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Animal Crossing: New Horizons’ breakable tools are tedious

The idyllic nature of Animal Crossing has changed

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Animal Crossing: New Horizons - at a workbench Image: Nintendo EPD / Nintendo

Animal Crossing: New Horizons is all about slowly developing an uninhabited island, which means that the game makes a big point of having you rough it at first. You’re in a tent, largely making tools out of materials lying around.

And there’s a ton of crafting material, too: tree branches, three types of wood, clay, iron nuggets, stone, even weeds. This is in addition to the tools themselves, and whatever other consumables you might be using, like fish food or party poppers — never mind whatever you’ve caught, or items you might be carrying just ‘cause.

My first few days in Animal Crossing: New Horizons were pure inventory misery. My pockets were constantly full of STUFF that I needed to make things. And I needed to make things often, because my starting tools were flimsy, often breaking before I could make a full circuit around the island.

It made for an annoying gameplay loop. In older games I could serenely focus on fishing until my pockets were full. Now I had to stop midway through, go shake a bunch of trees, go find a crafting bench, and then replenish my supply. And I couldn’t carry very many fish either, not with all the crafting gear in my pockets.

Eventually I decided that carrying materials like that was folly, and instead I just dropped all the resources near my crafting table. This helped my immediate inventory worries, but it also meant there was an ugly part of my island with garbage lying around. Even with house storage, it’s annoying to have to go into that menu, take what I need out, go into the crafting menu, make the thing, and then go back and store my stuff again. That’s if you keep a crafting table indoors — I don’t, because it messes up my decorations. You can also, of course, just carry the crafting table around ... but that’s still added inventory management.

Fortunately, I accrued enough Nook Miles to upgrade my inventory space and make more durable tools, but the underlying issue is still there. My tools can break, and to keep them in tip-top shape, I have to forage and keep a steady supply of materials on-hand. Reportedly, even “Golden” tools made of the highest caliber of materials can eventually break.

This isn’t how things used to work. In previous games, most of your tools lasted forever. Upgrades still existed, but Silver and Golden tools denoted gear that could perform their functions better, not just for longer. A golden fishing rod, for example, would attract better types of fish, and so on.

I understand why Nintendo went this route. Nowadays, crafting is all the rage — though typically in survival games, not in idyllic decorating simulators. Even The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild adopted a durability system which could make your weapons break, and while I also found that annoying at first, I could see the gameplay benefit. By making your tools break, BOTW encouraged you to use more types of weapons. This made me a better player — I had to learn how to be adept at more types of combat.

What does the durability system in New Horizons accomplish? I get that Nintendo wants me to feel like I’m pulling myself up by my bootstraps, or something — there’s a whole “DIY recipes” system predicated on my making furniture out of crafting materials. It’s a neat idea, to be sure, but an unintended side effect is that I feel like I’m constantly ravaging the island for more. I’m starting to see every tree and rock as a resource to be extracted daily, and that’s a gross feeling in a game like this.

I’m having a ton of fun with New Horizons. I can’t stop playing it, actually. But I miss the way things used to be, back when I wasn’t spending so much time managing my inventory or shaking down trees for material.

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