What a weekend it's been. On the brink of our country going into lockdown in the face of a pandemic sweeping the entire globe, a new saviour stepped into the light: Animal Crossing: New Horizons.
This was my first time stepping into Nintendo's lovely series, and I didn't really know what to expect. I was warned there wasn't too much to do at first; that New Horizons only opened up after a certain amount of time. That turned out to be just fine, because the joy I experienced with Animal Crossing this weekend was visiting my friends' islands.
Hopping over to your friend's island is dead simple. All anyone needs to do if they want visitors is to tell the Dodo airport manager to open their gates up, and anyone on your friends list can come on over to your island. With Splatoon 2's muddled matches with friends still fresh in my memory, New Horizons proved a refreshingly simple take on online play from Nintendo.
Visiting a new island is where I found peace this weekend. The friendly Dodo in your airport gives you a list of friends' islands with open gates, and a short loading screen later you're on fresh soil. The first stop on my New Horizons World Tour led me to Diego Arguello's island (whose work you might have read on our sister site, Eurogamer). No, those aren't butts on trees, those are peaches, and it's here that I realized, "Wait a second, different people get different fruit on their islands at random?"
It's a really simple but effective measure. You start off with one fruit between either peaches, pears, oranges, apples, cherries, or coconuts. The randomness makes you want to seek out all the other types of fruit in the game, sending you island hopping in an attempt to plant as many saplings as possible.
At the beginning of New Horizons, one of the scant questions you're asked by Timmy and Tommy Nook is where you'd like your island to be located: in the northern or southern hemisphere? This is so in-game seasonal events match up to your current location in the Earth's climate, but islands in the northern and southern hemispheres also have different fish and bugs to catch. It's all part of the draw of visiting a strange land: you never know what different wildlife, fruit, or other fascinations you can bring back to your own island; a little souvenir of your time visiting a friend.
The next stop on Hirun's New Horizons World Tour was Weeaboo Island, to visit a friend that had over 80 hours logged in the game. It was like stepping through a time warp into what the future of New Horizons could hold for me: houses adorned the map, and a huge town hall had been erected for Tom Nook to reside in. The grand tour of this new island took me to Timmy and Tommy's new shop, Tom Nook and Isabelle's grand town hall, and finally to the multi-room mansion where my friend resided (at least it felt like a multi-room mansion compared to my own tent).
The home blew my tiny mind. It had a double bed ("A double bed?!" I cried) in a living room adorned with posters of Isabelle, K.K. Slider, and other cutesy characters. There was even some funky music player jamming out a K.K. Slider tune (unfortunately not the one with him and Ice Cube). Going back to my humble tent felt a little depressing after that, I'll be honest.
Visiting friends' islands and seeing the progress they've made is one hell of a driving force. Animal Crossing: New Horizons partially functions as a fashion competition: you want to present yourself in the weirdest, whackiest, or just flashiest clothes to get your friends wondering how you acquired them (or rather than other way round, since my villager is still basic). USgamer's Jake Green somehow had a halo above his head, standing virtuously above us all.
Then things turned chaotic. A bunch of fellow Gamer Network employees all headed to an island to whack each other with nets, play tambourines and ocarinas together in harmony, block doorways, and run through once-perfect patches of flowers. Animal Crossing got really funny for a while, and that's just the way the desert island life with friends should be.
Throughout all of the island-hopping and the ocarina-playing, there's been one constant: envy. I was envious of what other players had, especially the 80-hour playtime island that I visited earlier, showing off fascinating wonders like complete dinosaur skeletons and colorful pinball machines.
But envy doesn't work in Animal Crossing like it does with other games. When I see something I don't have in New Horizons, I want to adventure around my own island as much as possible, seeing and doing everything I can in an effort to make my island as attention-grabbing for visitors as possible. But it is never, and I stress never, a competition with anyone.
It all boils down to this: there's no "wrong" way to play Animal Crossing. However you want to go about doing things, whether you want to unlock the museum straight away to showcase your discoveries, or adventure to other islands and bring back foreign fruits and other assortments, all sorts of options are there for you to uncover whenever you want.
There's no one progression system to rule them all in New Horizons, and I love that. It will never push you into doing anything you don't want to do. You're not interested in opening the museum? That's just fine. You don't want to visit other islands and interact with other players? You'll still unlock plenty of new building and clothing options on your own.
