If there’s one thing Fire Emblem fans want, it’s more Fire Emblem. So when Nintendo announced that the fourth “wave” of Three Houses DLC would be a full-blown expansion, titled Cindered Shadows, we series devotees rightfully went nuts. But it wasn’t clear what exactly the DLC actually was.
Would Cindered Shadows be a self-contained campaign, kind of like The Last of Us: Left Behind? Or would it integrate seamlessly into the base game? Does that mean we’d just get a few new playable characters and missions? Or, wait, could it be the type of thing that fundamentally changes the narrative? And is that going to affect Part 1, or just Part 2? Do we have to start the entire game over in order to play the DLC? Come on, who has 96 hours to spare? Also, while we’re at it, why in the world are Claude and Edelgard and that other guy hanging out with the new characters?
Now that Cindered Shadows is officially out in the wild, as of 8:00 p.m. EST last night, we finally have answers. Most importantly, yes, this latest batch of DLC is indeed a standalone storyline. You access it from the main menu. It even has its own separate set of save files.
If you’ve paid even cursory attention to the Cindered Shadows hype train, you know that the new DLC stars four new characters. There’s Constance, a mage, and Yuri, a sword-wielder. They’re joined by the Hapi, the Valkyrie, who is anything but happy. (In the first hour of Cindered Shadows, Hapi casually brings up the merciless inevitability of death more than once.) Finally, there’s Balthus, a hilariously muscle-bound brawler and the leader of the bunch. This band of misfits make up the Ashen Wolves, the long lost “fourth house” of Garreg Mach Monastery.
That’s right: there’s a fourth house! Turns out Garreg Mach has more in common with Hogwarts than previously imagined.
Cindered Shadows also adds four classes—Dark Flier, War Cleric, Trickster, and, in a much welcome return, Valkyrie—plus a bunch of quests, paralogues, and activities. There’s also a whole new area to explore. It’s called Abyss, and it’s the home of the Ashen Wolves.
Narratively, you’ll come across the new characters in short order, but you’ll need to play for about an hour or so before they join your roster.
It’s clear from the get-go that Cindered Shadows takes place at some point during Part 1 of the main story. Claude’s hair is still unkempt, and so on. From what I can gather—so far, I’ve only played the DLC for a couple hours—the framing narrative is such that this whole DLC is a side story, an extracurricular adventure that distracts the Garreg Mach Class of 1180 for a short while.
After some classic Fire Emblem plot stuff (“Oh, look, a dimly lit tunnel, wonder what’s down there”), Byleth and a few honor roll students—Claude, Hilda, Edelgard, Ashe, Lindhardt, and some guy with blue armor who, let’s face it, probably got into Garreg Mach thanks to plum connections—set off. Right away, they’re ambushed by the Ashen Wolves.
We won’t spoil what happens next. But know that, once the Chapter 2 fight kicks off, Balthus and company will be yours to command. They start off at level 20, as do the other units provided for you in the DLC.
Yes—but it’s not a seismic shift.
As you progress through the DLC, you’ll unlock new quests, paralogues, and activities, plus the new characters and classes. The new characters unlock in the base game of Fire Emblem: Three (Four?) Houses after you clear the first chapter of Cindered Shadows. You’ll be able to run into and recruit them through Part 1. (I haven’t completed the Cindered Shadows plotline yet, so I haven’t had a chance to see how else the DLC affects the base game, but it seems quite likely that the new characters will have “all grown up” versions in Part 2.)
The four new classes are also available in the base game once you clear the first chapter of Cindered Shadows. For the certification exams, you’ll need an Abyssian Exam Pass. That item, and the new characters, will become available in the base game starting after Chapter 2.
Cindered Shadows is included in the Fire Emblem: Three Houses Expansion Pass, which retails for $25. If you’ve purchased that and updated your game, you should see an option for “Side Story” in the main menu. Select that to start Cindered Shadows.
Just to emphasize the good news one final time: No, for the love of Seiros, you don’t have to start Three Houses over from scratch.
(Updated 3/3/22 with new details)