The Daily Grind: Which MMO has the most pleasing aesthetics to you?

I’ve found that there are few areas that dwell almost completely with the realm of subjective judgment than the looks and art style of various MMOs. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder and all that, and what might be highly attractive to one person is visual filth to another.

For example, I’ve always been highly taken with WildStar’s designs. The bright colors, the cartoonish characters, the expressive animations, and the Dr. Seussian landscapes make this a game that is a joy for me to behold. Yet I know that the look really bothers some others, who have said things like it is “cluttered” and “garish.”

It’s OK to splash around in the shallowness of eyecandy and art design today, so let us know what you think. Which MMO has the most pleasing aesthetics?

Every morning, the Massively Overpowered writers team up with mascot Mo to ask MMORPG players pointed questions about the massively multiplayer online roleplaying genre. Grab a mug of your preferred beverage and take a stab at answering the question posed in today’s Daily Grind!
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77 Comments on "The Daily Grind: Which MMO has the most pleasing aesthetics to you?"

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Brown Jenkin

Though visually BDO is stunning, aesthetically GW2 has yet to face any competition as far as I’m concerned. The paintingy style of the game continues to be beautiful well after release and is regularly enough to make me question whether or not I should go back to playing/focusing on the game.

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Arnold Hendrick

In recent MMOs, I believe the painting-style graphics of Guild Wars 2 created the best aesthetic. It was supported by superb lighting decisions, especially compared to ESO’s lower level lighting that makes to world seem dingy and muddy.

Going back a decade, I felt that Age of Conan had excellent world graphics, and characters that fit well within that world. It’s unfortunate that game design and business decisions combined to give that game a poor future.

I am not a fan of Warner Brothers style cartoon graphics. I didn’t like it in WoW, and didn’t like it any better in Wildstar.

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Tobasco da Gama

LOTRO has by far the most “comfortable” aesthetic. The gear appearances, enemy designs, and landscapes are all both self-consistent and pleasant to look at, sure, but it goes beyond that.

What really gets me is that the skill animations and audio cues all strike a perfect balance between attractiveness and legibility. Your attacks all sound convincingly like what they’re supposed to be and they feel nice and weighty without sonically punching you in the gut or out-staying their welcome. The more abstract, “gamey” cues are used sparingly and tend to be triply-reinforced. When you get an important proc, you hear a brief chime that pops above the rest of the audio mix, you get a tasteful dash of particle effects over yourself or your target, and you get a little buff/debuff icon in case you’re staring at skill bars instead of the center of the screen.

Compare it with a game like GW2 where it’s just NOISE NOISE NOISE. Visually and audibly, you just get a big jumble of crap like you’re trapped inside a pinball machine. (Or maybe a pachinko machine…)

TSW is a game that comes really close on the attractiveness and consistency front, and it builds a hell of an atmosphere. But then you get into combat with animations and sound effects that take forever and all sound exactly the same as one another…

IMO, the only other game that actually approaches LOTRO in terms of being “comfortable” to play is ESO. It has that same sense of restraint to it, at least in my opinion.

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Tobasco da Gama

Oh, and the saddle-creaking sounds that play when you’re galloping around on your war-steed in LOTRO are just:

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Weilan
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Weilan

Since Vanilla WoW nothing else has looked as closely as appealing.

Some F2P Chinese-themed games – Thre Kingoms/Wuxia themed look nice, but since the game itself is garbage, looks don’t matter.

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Alex Willis

I’d make a distinction between “graphics quality” (which is an ever-escalating benchmark) and “aesthetics” (which, more broadly, is about the look and feel of a thing measured mostly against itself). And in that respect there’s no question that LOTRO takes the cake. Yes, obviously the character models are not ideal and are on the watery side of weak wine. But the overall world design and look and feel of the setting still manages to impress me, 10 years later. That’s an incredible achievement.

