Fire Emblem: Three Houses went big by providing three different perspectives to see its larger story unfold. Now we have one more in the Ashen Wolves, but it comes with its own self-contained story. Cindered Shadows is the final piece of the Fire Emblem: Three Houses expansion pass, providing the most substantial piece of content (previously, we got smaller scale updates, such as new attire, items, and adding everyone’s favorite secret shopkeeper, Anna, as a recruitable character). The new DLC provides an interesting story and characters, but holds the most allure in the new missions and classes.
New Cast Members Keep Things Interesting
Cindered Shadows introduces you to a new secret house called the Ashen Wolves, who live in an underground city called the Abyss. Its inhabitants mostly keep to themselves, but a recent spike in attacks has its members concerned and questioning the cause. After another threat, they come face-to-face with professor Byleth and house leaders Edelgard, Claude, and Dmitri, asking for help to get to the bottom of things. The story takes a while to get going and can be a bit predictable, but I still enjoyed it as it sheds more light on Byleth’s background and connects the new faces to the three other houses in interesting ways. I also like that the expansion brings back fan-favorite characters, such as Hilda and Ashe, in addition to the main house leaders.
As for the Ashen Wolves, they all are interesting in their own right. Hapi, for instance, can bring forth monsters by sighing, and Constance’s personality changes drastically depending on if she’s in the sun. My favorite is Balthus, “the king of grappling,” not only is he a powerhouse on the battlefield, but he’s also extremely likable due to his big heart. Just don’t expect this side story to dig too deep into the new members’ personalities; you get the basic gist of each character, but they’re not expanded upon until you bring them into the main game and engage in support conversations.
A Great Challenge
Cindered Shadows’ main attraction is the battlefield. The missions are difficult and chock-full of surprises. This DLC isn’t for beginners, and for those playing with permadeath on, keeping your entire alive is quite the feat. If you thought the base game was too easy, this DLC is what you’ve been waiting for. I was constantly on my toes and my head was always spinning due to unexpected reinforcements, turn-limited objectives, and a daunting amount of enemies on the battlefield at all times.
Some missions made me face off against giant, deadly golems; others had foes so nasty that they would damage all my characters with a single attack. In one, I had to ensure all my team got past doors by a certain turn, which meant factoring in movement radius, when to engage enemies, and who to send to pull far-off levers. This is the most I’ve ever used healing magic or items to get through stages in Three Houses. The final boss has its own annoying attacks, spawning clones that can regenerate its health and a move that changes the boss’ position and all your characters, potentially putting them in precarious situations.
At times, it felt like the game was doing everything in its power to make me lose a combatant; usually just when I felt like I was safe, new foes or objectives came at me. Cindered Shadows constantly raises the stakes. This does come with some frustrations, but getting through these battles is so rewarding and such an adrenaline rush that I didn’t mind the challenge. You can still turn back time to fix a mistake, which is great, considering most missions are laborious affairs.
Thankfully, you also have some new classes to help you through the increased difficulty. The Trickster, War Monk, Dark Flier, and Valkyrie all add extremely valuable skills. Having a War Monk like Balthus meant I could be aggressive when need be, but also double down as a healer to keep my team in top form. I also loved using Dark Flier, which has powerful magic and great moveability, providing plenty of options for targets. The best part is that both the characters and the classes make their way into the main game.
If you enjoyed Three Houses, pined for a greater challenge, or wanted some new content to carry into the base game, Cindered Shadows is worth your time. I am hesitant to recommend it to beginners or those who aren’t die-hard fans, though. Only the most devoted are bound to get the most value out of it and appreciate its smaller additions to the base game. I was pretty meticulous and it took me around eight hours to complete Cindered Shadows, which felt like a solid offering. I admire how this DLC doesn’t just give you one new arc (which is entertaining in its own right) and brings new things into the larger Three Houses’ story. My time with the Ashen Wolves was well spent and now I’m exploring more of their role in the main game. It made me want to go back to Three Houses, which I already invested a great deal of time in, and that says something.
Cindered Shadows is out now. You can access it by purchasing the Three Houses’ expansion pass.