Animal Crossing: New Horizons’s newly introduced crafting system is one of the most significant departures from the typical Animal Crossing experience. In the past, wanting some new clothes or an extra lounge chair for my sunroom meant that I needed to get lucky. I checked the Cranny shelves each morning, and if that didn’t work, I was off to shake some trees or slingshot balloons. With crafting, I no longer have to play the waiting game. If I need a new chair, I can gather all the raw materials required for said chair and voila- my sunroom is complete.
Yet after 60+ hours of reshaping my deserted island, I’ve caught myself playing New Horizons in a nearly identical way as the previous titles. That is to say, I spend all my time scavenging for cool new items randomly generated throughout the island and only craft if I need to. What initially seemed like a slam dunk solution to some of the mundane gameplay gaps that Animal Crossing is known for has transformed into a tedious distraction that I’m struggling to find the value in.
A New Beginning
Like most Animal Crossing games, my new home was a complete mess when I first landed at the supposed getaway destination. My island was overgrown with weeds and lacking in essential infrastructure (seriously, how is Nook handling the plumbing?). Fans of the series know that transforming this newly inherited ghost town into a bustling paradise typically takes a lot of time, and New Horizons is no different. As much as I wanted to start with a full set of tools, a five-room mansion, and an inventory filled with turnips, those things would have to wait. A toil that was more manageable this time around, thanks to the game’s crafting system.
The allure of gathering raw materials and crafting them into furniture or clothing was clear from the start. I had nothing but a tent, lamp, and a radio. So if throwing some sticks together with a rock resulted in a sofa or stereo- sign me up! Crafting is one of the only ways a player can populate their island with furnishings and other personal flares when they first arrive. These crafted items are often worth much more than the standalone materials themselves, cementing the skill as a valuable form of money-making early on. The game’s “main story” also requires you to gather and craft items on multiple occasions if you want to progress your island further with additional buildings and visitors.
As a long-time fan of the series, I couldn’t believe how refreshing it felt to finally have a skill that could actively bring me closer to my island goals without having to wait physically. If I wanted to throw a beach party, I no longer had to stalk Nook’s Cranny for weeks. Chop some wood, forage some plants, and I’m all set. Crafting also helps give newcomers something to do while familiarizing themselves with the more laid back nature of Animal Crossing. I still laugh whenever I remember how much I hated my initial experience with Animal Crossing: Wild World. The impatient child in me couldn’t quite grasp the idea that the game wanted me to put the DS down and come again the next day. Had Wild World implemented a crafting system similar to New Horizons, I don’t think I would have responded so harshly.
A New Chapter
Sometimes a good first impression is just that: a first impression. As my island evolved to incorporate a clothing store, campsite, resident services building, multiple bridges, a variety of new residents, and a house brimming with hoarded junk, I started to realize just how little my crafting abilities were keeping up. After weeks of purchasing the latest unique wares at Nook’s Cranny, the DIY recipes became simplistic in comparison. All my hard work planting fruit trees and gambling with turnips resulted in millions of bells, negating the need to craft high-value items for cash. Finishing the story meant that Nook no longer needed my help supplying the island with new buildings or resources. The more success I had, the less valuable crafting became.
New Horizon feeds into this lack of reliance on its crafting mechanics by offering significant island improvements that require no gathering or building. Bells are all you need to add bridges, inclines, and other houses to your community. Terraforming lets you reshape your entire environment with all sorts of textures and techniques if you have the Nook Miles for it. Finishing your museum requires fish, bugs, and fossils while upgrading your shops necessitate spending even more bells. It’s baffling to realize just how little there is to do with the hoards of raw materials scattered around the island.
Even if I wanted to “grow out” of crafting, ignoring the mechanic outright is not an option thanks to New Horizon’s safeguards that prevent players from doing exactly that. The essential tools you need to perform everyday tasks in the game are degradable, so you’ll have to craft more each time they break. It was charming to replace my fishing rod the first couple of times, but by the 40th time, it was a lot less fun. Even after playing for hundreds of hours, unlocking the recipes for the coveted golden toolset doesn’t free you from the endless cycle of restocking shovels as the golden tools can also break. It’s almost as if the developers knew that some players might get bored of crafting, but instead of making the mechanic more interesting, they made it impossible to avoid.
What started as a fresh new dimension to the Animal Crossing experience has resulted in a chore. Nothing highlights this more than the user interface nightmare that occurs each time you want to craft an item. You can’t craft with materials kept in your home’s storage. You can’t craft more than one item at the same time. You can’t craft recipes directly if they depend on other recipes. You can’t craft and customize an item in the same dialog. Instead, you’ll spend ten minutes hammering away at the ‘A’ button while your character tirelessly creates a single fishing bait one clamshell at a time. It’s a tedious and convoluted process that acts as the icing on the cake for a forced gameplay mechanic that’s underdeveloped in the first place.
A New Horizon
Although crafting in Animal Crossing: New Horizons can feel like work at times, it doesn’t take away from the overwhelmingly positive experience that I have while playing the game. It’s an added mechanic that wasn’t afraid to make a big statement initially but has since dissipated into an afterthought one month later. It’s disappointing to see such a significant leap for the franchise stub the landing, but that doesn’t make me have any less faith in the idea of crafting in the Animal Crossing world. It’s a natural fit and one that I hope they continue to work on in future updates.