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Cyro-Nydd

Black Desert, hands down. Sadly I’m not happy with open PvP or the Farmville crafting. It feels so much like something that could have been “the one”, but it isn’t so I don’t play actively, maybe at a rate of once per every 5 months. Otherwise I love the Belf and Draenie females of WoW, and in TESO the way the Orcs turned out.

styopa
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styopa

That’s funny, it was the esthetics of Wildstar that actually were a significant negative for me. Not the cartoonishness per se (WoW never bothered me) it was the utterly derivative art style that clearly came from WoW- if you’re going for something that looks pretty unusual, develop your *own* style, not blatantly parrot someone else.

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Alex Malone

I did enjoy the art style and direction of wildstar, I like fairly wacky stuff like they had. However, the relatively small zones and the hideous UI, combined with the fact you had to be zoomed out in order to see all the telegraphs meant I never got to properly enjoy the aesthetics.

LotRO was fairly good back in it’s day, vanilla zones especially. The whole game just felt extremely cohesive and immersive. Only thing that let it down was really poor animations.

SWG probably still wins it for me though. Even though it wasn’t particularly great – very blocky, not enough flora, poor animations – they captured the feeling of the original trilogy films very well in my opinion.

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Oleg Chebeneev

Star Citizen. Obviously. Best graphics on PC ever. Stunning attention details and fidelity.

WoW. Especially now with all graphics improvements.

Age of Wushu. I dont like character models, but I love world design in this game. Its just beautiful.

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Malcolm Swoboda

The Secret World. It just doesn’t play out the best, but that’s more ‘design’ than ‘art’ (which can be different things).

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Duane Kinney

Bless is probably my ideal aesthetic for an MMO. Crisp, and realistic, yet also easily fantastical.

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Brother Maynard

This article needs voting buttons, my Lord.

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Tobasco da Gama

So discreet!

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rafael12104

For me, it is Blade and Soul, and not for the reasons you may think. Lol.

First it has beautiful set pieces and vistas. Top notch for a game released originally in 2012. The atmosphere and environment in most areas rivals any game out there.

Also, there is this interesting anime meets non anime aesthetic. It’s not anime or cartoony, but it has obvious influences therein. And that makes for a very interesting look.

Last, it is this strange dichotomy of cute, or sexy. Lol. Most things are either super cute or glaringly sexy, but there is no in between. That and player customizations and outfits makes for some really interesting group pictures.

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socontrariwise

If it wasn’t so sexist (that is Aesthetics too after all) I would say BDO. But I’ll go with ESO for now – and still like UO.
Wildstar isnt bad either.

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Serrenity

Guild wars 2 … I still find myself awed at some of that game. The Grove — sometimes I’ll log in just to hangout there

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Robb Townsend

This might not be a popular choice (since I haven’t seen it mentioned yet) but Blade and Soul in 4k resolution is stunning.

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Toy Clown

I enjoy realism in gameplay, so hand’s down, Black Desert Online has the graphics I enjoy the most. I also like GW2’s graphics, as they’re realistic with a side of quirky, and I like ESO’s environment graphics, although I’m not too crazy about their character graphics. On that note, I also think Secret World has stellar environment graphics, but character graphics were always bad. Thankfully they had awesome wardrobes to cover a lot of the bad. xD

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Cyro-Nydd

I’m not a fan of that weird Gumby look I’m the ESO characters either, not their armor. But the environmental art and exploration aspects are unmatched!

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Anastasis Kontostergios

Def GW2, everything looks handpainted and beautiful

Cadaver
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Cadaver

Overall, ESO hits my sweet spot. Admittedly, it doesn’t have the prettiest characters, but I rather like that about it. GW2, LoTRO and BDO all have really beautiful environments. I particularly like GW2’s underwater areas. LoTRO always managed to convey a lot with relatively little (ofc the sublime music had a lot to do with that). BDO gets extra points for offering a range of colour filters – a nice touch.

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blah blazh

Most pleasing aesthetics has to be GW2 for me. Other games have better graphics but I just like the way GW2 looks and the painterly style that it has.

malrats
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malrats

Maybe I’m weird, but for me it’s EQ/EQ2.

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Alex Js.

