FromSoftware’s Dark Souls 3 launched more than four years ago. It’s crazy to think that even with the studio releasing a brand new title in Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice that the tale of the Lords of Cinder could still see such devotion. Granted, mods have helped in that respect and titles like Dark Souls Remastered have their own awesome overhauls, whether it’s Daughters of Ash or the recent rogue-lite mod. However, Souls fans now have something else to keep them busy before the arrival of Elden Ring. Now they have Cinders.
By now, you’ve probably heard of Cinders but what exactly is it? What does it change? Why is it being received so well and why should you go out of your way to play it (at least, on PC)? Cinders is essentially an overhaul mod, one that makes sweeping changes to the mechanics, progression, abilities, weapon balance – everything you could think of, right down to New Game Plus. It also adds heaps of new content, from hundreds of new weapons, rings and armor pieces to new Sorceries, Pyromancies and Miracles. That’s the short version.
"In essence, it makes Dark Souls 3 even more addictive, if that’s what you wanted (or didn’t know you needed, which rest assured, you do)."
The long version is that Cinders makes Dark Souls 3 a much more refined, enjoyable experience. It offers a lot more freedom to play how you want, for as long as you want. It offers more build diversity and easier ways to achieve certain builds from the outset. In essence, it makes Dark Souls 3 even more addictive, if that’s what you wanted (or didn’t know you needed, which rest assured, you do).
Before installing Cinders, be aware of two things: First, you must play offline since the game’s anti-cheat bans players for even the slightest of mods. Second, Cinders modifies key parameters of the base game, to the extent that older save files become incompatible. While the mod can be safely removed and older saves accessed again, make a backup just in case.
So let’s start with the character select screen. Everything is pretty much as you remembered it but look at the Classes tab. The range of options has been heavily expanded. Want to start out as a Wayfarer, like Alva, and spin to win against foes? Go for it. How about a Sentinel with the Fallen Knight set and massive Zweihander to pummel foes? You’ve got it. Maybe you want to start with a Samurai build and get those parries in from the beginning. Or a Paladin with a Greatsword, Heal Aid and corresponding armor. Heck, become a peasant who previously lived in the Undead Settlement and is now a Great Scythe-wielding Champion of Ash. You can even play as the Skeptic aka the annoying, masked clerics in the Undead Settlement that inflict bleed and laugh creepily (creepy laugh sadly not included).
Once your Class and Burial Gift – which has also been expanded to include various Gems for Weapons Infusion, an Estus Shard, Coiled Sword Fragment, various Rings, a Master Key and more – has been selected, it’s off to the Cemetery of Ash. Except, not really. You instead begin your journey on the left-most bell tower of Firelink Shrine. Yes, the Sword Master with the Uchigatana is no longer there (but that’s fine since it’s not difficult to find the katana). You don’t have to fight Gundyr this time, though if you venture down to the Cemetery challenge him, he’ll already be in Corrupted Gundyr form. Also, he may or may not completely beat you down with a new, annoying Curse mechanic. It’s a toss-up but should definitely serve to shock some veteran players.
"There also new shortcuts between different locations, allowing you to go from the High Wall of Lothric straight to Archdragon Peak to challenge The Nameless King right off the bat."
Venture into Firelink Shrine and speak to the Firekeeper as normal. The bonfire now lets you travel to the Undead Settlement along with the High Wall of Lothric. Cinders also changes up the location of some bonfires. The “Tower on the Wall” bonfire has been replaced with a Boreal Outrider Knight, which can provide a rather unpleasant surprise if you’re busy running from foes (but drops a Pontiff’s Left Eye ring, perfect for recovering HP by battering foes with multiple hits). The bonfire near Vordt of the Boreal Valley has been removed and instead, there’s one near Emma’s location, making it easier to challenge the Dancer of Boreal Valley multiple times (especially if you decide to do so in the early going).
There also new shortcuts between different locations, allowing you to go from the High Wall of Lothric straight to Archdragon Peak to challenge The Nameless King right off the bat. Fancy a trip to the Yorshka bonfire? Use the shortcut in the Cathedral of the Deep. With these shortcuts, it’s also easy to dive into the Ashes of Ariandel and Ringed City expansions at a much quicker pace. Granted, the layouts of some levels aren’t entirely perfect with their enemy placements. Catacombs of Carthus might be a slog due to seemingly more Wheel Skeletons, for example.
Then again, before you go anywhere, you might be awestruck by the expanded number of options at a bonfire. In the base game, resting at a bonfire gives you the “Travel”, “Attune Spell”, “Organize Storage Box”, “Burn Undead Bone Shard” and, after beating the game, the option to start a New Game Plus playthrough. In Cinders, you can do all of these along with leveling up, allotting Estus, Reinforcing and Infusing weapons, repairing equipment, sacrificing items for Souls, and even forging items like Embers. It’s super convenient not having to return to the Firelink Shrine for several of these functions, though you’ll still need to provide different Umbral Ashes to the Shrine Handmaid to unlock new items. Other functions like Transposing Souls to acquire boss weapons also need to be done at Firelink Shrine so it’s worth returning every now and again.
"While there aren’t brand new bosses per say, you will see some classic foes from other Souls games making a return (which we won’t spoil here)."
Let’s talk new content. There are 50 new rings, over 135 armor sets (with more than 48 being new) and 415 weapons (195 being new). Along with re-balancing numerous weapons and making a lot of them more viable, armor now has different stats and effects, making each piece viable for some build or the other and increasing build diversity all the more. Poise has also been changed with active and boosted Poise available and FP now recovers passively, encouraging you to unleash weapon Battle Arts and spells more frequently. Weapons can also be augmented even further with the addition of Primordial Materials for those who seek an end-game pursuit to keep pushing towards.
