Few can argue the impact that Fire Emblem: Three Houses has had within the Nintendo Switch library. From its release in late July of 2019 until the end of December, the game sold a collective 2.58 million copies worldwide. With additional praise from a variety of gaming publications, it established that the Fire Emblem series was here to stay. Adding Byleth, the main protagonist, to Super Smash Bros. Ultimate was only icing on the cake. But Nintendo wasn’t finished yet, as on the same day that Byleth was added to Smash Bros., they also announced an expansion pass to Three Houses. The secret Ashen Wolves House would be revealed via DLC come February. With time to let all the new features digest, it’s come time to really cement the question: Is the expansion pass worth spending $25?
To structure this post, I will be highlighting the features that the Ashen Wolves DLC provides and whether certain players may appreciate them. A step-by-step approach to ascertaining value and a way of elaborating certain details. Note that some slight spoilers may be present, but I’ll be wary not to reveal anything substantial.
Cindered Shadows Story
The most obvious addition, aside from the four new characters, comes in the form of the Cindered Ashes side story. Details were left somewhat vague around the time of its reveal, but leading up to release, key things were assured. Cindered Ashes is not a part of the main game, so it uses a separate save file from ones already established. Its place within the main story is also hard to distinguish, at least from a canonical perspective. Completing the story exclusive to the Ashen Wolves DLC will allow the player to recruit the House members in the main game, along with exploring the place they inhabit: the Abyss. When doing so, all events from the side story are disregarded, having the Ashen Wolves appear collectively in Chapter 2. Even Aelfric, another character introduced during the Cindered Ashes campaign, is only given one appearance without a name.
To this end, Cindered Ashes is about as “side story” as the term can embody. Consider it OVA-style content to the main parent anime series. The events are isolated to the importance of the events within that universe, as they mean nothing when the main game is involved. Some may find this underwhelming, as I did after completion, to know that its impact is fairly minimal canonically. The story itself isn’t that moving; a little subterfuge that’s become common in war-time fantasy adventures with added heroic dramatics. Standard stuff for the franchise, without as much time necessary to properly develop everyone’s motives (7-10 hours’ worth).
What this story does highlight is its challenge. Various publications have noted how much harder even the normal difficulty of Cindered Ashes is compared to the base game. This is mostly due to restriction, however, in that one isn’t given opportunity to grind or buy supplies at will. Starting at level 20 for all units, enemies are given the same treatment, increasing by two with each chapter (as normal). One is given only so much money, making repairs and purchasing better weapons ill-advised. It requires one to be more careful, more frugal with their activities that isn’t as emphasized in the main game (assuming Normal difficulty is chosen). I didn’t have much trouble with Cindered Ashes, but more casual players could be pushed to their limits. If a challenge is what you desire, the Ashen Wolves DLC could be worth it, if only for a serviceable distraction.
The Ashen Wolves
With the reveal of more characters, the fan art volume skyrocketed. The Ashen Wolves DLC introduces Yuri, Balthus, Constance, and Hapi, members of the secret fourth House. Within the Cindered Ashes, their characters aren’t as pronounced as within the supports available after unlocking them for the main story. However, they have a distinguishable polish of “new” to attract an audience. Their importance within the side story is instrumental; outside of it, they’re just part of the group… sort of.
Like the criticisms aimed at the story implementation, the Ashen Wolves members don’t have much of a canonical place in the main narrative. It’s clear that the placement of them in the parent story is, like the side story, OVA-esque in essence. They comment on each chapter’s topic, have supports with (a limited number of) other students/Byleth, and have post time-skip appearances. None of them have any additional cutscenes, and aside from occasional appearances above ground, they usually stay within Abyss. Compared to others with more insight to the happenings of each chapter, they again feel trapped in isolation. It doesn’t take a gaming veteran to notice that they’re merely additional details to an already meaty journey.
If what one plays Three Houses for is through character interaction and supports, this is a no-brainer purchase. While not as available to everyone, each Ashen Wolves member has charitable support conversations that properly identify their personalities and motivations for existence, on par with the standard fare (which is great). Their effectiveness in battle is also very fun, with each member providing generous support to any party. When it comes to the “meat and potatoes” of the game, the Ashen Wolves are just more of an embellishment of riches. They’re my personal favorite addition to the game, and if their neglected importance doesn’t dissuade, they’re worth the money alone.
Four New Classes
Do you like magic? Do you like physical strength? The four new classes introduced in the Ashen Wolves DLC have something for you! Whether it be the War Cleric/Monk, Trickster, Dark Flier, or Valkyrie, these new classes provide a little “oomph” to Three Houses class standards. Basically, they combine things that one side of the spectrum typically lacks, providing intriguing new strategies to battle. War Master with a pinch of Faith skill? War Cleric/Monk. Warlocks with mobility? Dark Flier and Valkyrie. Each new class adds a dose of variety that the base game typically restricts, especially with conflicting skills. What’s nice is that after unlocking them, any student can become them, though it requires a special pass that isn’t available in general markets.
What I didn’t expect going into the main game was seeing that these new classes weren’t Master Classes. From what I can gather, they’re on par with Advanced Classes, though they’re grouped within a “Special” group of classes. So for those keen on getting everyone to their highest potential, this can be somewhat disappointing. If Advanced Classes are tolerable, these new classes can provide some extra fun to later missions, along with some fresh combat tactics.
More than a compartment of area to travel in during the Cindered Ashes playthrough, the Abyss is the home to the Ashen Wolves and a number of refugees with spotty records. One can travel there during the main game, but can’t interact much with the environment or people. Some activities are available depending on the renown one spends to open up specific areas and noteworthy people. A grimier, darker monastery underneath the monastery, housing shady people and the Ashen Wolves. One will likely spend a total of 15 minutes down there each chapter, tops.
Some nifty places can open up there, however, such as a mysterious teacher that gauges the growth of one’s units over time. It was intriguing to see how badly I was using my units up to a certain point! Along with a Wayseer that plays with relationships, an old library, an altar, and a scrap heap, there are a small variety of things to work with in each chapter. Still, nothing quite as invigorating as having tea with characters or catching tons of bullheads. Some activities are only available after a certain point of the game, so one must be patient.
Those most beneficial to these activities? Hoarders and curious minds. The altar provides a large assortment of items at the cost of large sums of renown, while the scrap heap provides free, but sullied weapons. Said old library provides peeks to information discussed throughout each run, and the Wayseer links certain units together, again at the cost of renown. More for the strategist at heart, or those willing to stockpile their options to the highest degree.
Worth the Price?
Taking everything into consideration, my personal recommendation leans more towards “No.” With the current cost of $25, that’s almost half of what the base game costs, which, with all content available, may take upwards of 250 hours to fully explore. The Ashen Wolves DLC, along with the other content available through the paywall, doesn’t come close to the level of quality present with the core package. With the “side story” feel present with the implementation of the Ashen Wolves House, it’s simply good for a change of pace. The Cindered Ashes campaign takes 7-10 hours, and while they drop into the main campaign, it may not last a second playthrough.
Although, it’s hard to argue with more content on the level of additional characters and supports. I would say that if you adore the structure and pace of Three Houses, the DLC is worth it. Should one play through a run and think to themselves, “That was fun, maybe I’ll do a second run eventually,” this is a sure sign the DLC isn’t recommendable. More for those craving the interpersonal aspects of building chemistry and a suitable roster than a desire for fresh perspectives. A love of character is a hard thing to pass up—I didn’t, and I don’t regret it. Still, had I been a little less enchanted by the game, I may have felt slighted. Be sure to consider this when making the final choice.