Most pleasing = LotRO back when it was released. Looks utterly outdated and not really “pleasing” anymore, though – really wish the current game would finally close and be re-released with modern engine, though it’s highly unlikely that it’ll happen anytime soon. Also the GW2, which still looks pretty pleasing despite its age (especially compared to horribly depressing ESO’s color palette). And perhaps EVE Online – even the darkness of space can be beautiful in its own way, especially if you have a monitor with very good contrast ratio (the one that is not based on garbage technologies like IPS or TN but instead on some variation of VA).

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Castagere Shaikura

I like the looks of most Asian mmo’s also WoW , GW2 and Wildstar. I hate when devs try to make games look realistic.

hurbster
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hurbster

Oh, Pre-Searing Ascalon for sure. Until those Charr bastards blew it all up.

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Robert Mann

I like a little more muted, but still pretty.

That said… I also don’t mind dreary areas, and Moria in Lotro was just awesome to me from a pure design standpoint in terms of representing what it should feel like visually.

My problem is that most MMOs go too far into either bright colors beyond where I would like, or too dark all in all. I’d be very pleased to see one actually have a nice forest that actually looks like a forest would be instead of having pink cherry blossoms falling next to pine and oak while giant orange mushrooms and some sort of sunlight yellow grass ensure that you feel like somebody was on drugs making it.

I can appreciate the pretty side of many of them, but I don’t really think much of any have really gotten it right for me. Those closest are too drab.

On a side note, things like Wildstar aren’t bad looking for what they are, but the ultra-bright or cartoony are not me. I can see where some people like them, just not my thing! So I’m on the side of garish there, with combat feeling like lazer and fog night at the local dance club. It becomes annoying quickly.

*My dislike of graphics won’t mean I don’t play, just that it isn’t my ideal!*

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Drainage

Been dabbling in BDO lately. Such a beautiful game world and character designer.

WildStar is my jam.

Also enjoyed Vanilla Rift.

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Zen Dadaist

I rather like Eve online, with it’s graphical overhauls. Lovely space backdrops and some really nicely done ships with such detail.

Minimalistway
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Minimalistway

WoW, it depends on the zones and details, but even some old zones still looks beautiful, and Blizzard is getting better with each expansion, which makes wonder what will they do if they updated Stranglethorn Vale.

Guilds War 2 looks beautiful too, and i’ll add Tree of Savior, just look at agemyth screenshot.

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Diane Bradley

I agree with WoW as my first choice. It’s not just the graphics; it’s the way they pulled together the art, music, atmosphere and attitude to create unique worlds. I call it heart, that intangible thing that makes you want to be a part of the world. This is why Cataclysm hit me so hard — they destroyed my childhood homes and I can never go back.

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TomTurtle

I tend to prefer stylized graphics like that in WoW or GW2, though I’ve also found myself liking the beauty of FFXIV.
Wildstar is kind of nice looking but something about the art design puts me off at the same time.

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Alex Hyer

It used to be Guild Wars 2.

But then the armor in the cash shop and such, just got more and more Anime and now the game has this weird Medieval/Fantasy Base Game Art Style that NPCs adhere too and the new Anime Whackadoo Art Style that the players are all wearing.

So the game just looks all fucked up now.

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Veldan

For characters, no game impressed me as much as Aion did back in 2009. For environments, I have to say GW2. I didn’t like GW2 as a game, but in my short stay I did create a large screenshot folder.

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agemyth 😩

Wakfu and Tree of Savior

Both aren’t best viewed in screenshot format, but these games ooze visual style. Wakfu is tile-based, so there are a lot of hard edges, but that itself can contribute to the look. The screenshot I located doesn’t do it justice.

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Pandalulz

Good choices, I love me some sprites.

Minimalistway
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Minimalistway

That screenshot for ToS, is so beautiful, just few days ago i thought i should try it, but i already play 2 games, but for sure i’ll try it soon or later.

Line
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Line

Overall, I like Guild Wars 2 the best.
The art design really is great, and it shows in environments, which are still really good even years later (except for the human zones because it could not more bland). The expansion looks really cool too.

On the other hand, I’m not a massive fan of the characters. The character creator is a bit limited, the cosmetic armors and backpacks a bit too wild… it’s a bit over the top and with super annoying restrictions (the overabundance of trenchcoats for medium armor, different armors for males and females, etc).

