Last week, Fire Emblem: Three Houses received a shiny new piece of DLC. Unlike the previous “waves,” it’s not just a handful of new quests and costumes and other small-scale additions. This DLC, called Cindered Shadows, is a fully contained standalone campaign, wherein Byleth, Claude, Edelgard, Hilda, and some other less-cool students explore a mysterious subterranean area called Abyss.
Cindered Shadows is awesome. It also tweaks the Three Houses core gameplay loop a bit. For the most part, our tips for the base game still ring true. But, after spending seven hours or so with this new campaign, there are a few extra tips that apply here—stuff I wished someone told me about before starting. So let me tell you.
When you boot up Cindered Shadows for the first time, the game will warn you that there “is a “finite amount of gold.” Yeah, that’s a little bit dramatic. But Cindered Shadows really does give you somewhat of a haircut. For players who might be accustomed to the near bottomless coffers of the base-game Three Houses (guilty as charged!), actually having to manage your finances for once might come as a shock. Don’t forget to sell those bullions! And while you’re at it...
Your characters will start out with iron and steel versions of their primary weapon (axe, sword, or spear, in keeping with Fire Emblem tradition). Keep the steel gear. Then, as soon as you’re able, sell the iron stuff at the Armory. Your characters all start at level 20, and thus have far out-leveled that shoddy iron gear. Plus, if you unload the lot, you’ll earn a fairly decent pile of money, which you should then use to...
Yes, silver weapons are stronger than steel weapons. That alone should be enough reason to stock up. Buying silver weaponry means every bit of your (again, limited) gold goes further. For instance, buying a new silver sword can cost well over 1,000 gold, which adds up if you’re buying and rebuying and re-rebuying it every time it breaks. But repairing that silver sword costs just a couple hundred gold, plus a negligible amount of Smithing Stones. That upfront cost is worth it in the long run.
As our long lost colleague Gita Jackson wrote in her tips post for the base game, weapon durability really isn’t a big deal. Gita’s absolutely right: In the base game, weapon durability doesn’t matter much, especially since you can repair gear pretty much whenever you want. But in Cindered Shadows, weapon durability is something you’ll want to keep an eye on.
During the campaign, there are multiple occasions where you’ll have to fight back-to-back battles before returning to Abyss, where you can repair your weapons at the Blacksmith. Battles also tend to be longer than core Three Houses stages. (One stage took me 23 turns.) In other words, there are plenty of opportunities for your weapons to break, so you’ll want to recharge weapon durability whenever you can. Try not to let any weapons fall below 15 uses and you’ll be fine.
If you’re worried about Smithing Stones—the ore resource used to “recharge” weapon durability—don’t be. You get a ton of them for completing each stage. In fact, I found myself with so many Smithing Stones that the game automatically tossed out my surplus more than once.
I don’t know about you, but I was hesitant to use the Sword of the Creator in the base game. It only has 20 charges! And Umbral Steel is precious! Far better to save the thing for emergencies. Out of muscle memory, I carried that hesitation into Cindered Shadows, and didn’t use Byleth’s fancy magical chainsaw whip much at first. Then I realized that returning to Abyss fully recharges the Sword of the Creator. Unless your play style is such that you use Byleth—and only Byleth—to wipe out enemies, you won’t deplete the Sword of the Creator between visits to Abyss. Use it with abandon.
Cindered Shadows introduces four new classes, each tied to one of the four new characters. Constance starts as a Dark Flier. Balthus starts as a punch-happy War Monk. Hapi is a Valkyrie (think Warlock, but on a horse). And Yuri starts as a jack-of-all-trades Trickster. You can’t change those classes.
You can, however, change the classes of your other units. Each of the main story characters comes with two advanced classes. Claude can be a Wyvern Rider or a Sniper, for example, while Edelgard can be a Fortress Knight or a Warrior. So check the main kids’ classes early on and get Claude off that weird dragon thing, Seiros dammit!
Without spoiling anything, one stage is set up as a “chase” sequence. You have to move your units through various sets of gates and onto designated aqua-colored tiles. Simple enough, right? But then you factor in one of the loss conditions: “10 turns pass.” If you’re anything like me, you’ll make it three turns in and think, “Okay, this is impossible.”
Stop that. Just chill. Chiiiill. The game doesn’t do a great job at explaining this, but that 10-turn limit means it’s 10 turns for each set of gates, not 10 turns for the entire stage. Once you pass through one gateway, the counter resets. (Not that you need much incentive to rush anyway: the thing that’s chasing you can take out most units in one hit.)
Yuri and Balthus have healing spells, but they’re frankly not that great. Also, both of those characters are better used elsewhere on the battlefield (namely, beating people up). If you want an effective healer—and, trust me, you’re going to want one by the end—Lindhardt isn’t just your best bet. He’s your only bet. Protect him at all costs!
Continuing a Cindered Shadows campaign can be scary. You start it by selecting “Side Story” from the main menu (if you’ve downloaded the Expansion Pass). You continue a saved game, though, by selecting “Continue.” And that’s where things get dicey. Save files for Cindered Shadows and Three Houses exist on different pages, so it might initially look like your cumulative days of Garreg Mach exploration have been catapulted into the ether. Don’t panic. Just use the trigger buttons to tab between your core save files and your Cindered Shadows save files. See? Your 120-hour save files are still there.
Completing the Cindered Shadows campaign unlocks new paralogues, activities, and quests, plus the four new characters and classes, in the main story. As you play through DLC chapters, you’ll unlock more stuff in the main game. You could, in theory, stop playing Cindered Shadows after [chapter redacted] and run into [character redacted] in vanilla Three Houses.
No spoilers here, so just take this advice blind: Beat the new campaign before jumping back into the main game. It’s short—Kotaku’s Ian Walker finished it in about six hours—and has a satisfyingly compelling narrative. The gameplay is as fun as ever. Any fan of Three Houses will get a kick out of it. And when you’re done, you’ll have all of the unlocks in the main game.