Once the excitement over Nintendo’s Animal Crossing: New Horizons 2.0 update died down, Animal Crossing fans began returning to their islands. For some of us — ahem, me — it’s been about a year since we’ve last played in a meaningful way. When the New Horizons 2.0 trailer ended, my mind wandered over to a darker thought: Oh no. My island.
You see, I abandoned my island around a year ago, shortly after the first Halloween event. In an attempt to reignite a spark for the game in my heart, I had started a major renovation project. But that spark never came, and I abandoned my island in a wrecked state, with items scattered on its beaches and flowers spilling over into any open space. My immediate thought was that I would obviously just restart my island — to begin again as a way to prepare for the upcoming update. Seconds later, I had another thought: My DIY recipes. In the early months of New Horizons, when everyone was playing, I worked hard to collect and trade recipes and other items with anyone else playing the game. It wasn’t really hard, because so many people were playing the game; with a single post on social media or in Discord, I could find someone with whatever DIY I was looking for, someone with great turnip prices, or even open my island for hordes of visitors looking to sell theirs.
Times have changed. My friends have moved on. Sure, plenty of us are coming back in anticipation of Nov. 5, but the sheer excitement of New Horizons’ release has passed — it was a moment that couldn’t be recreated in 2021. The thought of doing it all again, this time, largely on my own, was enough of a deterrent to stop me from annihilating my island. But it wasn’t for plenty of other people who’ve said bon voyage to their original villagers, bells savings account, and established islands.
For some, the only way to usher in New Horizons’ 2.0 update and new DLC was to begin again. New Horizons player Chloe, who put more than 300 hours into her original island, started over to bring more peace to her playthrough. “I had to weigh how attached I was to my existing island vs. restarting, but ultimately I decided to restart because when I would play it would feel stressful and overwhelming, and I didn’t need that in my life,” she told Polygon.
Another New Horizons player, called Pepper, agreed: “I’m enjoying restarting because when I last played, there was so much intense pressure on social media to make your island perfect/play everyday to keep up with friends. Now, I can just relax and enjoy AC on island time.”
Some players are even avoiding those large community groups that popped up around the New Horizons release. A New Horizons player, Dylan, said he started the game using Facebook Groups to buy and sell turnips to turn huge profits. (I did this too.) “I’m purposefully avoiding that this time to make the progression feel more natural, as I think it kinda broke the experience last time.”
And, indeed, this is true for a lot of players. New Horizons’ mainstream breakthrough in 2020 — documented on social media like no other Animal Crossing game before — changed the way players experienced the fandom. Though New Horizons has been touted for its relaxing, slice-of-life gameplay, it’s also been equally attached to FOMO (fear of missing out) and island insecurity — the desire to make the perfect island. There’s truly no wrong way to play New Horizons, but players still feel tons of pressure to create something worthwhile. So many of us have fallen into that trap, when the excitement and playful dread turns into something that feels more like work than play.
Letting go of an island that brings up those emotions makes New Horizons something new. Malindy Hetfeld, a games writer and New Horizons player, told Polygon that returning to an in-progress island felt like a chore. And so Hetfeld restarted.
“I didn’t think [about] the DIYs at all, because earning them, doing the museum hunts again, that was when I had a purpose and I actually wanted that back,” Hetfeld said.
Losing DIY recipes — like the beloved Ironwood furniture series — is one of the main reasons people told me they didn’t want to restart their islands. Losing those would be devastating, for some players with hundreds of hours worth of progress in building their collections. For that problem, clever Animal Crossing players with multiple Switch consoles have a solution. One player that reached out to Polygon said they’ve concocted an elaborate scheme with their partner to preserve some of their favorite or pricy items before they restart: One will hold onto the items, transfer them back, and then restart themselves. It’s a lot of work, but not as much work as the hours of gameplay necessary in gaining them back.
In talking to a dozen of New Horizons players about their island plays, I haven’t heard any consensus on the right way to prepare for the new update, or even a consensus on why they’ve restarted. And that’s because there isn’t a correct way to prepare for the update, or a singular reason to restart. No one can make this decision for you, to restart or renovate. It depends on what New Horizons is to you. For some, it’s the process of daily rituals of collecting and harvesting. For others, it’s the legacy built from hours and hours worth of gameplay and intricate design. The joy of forever having new bugs to bring to the museum, or the joy of never having to go fishing again.
I saw a post on the Animal Crossing subreddit today that said it well enough as anything else: “Please don’t stress. You can allow yourself to go at your own pace. Your island isn’t perfect? That’s completely fine, you have tons and tons of time to make it look like you want it to look. The update isn’t a deadline. The game isn’t a second job. The game is an island getaway where you can make your own rules. It’s your island, not an assignment.”
So maybe there’s nothing you want to do in preparation for the update — no renovating or restarting. That’s good, too.