I don't think anyone was expecting Nintendo to drop not one, but two, huge DLC updates for Animal Crossing: New Horizons at today's Animal Crossing Direct. I'm in awe of Nintendo using Brewster and his coffee shop to tease the Direct, and then our old feathered friend possibly being the smallest announcement of the lot. So while it's been a hot minute since Nintendo delivered a major Animal Crossing update, it turns out the wait has been more than worthwhile. But, the duo of DLC announcements is also very interesting for the game's future.
Let's start with Animal Crossing: New Horizons Update 2.0, the huge free update that's dropping on November 5. Alongside smaller gameplay tweaks like a Pro Camera App, villager home visits, and expanded home storage, Nintendo has packaged up five major new additions to island life that in 2020 would have been able to stand alone as independent updates.
For example, the addition of the art wing of the museum was part of an update that dropped just a month after New Horizons launched, arriving with NPCs like Lief and the ability to plant bushes. Brewster is a smaller update with less gameplay involved – beyond having coffee with friends, villagers, or characters invited in via amiibo functionality – but in a year where fans were starved for updates, they would have been hungry for any new faces.
But, as I said, Brewster's actually pretty small-fry compared to the other major new mechanics wrapped up in Update 2.0. Farming and cooking are massive gameplay additions that build on the pumpkin patches introduced for October last year, and could easily have dominated a single update for the game. The same with Kapp'n and his new boat tours, with the combination of a returning NPC and more opportunities for players to complete their museum collections, offering players another reason to return to their islands. Gyroids aren't quite as gameplay-defining, but again, because of their prevalence in the series as a whole, have been a long-anticipated content drop.
Then there's Harv's island makeover, complete with even more returning characters – Katrina and Tortimer being the headliners here – and permanent stores for roaming NPCs like Kicks and Sahara. By removing some of the randomness of daily island life and giving the rotating visitors permanent fixtures, it completely changes how people have been playing Animal Crossing: New Horizons. Update 2.0 is offering up a plethora of opportunities for longer play sessions and further investment in the game's ecosystem.
Putting all of this in a single option may not have been a choice that Nintendo wanted to make originally, especially as Nintendo of America president Doug Bowser said at the tail of 2020 that Animal Crossing: New Horizons would continue to get updates through 2021. After March, updates fell away, and it feels like the push towards one gigantic free update is more pandemic-driven than Nintendo would ever let on publicly. But, Nintendo did then promise back in July that Animal Crossing: New Horizons will get "more free content" later this year, something that obviously it has now fulfilled with aplomb – even if it hasn't delivered updates with the regularity we were afforded through Animal Crossing: New Horizons' first year.
The Premium Future
It is interesting though that Nintendo makes it very clear that Update 2.0 will be the "last major free update" for Animal Crossing: New Horizons. Fans will no doubt read into the word "major" and hope for smaller quality of life tweaks down the line, but the announcement of the paid Animal Crossing: New Horizons – Happy Home Paradise DLC is definitely a stronger indication of where the game's future lies.
This is the first time in the series' history that an Animal Crossing game has received paid DLC, and it feels like the perfect time to drop that particular news. Arriving alongside the gigantic free update, the Happy Home Paradise DLC feels like an exciting extra. It is a separate £22.49 purchase or is included with a membership to Nintendo Switch Online + Expansion Pack, but when the free upgrade offers so much, there's a lovely element of it being an optional extra. A ridiculously enticing one at that too.
Because Nintendo has made such a prominent note about Update 2.0 being the last of the major free content drops, it feels like the future of Animal Crossing: New Horizons is premium DLC. Because of this, you could see the game following a Destiny-esque model going forward, with major updates offered as paid DLC, and quality of life tweaks and seasonal events arriving as bonus freebies in between.
The island structure of New Horizons means that the possibilities of this world expanding are pretty limitless. Nintendo could be an Animal Crossing Columbus, discovering all sorts of new archipelagos to add content to going forward. Thus, your own little island becomes a sort of Tower-style hub world that you keep coming back to, but becomes just a small part of what Animal Crossing: New Horizons could become.
It could also empower Nintendo Switch Online to become something greater for expanding Switch game, more akin to something like Game Pass or probably more like the PlayStation Plus Collection, where new content for tentpole Switch titles is alluringly placed behind that membership paywall.
Of course, this is all speculation right now, but the way Nintendo is dealing with Happy Home Paradise is a glimmer of something bigger and very exciting. Both Animal Crossing: New Horizons and Nintendo Switch Online have such room for growth – not to mention huge fan bases – that it feels ripe for investing in.