A (somewhat) short and supplementary guide regarding golden cores. Intended for those with limited game experience.
Table of Contents
Shortest Possible Version for People Lacking Patience
Learn every max Qi manual you can find, take 3-5 Red ginseng and Ganoderma, 1 earth flux, get constitution and intelligence as high as possible and try to get every green plus available on the breakthrough screen.
The Golden Core
In ACS the midpoint of cultivation involves converting all of the cultivator’s progress up to that point into the golden core. The more progress available to convert, the better the cultivator at higher stages. This is represented with 2 numbers, the golden core quality* and golden core tier. The former is the number that matters for gameplay reasons, and the higher the better for this one. The golden core tier is a number 1-9, with the lower number being better. The tier doesn’t really matter gameplay wise, but does provide most of the dopamine for the ambitious student of ACS.
*There is some confusion with the names, I will use quality to refer to the big number, this is the same as the score, and tier to refer to the roman numeral.
Mechanics of Golden Core Quality
While the mechanics of golden core formation appear complex, for the player the important factors are actually quite simple. The only two things that matter when forming the core is Max Qi, and conversion rate. When your cultivator initiates the golden core formation breakthrough they will convert 30 qi per second into golden core quality. Max Qi means they can do this for longer, conversion rate means that 30 qi is converted into more score. Qi regen has no effect on this process. Thus the only thing you need to do is to get max Qi as high as possible and make sure the conversion rate is at the maximum. The latter is easier so we will focus on it first.
The game very helpfully provides all the information necessary for viewing the conversion rate. These are the green pluses or red minuses on the breakthrough screen. It is not that hard to max this out (for most laws) and almost always worthwhile. Do not settle unless there is a good reason for doing so. I will briefly go over these factors, but they are almost all either self-explanatory or five elements based.
Probably the easiest thing to fix, make sure your cultivator is at max mental state (95+, or Pristine). Set them to “Mind” a few days prior to breaking through, or provide them with scented sachets or purity pills for a little extra boost. Never settle on this.
Another very simple one, for every law there will be a few days a year that are optimal for breakthroughs, do your breakthroughs then. Not a difficult issue if you plan ahead. The rule of thumb is that the element of each season is strongest at day 14, and you want the element to feed your cultivator. For example, a fire cultivator is fed by wood, making spring day 11-14 the best time for a breakthrough. For a full table of dates see the guide above. The exceptions to this are metal, which is strongest at the end of each month, and null element laws. Plan ahead and don’t settle unless you absolutely have to.
In the early game this is outside of your control. If you happen to have perfect weather at the right time of year then great, otherwise don’t worry about it. Once you have some Golden Core or primordial spirit elders this is another super easy one to control. Learn the various weather miracles, (the Primordial Symbols law has all of them and is easy to obtain) and cast the appropriate miracle. Again, the element should feed your cultivator, and yes, the referenced guide has a full chart. You may need to cast this more than once. Don’t worry about it early, don’t settle later.
This one is fairly self explanatory as it is visible from the initial promotion from outer to inner disciple. Try and promote people with good law affinity. This can be raised by stat boosting manuals and pills, and temporarily by certain pills (the forming pill being the most notable), but in general you should be trying to promote people with high stats anyways so just plan ahead on this. The better your resources the lower the initial law match will be acceptable, but based on what I have seen from very limited testing, you will want the law match at the time of breakthrough to be somewhere around 130-140%. It might even be lower but that number is not difficult to reach presuming halfway decent starting stats. Plan ahead, promote good people to the right laws, do your best.
This is actually one of the less important factors in most cases, but it is one of the easiest to fix. Yin Yang essentially refers to the optimal time of day, but considering that a good breakthrough can easily take a couple days, this will mostly even out (this is also why you start before day 14 for the optimal season buff). I will once more defer to the referenced guide for a nice chart on this but honestly, the better your breakthrough, the less I think this matters. No need to settle so don’t, but not a huge difference maker.
