boon because you can earn Nook Miles for so many different things, and it is actually quite easy to build up the 5000 you need to upgrade from your tent to your first house. I did it in only 60-90 minutes, and in the process got a pretty solid idea of what the game’s various features are like.
This article, then, serves dual purposes. For those looking for guidance on how to quickly go from a tent to a house, this post will walk you through the steps I took to get 5000 Nook Miles the first day within the game. But because those steps also show off a number of the game’s features, they are a great avenue for me to share my first impressions of Animal Crossing: New Horizons, helping to communicate what is special and fun about the opening hours of the game.
The first set of Nook Miles you’ll get simply for turning on the game and making it through the tutorial to receive the Nook Phone. You can get more by exploring the phone’s features. First check out your passport, a personal ID which has editable fields for your comment and title as well as a picture. Your title comes from completing the little achievements which grant you Nook Miles – each completed task gives you new pair of terms which you can mix and match with others to make whatever silly title that you like. I, for example, named myself “Plaza Papa,” and in exchange for that thoroughly ridiculous title I scooped up some more Nook Miles.
You’ll also want to check out the custom design tab. There are plenty of premade designs which you can immediately begin to put on shirts, hang up as paintings, or decorate your floor. To get points, you need to make a custom design. The tools are pretty robust with a pencil that can change sizes, a paint bucket to fill empty shapes, and multiple stamps to give you specific shapes to work with. There are a number of different color palettes for your pencil and some come with a different background canvas to work with too. You can see not only the pixel version of your design but also what the design will look like in the final package. Your custom design earns you additional Nook Miles, and once you’ve done both of these tasks you’ll also get Miles for exploring the features on your phone.
One task you can do pretty easily is walk around the island and start picking things up. Shake the trees to drop fruit on the ground that you can then collect into your inventory, scoop up weeds, pick up shells on the sea shore, and definitely be sure to grab every tree branch that you can find. These simple materials will be needed in order to get a number of different mileage rewards, some related to crafting and others related simply to buying and selling. You’ll particularly want to focus on the weeds around your island as there is a mileage reward for plucking 50 of those suckers. You also need to grab 20 fruit to sell for another mileage reward.
The town hall equivalent in New Horizons is a Nook tent located generally around the center of your island. Here you can buy and sell goods with either bells or miles, and it also serves as the place where you can craft items. Talking to Tom Nook will give you the opportunity to go through the crafting tutorial, getting you essentially a free fishing rod in exchange for 5 tree branches. The DIY mechanisms in the game were one of the biggest draws for me when seeing trailers and previews, and so far I do find it to be enjoyable. It gives a lot of new value to the random collectibles you can pick up over the course of the day, and there’s a greater satisfaction that comes from gathering materials to create useful tools rather than just purchasing those tools.
This isn’t to say that you won’t be making purchases. You won’t have the resources to craft every tool right away, and you also want to buy every DIY recipe available as well as 10 flowers. The bells to make these purchases will come from selling the crud you picked up around the environment. Your first sale earns you miles and you earn miles specifically for selling 20 fruit, and you also earn miles for your first purchase and for spending a certain number of bells. To get to that bell threshold you may find it easier to also buy some furniture items. Shopping and selling is significantly easier in New Horizons thanks to improved inventory management, with more items stacking generally and also being able to stack in larger quantities than in previous titles.
Once you have tools, it’s time to start using them. The fishing rod in particular will be valuable because you can get miles for catching 10 fish and earn even more miles if you can make a certain number of those catches consecutive (no failed attempts at fishing). If you played New Leaf, fishing works identically to the previous game and you’ll feel right at home doing it. Part of the reason you want to emphasize fishing as your chore of the day is because fish are essentially limitless – you can circle the island as many times as you want looking for new ones that have spawned. If you’re angling (ha!) for the first mileage reward for fishing, chances are you’ll get another of the game’s rewards completely on accident: one for breaking a tool. The flimsy tools you can create on the workbench don’t stand up to scrutiny, but you can always make or buy replacements.
There are a few other things you can do to easily rack up miles to get your first house. Near the Nook tent is a bulletin board where island residents can leave messages. If you leave a message on the board, you’ll be rewarded with some miles. You also get miles for each day where you speak to all of the residents on the island. This is pretty easy starting out because only two animals outside of the Nook family will live near you, and the first reward activates for doing this only one day. Speaking with the residents helps to highlight what it ultimately part of the charm of Animal Crossing: the writing. The characters are silly and endearing, and each interaction is a fun look at how quirky they are.
One of the things you’ll want to buy when you’re spending bells at the Nook tent is a watering can and ten flowers. Using these flowers to make a garden somewhere will net you a mileage reward, and there are separate categories for planting flowers and watering flowers. They add beauty to the island in addition to serving as one of the easier ways to quickly get some Nook Miles at the beginning of the game, so I definitely recommend investing in them once you scoop up a few bells. Finally, while bug catching is a little less reliable than fishing in terms of how easy it is to find them, it is another Animal Crossing staple that has a place in New Horizons as well.
One common complaint I see from those who are not fans of Animal Crossing is that it “isn’t really a game.” The lack of combat, storytelling, or a final goal to work towards is a turn-off for some players. New Horizons uses the mileage system to address this, giving you concrete goals in both the short and long term in order to keep you motivated to play. Having a set of goals to focus on achieving made it really easy for me to stay focused during my play session and allowed me to quickly earn the miles I needed in order to make meaningful progress by purchasing a house to replace my cruddy tent. When you combine this with the DIY crafting, which assigns a more significant purpose to the materials you carry, New Horizons has a number of tools which help the experience to feel more like a “game” and it utilizes those tools effectively while not detracting from the core experience.
Whether you came for some suggestions on how to snag your first in-game house or just to see how New Horizons looks during its early hours, I hope you came away from this article with answers to your questions. There’s never been a better time for Animal Crossing, and its looking like New Horizons will build on the features of the past as well as using new features effectively to deliver the best possible experience. If you’re playing the game already, I’d love to hear about your plans for your island, so feel free to post them in the comments below!