New Horizons never gates any huge aspect of the game behind a large task. You can have fun however you want, whenever you want, and with whomever you want, and it's all easy and laid back. I've never experienced anything quite like Animal Crossing: New Horizons' opening weekend. The feeling of everyone being in this adventure together, starting off from the same deserted island with zero competition to be had, is something truly special.
Major Game Releases: March 23 to March 27
Here are the major releases for the week of March 23 to March 27. Check out our full list of video game release dates for 2020 right here.
- Half-Life: Alyx [March 23 for PC via Valve Index, HTC Vive, Oculus Rift, Oculus Quest, Windows Mixed Reality]: Valve's return to the Half-Life series is out today. Judging by our review from Mat, it's an incredible return to form for Valve, while also pushing Half-Life into uncharted territory, both narratively and mechanically. VR. it seems, was the right new fit for the series.
- Bleeding Edge [March 24 for PC, Xbox One]: Ninja Theory's first game under the Xbox Game Studios label is a frenetic multiplayer action game. While we weren't fans of what we played initially, our most recent preview of it was more positive about its chaotic approach to the Overwatch-like world of action-shooters. We'll have thoughts on how Bleeding Edge plays later once we get our hands on it starting tomorrow.
- One Step From Eden [March 26 for PC, Nintendo Switch]: One Step From Eden is a deck-builder with a lot of style and a unique style for its combat. Played on a grid, the real-time combat for this roguelike gives it a clever finesse compared to other deck-builders flooding the scene. Couple that with local PvP and co-op, and this could be shaping up to be a worthwhile game to share with a loved one during these quarantine days. Expect a write-up from us either late this week, or early next.
- Control: The Foundation DLC [March 26 for PC, PlayStation 4]: Sorry Xbox One players, PC and PS4 get first dibs on Control's first story DLC expansion. It's set after the events of Control, so be sure to polish that story off if you haven't already. A second story expansion, called AWE ("Altered World Event"), will release later this year.
- Borderlands 3: Guns, Love, and Tentacles: The Marriage of Wainwright & Hammerlock DLC [March 26 for PC, PlayStation 4, Xbox One]: This Thursday will see the release of the second campaign add-on for Borderlands 3. The DLC will take players to an all-new planet called Xylourgos. If you didn't play through Borderlands 3 proper: You'll even have the option to jump directly into Xylourgos if you wish. Isn't that nice!
Five Things You Should Know Heading Into This Week in Gaming
- Valve has officially returned to the Half-Life series. And it's pretty great. We linked our review from Mat above, and for those of us at USG with a proper VR set-up, we're excited to fend off headcrabs immersively very, very soon. We also have a non-spoilery interview, plus a Read Play Watch courtesy of Erik Wolpaw over on the site.
- Everyone is playing Animal Crossing: New Horizons. We've never seen so many people online on our friends lists on Switch at the same time before, and we reckon we're not alone in that. It feels like everyone is tending to their cute little animal towns. Some folks hosted a wedding in New Horizons; others have discovered a terrifying tarantula island. (Curse you Dodo Airlines for taking us here.) Stay tuned for more emergent stories from the world of Animal Crossing in the weeks to come.
- ICYMI: The developers behind one of our favorite games of last year, The Messenger, launched a Kickstarter campaign for its new RPG set in the same universe, Sea of Stars. The campaign smashed its funding goal very quickly. You can read our interview with Sabotage Studio here, where they talk about what it's like to announce a game amidst a pandemic.
- Resident Evil 3, Persona 5 Royal, and Final Fantasy 7 Remake are right around the corner. As if these last couple weeks weren't packed enough, the next week-plus is looking just as daunting. Here at USgamer, we're up to the task, as always. Look forward to more coverage in the coming weeks for all your most anticipated games.
- What day is it? We're losing our grip on time, as are you, probably.
Axe of the Blood God for March 23, 2020
Axe of the Blood God is our official RPG podcast releasing every single Monday. You can find subscription info here. We also put out an Axe of the Blood God newsletter every Wednesday, which you can subscribe to here.
Due to technical difficulties, Axe of the Blood God will be going up later today. We apologize for the delay, but in the meantime, look forward to a spoiler-filled chat about Persona 5 from Nadia, Caty, Hirun, and Eric.