Qi Bonus and Element
These two are highly related and mostly will reflect where you are in the game. Basically you want to breakthrough somewhere with a lot of Qi, and where the element feeds your cultivator. This should describe your already built cultivation room. Surround a Qi cushion (or altar of magic) with as many Qi gathering items of the proper element as you can find. This is a major area of optimization and I will not claim to be an expert here. As you progress in knowledge and material resources this will naturally improve. Do the best you can.
Alright, now for the more interesting part. It is not that hard to get all green pluses, thus maximizing the conversion rate. That leaves max Qi as the major factor in getting the roman numeral induced dopamine rush you deserve. Max Qi is something that gets easier to improve the further along in the game you are. As a result do not worry too much about your first generation of disciples, although it certainly is possible to attain high cores with them. As you progress in the game the golden core process gets easier and easier, mostly due to max Qi. The other good news is that while max Qi is affected by a lot of factors, there are only 4 things that you need to really be worried about. This is also where I believe the other guides have left some gaps so I will attempt to fill those in.
So you probably have figured out that the Qi sensing skill has something to do with max Qi. Good job! What you may not have figured out (and what took me way too long to realize), is that the number on the Qi sensing icon does not matter. That number (blue X below) is an indicator for the player, it is not something the game checks. What is important is the skill level (underlined in red below). To be clear, the number you can see without hovering over anything is not the one you are looking for, you should be concerned with the number/20 that appears when you hover over the icon. Simply put, we want that number to be 20/20. The ability rating, the bigger number that is always visible, is a combination of the skill level and some base stats; we want the individual components to be high but the actual big number is not important.
In contrast to other skills, which can be practiced and improved, the Qi sense skill level will not improve by itself, and there are in fact only very limited ways to improve it. What this means is that you want to focus on characters that you can get to 20 skill in Qi sensing. So how do we do it? Manuals, of which there are only two. One is the “Earth Mother” skill from the Sunflower Refining Law, which raises it by 5 and will be available as soon as you transcribe the law. The second is the manual “A Comprehensive History of Serica”, which also raises it by 5. This manual is obtained from the otherworld rift on China’s national day, or any day of the year if you have the right mod installed. Get it however you like, but I highly recommend the mod approach because this is a very powerful manual. Together, these two manuals will give any character +10 skill level in Qi sense. Practically speaking, this means that any character with 10-20 base skill level (such as the 12/20 character above) is capable of maxing out this factor. Focus on these characters in the early game, it isn’t that hard to find them. In the mid to late game, the sect’s cultivation branch can provide substantial boosts to this, to the point that this no longer becomes a concern. Focus on good characters early, get around it later, don’t settle ever.
So is that big Qi sensing number (ability rating is the actual term) useless? Not at all, it demonstrates how stats affect max Qi. The stats in question are constitution and intelligence so focus on raising those. Several manuals can do this, but also try and find people with good base stats in these in addition to whatever law affinity they need. Medicine can help permanently (eternity+bane pill combo works very well) or temporarily (forming pill mostly). The body reconstruction miracles are good to use on outers who you plan on investing in. It is worth noting that the wiki states that perception may have an effect on max Qi, and luck does help in the golden core formation (im told), so really the goal should be to raise every stat besides charisma (which you might need for law matching regardless). Get every stat as high as possible and call it a day.
This is where game progress becomes really evident. Basically, every supreme law has a manual which, once learned from the manual pavilion, will increase max Qi somehow. There are various ways these are calculated, whether a base modifier, a multiplier, or a flat increase, but none of it really matters, learn all of them that are at the Qi shaping or core shaping level. The 5 supreme laws of Taiyi sect contain 7 manuals of interest (not including the Earth Mother manual that boosts Qi Sensing), have every candidate learn them all. Speaking of max Qi manuals, we have to talk about the primordial symbols law… which is very easy to obtain, and contains one as well. This gives you 8 manuals that even your gen 1 disciples can learn. As you progress in the game you should prioritize acquiring supreme laws. The main way to do this is the Kunlun competition. The wiki explains this pretty well but basically, if not at the first iteration, by the second you should be unlocking supreme laws every year. The opportunity cost is worth investing in this goal. I will admit to save scumming to ensure this happens because these make a big difference. Really this is a pretty simple one to optimize, at least to the best of your abilities. For the sake of memory I recommend using the favorites option in the manual pavilion exclusively for max Qi manuals just so you don’t forget any when setting up a golden core breakthrough. Below I have a screenshot of a favorites screen with the Qi boosting manuals from the 5 Taiyi laws + the Primordial symbols law+ the two Qi Sense boosting manuals. Do your best, nothing less.