Covenants also provide different bonuses when equipping their respective items. The Aldrich Faithful boosts Dark damage by 5 percent while the Mound Makers boost physical damage by 5 percent. Rosaria’s Fingers will increase the amount of Souls gained from enemies by 10 percent while the Watchdogs of Farron will reduce weapon Stamina consumption by 10 percent. While there aren’t brand new bosses per say, you will see some classic foes from other Souls games making a return (which we won’t spoil here). Some of them may appear as Phantoms while others are mini-bosses waiting to break you down. Their presence – with perhaps one boss fight being the exception (but still being extremely cool) – don’t feel tacked on at all.
Maybe you’re keen on starting a relationship with a certain NPC – and no, we don’t mean wedding Anri of Astora. Use the Ring of Bethrotal on an NPC will give you the ability to flirt, which provides three different outcomes. If successful, you’ll receive a gift and each NPC has their own unique gifts to bestow (from an Undead Bone Shard to an Estus Shard). It’s just another neat little extra on top of everything else.
All of these new benefits and bonuses may lead you to think the base game is now easier. Granted, some items are meant to make certain playthroughs less stressful, especially one that allows for summoning an immortal Solaire of Astore, who will draw aggro, unleash lightning spells and deal a respectable amount of damage.
"After defeating a boss for the first time, you get their Memory which can be used to challenge them again at any time."
Thankfully, Cinders anticipates your desire for more challenges and pain. There’s the Altar of Affliction which lets you enable a variety of different Curses in return for an increase in Souls and the chance for Primordial Materials to drop. Want enemies that can’t be staggered with 30 percent increased defense and damage that also have passive health regeneration (which will apply to bosses as well because why not)? Or maybe you fancy nerfing yourself, removing passive FP regeneration, doubling Stamina consumption and cutting max HP, FP and Stamina in half? You can even shroud yourself in darkness, putting your memory of the new enemy locations to the test, or have weapon durability just randomly reduce by 1 every 10 to 30 seconds or so.
Then there’s the new Trial of Perseverance, which offers a wave-based survival mode against hordes of enemies. Though the waves have set enemies – some will only contain skeleton foes while others have Undead Settlement enemies – their appearance is randomized with each new wave. Kill enough enemies until the wave’s overall health bar is reduced to zero and you’ll earn Souls and other Reinforcement Materials afterwards. Primordial Materials have a chance to drop as well with more Curses increasing the drop rate. Sounds easy enough but enemies show no mercy in this mode and Curses can make this borderline terrifying (especially when you get the Bone Gang 10 times in a row).
Curses also apply to the base game, upping the difficulty of the entire campaign in exchange for more Souls and Primordial Materials. Don’t want to suffer Curses but still want those Primordials? Take the No Hit Challenge for each boss. Defeating a boss without taking any damage will confer a different Primordial Material, with tougher foes like Sister Friede, Darkeater Midir and Slave Knight Gael providing the highest quality material, Primordial Slabs. And if you fail, don’t worry – after defeating a boss for the first time, you get their Memory which can be used to challenge them again at any time. This makes practicing for zero hit or SL1 runs all the more easy while offering another challenge and accompanying reward for those who seek it.
"Go for a Soul Level 1, full-Curse, NG+7 playthrough with the Mark of Sanguis active for the greatest challenge."
You can also equip different Marks to further increase the difficulty in exchange for more Souls. Mark of Canis is restricted to High Wall of Lothric while Mark of Piscis is for the Road of Sacrifices and Farron Keep but both Marks essentially remove all other enemies in favor of dogs and crabs respectively. The Mark of Sanguis is much more brutal – it adds more enemies, gives them some new attacks and even brings in some minor bosses. It also applies to the entire game and stacks with the different Curses.
And if all of that isn’t enough, then New Game Plus is the way to go. Not only does it increase the defense, health and damage dealt by all enemies, like in the base game, but it also adds Echoes of the Past. These are enemy NPCs that appear like ghosts and are tougher than your average Phantom. You’ll have plenty of incentive to kill them though since they drop more powerful versions of certain Rings and Primordial Titanite when killed the first time (though you can respawn them at bonfires to farm for Souls). It’s also possible to skip to higher New Game Plus levels from the beginning. Go for a Soul Level 1, full-Curse, NG+7 playthrough with the Mark of Sanguis active for the greatest challenge.
Cinders may not be for everyone and is definitely not recommended for those playing Dark Souls 3 for the first time. But for those who have cleared all the content and want to change things up on their next playthrough, Cinders is simply incredible. It addresses so many little concerns that add up to a much smoother experience without compromising on the difficulty. One of my main concerns was starting a new character and having to slog through the game before the build started coming together.
"The lure of trying out a new build in all of this content has always been hard to resist, and the mod simply expands on your available options while giving you tons of other things to do."
Cinders not only addresses this but tries to accommodate every possible play-style out there (yes, even Miracle builds). If something isn’t to your liking, then use the shortcuts provided and farm for the weapons you’d like – especially since some can drop guaranteed from foes. Finding a new weapon and simply going back to a previous bonfire to reinforce and infuse it is just great. And thanks to the addition of passive FP generation, I’ve been picking up more weapons to simply experiment with their different Combat Arts.
The sheer amount of customization and changes to progression don’t diminish the base game’s challenge. If anything, it says a lot about the foundation of Dark Souls 3 that so many additions and changes can fit in so seamlessly. So if you’ve been looking for an excuse to revisit Dark Souls 3 on PC and don’t mind having to play offline, then I highly encourage you to check out Cinders. The lure of trying out a new build in all of this content has always been hard to resist, and the mod simply expands on your available options while giving you tons of other things to do. Nothing befits Ash more than fire and Cinders offers more than enough to keep you burning away.