Finally we come to medicine, the area with the most room for optimization. There are several things that increase max Qi, but before we get into that we need to discuss medicine resistance. Basically, most of the items I am going to mention are affected by a system of diminishing returns known as medicine resistance. Essentially, as you consume more of them, the effect diminishes, often rapidly. You can view each character’s resistance in the pop out bar on the health screen. This is an area of opportunity cost, you decide how to allocate your resources.
Important Medicines for new players:
Earth Flux: The single most important max Qi item. This makes a big difference and should not be omitted from any serious golden core candidate. Luckily, it is fairly easy to find in the early game and easily farmed in the mid-late game. You can pick one up off the ground from Poison Dragon Lake (Exultant Sect territory) or at the Gemspring Cave (Blue Lotus territory), later, a high luck fire cultivator can farm these reliably at the latter location.. For your second generation of disciples I would recommend having your elders specter refine these things to tier 12, it is a good use of resources. Earth flux does have 90% medicine resistance so unless you have an unlimited supply of these things limit one per person.
Junk Pill (Purple): Another helpful and easily obtainable item, these can be found just sitting at Alchemist’s Peak, but be careful you only want the purple ones. In addition, they are a bit spicy, so you will want someone on hand to cast panacea (the miracle, not the pill) on the eater. Also not a bad thing to specter refine, medicine resistance is 100% so 0 benefit to multiple uses.
Ganoderma and Red Ginseng: I put these together because they are very similar, basically you get them as a rare drop from farming lingzhi or ginseng respectively. They can also be bought for fairly cheap. These do not have a huge effect on max Qi, but they are easy to get and have only 35% medicine resistance so you should be able to give 3-5 to all your cultivators.
Wicked Flux and Evil essence improve max Qi but have drawbacks so be careful with these. The Qi gain is relevant, but not essential for good cores. Phoenix and Dragon flesh also help, and can sometimes be obtained from auctions, but otherwise will be beyond the abilities of the reader of this guide.
As far as medicine goes, the most important thing for 1st generation disciples is earth flux, for the 2nd generation it is a tier 12 refined earth flux. Realistically, you can get a strong tier 1 core with just a tier 12 earth flux, some ganoderma, red ginseng, and a junk pill, so long as your stats are good, conversion rate is optimized, and you learned all of the easy to get manuals.
It is important to note the implications of the golden core quality. Because the system only cares about this number, not the tier, there are no diminishing returns in this process, the higher the better. Put differently, a 10k point increase in quality will have the same impact, no matter the final score. While the relative difference will of course be different, going from 10k to 20k has the same effect on stats as going from 130k to 140k. There are two ways this is important. The first is that you shouldn’t stop investing in someone because they have just passed a threshold. For example, going from 140k to 150k will turn a tier 2 core into a tier 1 core. But increasing another 10k will have the exact same benefits, don’t stop investing in a character just because they can barely hit tier 1. The second thing to remember is not to go overboard trying to push that character up a few more qi so that they can advance in tier. The golden core tier doesn’t do anything besides make you feel good. While this does make it a worthy goal, resources are limited and the gameplay benefit of straining to get that last little bit of qi necessary will be marginal. Understand opportunity costs and make prudent allocation decisions.
Finally, a note on the inner cauldron. I have neglected to mention this because it is not necessary, but because the game does not explain it well I will add a brief description. Basically, as you cultivate (at the Qi and Core shaping stages) the inner cauldron will slowly fill up. That’s it. One point in the cauldron=one max Qi, no modifiers. The only thing to know is that there is no harm in letting your cultivator continue to cultivate while at a limit. This fills up too slowly (until you can massively increase cultivation speed later) to be of any use in golden core formation. Obviously it can be useful for optimization, but it is totally unnecessary for a tier 1 core.