Kinda of the same for FFXIV.
I really dig the world, even if it’s a bit claustrophobic and empty at times, but the player character models are a bit flat for my liking; they feel very plasticky and a bit creepy, especially the Elezen. The emotes are great though.

World of Warcraft is still the most consistent in my eyes, however.
The world and the characters go really well together, but I just don’t like how a lot of the elements have changed over the decades. The different Elves are just a sore point for me. The Night Elves are just super lame, and totally different from the cool predators that they’re shown as even on the original box.

Reader

It depends on what I’m looking for. If I want lush visuals, I’ll go with “Blade & Soul”. If I want realism, I’ll turn to “Secret World”. And if I want stylish looks and a screen I can understand at a glance, I’ll fire up “Wildstar” (and be promptly disappointed by everything else in the game).

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Bryan Turner

Guild Wars 2 is my number one, Rift’s zones in Storm Legion were top notch and unique, Blizzard has been knocking it out of the park with their old engine, I’ve even grown to appreciate ESO.

They all have their strengths however GW2 is my eye candy.

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Tiresias

I love Guild Wars 2’s stark contrast between high-resolution, beautifully detailed character models and impressionistic landscapes. You can tell the team took a lot of pride in their work and want the players to appreciate the beauty of the world they created, as they actually put in-game gadgets that you can seek out that pan the camera away from your character and highlight the most stunning areas of the game world.

The fact that the character models are gorgeous and varied help as well — even the player characters. You don’t just have “human”, “tall, thin human”, “short squat human”, etc. You have walking, talking plants. You get big, lumbering cats. You’ll encounter waddling, comical manatees who hulk out when angered.

The fact that the game is coded well helps too. All of that beauty means nothing if the performance is poor.

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Shiro Madoushi

In no particular order:

Black Desert
ArcheAge
Final Fantasy XIV
Tera
Guild Wars 2

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Tithian

Black Desert. Yeah yeah, I know, boob-physics and fan-service and anime tropes, yada yada yada…

Still, character creation, world design and graphical fidelity completely destroy all competition.

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Veldan

You forget graphics popping meaning that all that graphical fidelity only looks good when you’re standing still

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Tithian

I don’t get bothered by it, after a while I don’t even see it. I never understood the complaints about it.

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Robert Mann

You know, I think the problem exists in most MMOs though. It’s just that BDO seems to cluster people together in more varied places, so the issue is more persistent. At least, that’s from what I have seen.

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Phubarrh

I don’t even notice the popping, my appreciation is destroyed by all the swirly flashy interface things constantly going on.

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Fisty

That’s the only reason I don’t play this game anymore. The popping is a joke.

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Hirku

Not a popular answer, but I loved SWTOR’s style. Not at all trying for realism (which at this point in my life just sends me screaming into the uncanny valley. Kill it! With fire!) but also not too cartoony, which I also can’t stand. Attractive characters just expressive enough to make me care about them, beautiful landscapes that I could stare at while listening to the soundtrack, and of course all the classic SW details that triggered 4 decades of nostalgia.

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Utakata

There’s nothing “cluttered” and “garish” about WildStar! No siree… >.>

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Bryan Turner

Reminds me of Ren and Stimpy in space.

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Danny Smith

I like WoW and FFXIV a lot, they are very much ‘vista games’ where a lot of the world seems less designed organically and more for good screenshots.

The worst however is guild wars 2, on paper its solid but in practice it all looks so… soggy i guess? like its all barely held together and ready to collapse under a strong wind. I dont know how to describe it but its like a sketchbook that was dropped in a puddle or something. There was a good style there once but its blurred and all the colours ran.

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GamingSF

Lord of the Rings Online I think if you take into account landscapes, characters (especially clothing and armour styles), architecture and lighting.

The armour in particular is subtler than in most MMORPGs and the lore-requirements on the game guard against the extremes (of sillyness or over-sexualisation) that you find in other games.

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Soulbreeze

I went back and played for 2 months during winter. The game has been around for a long time, but some of the environments are still spectacular today.

Cadaver
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Cadaver

I couldn’t agree more.

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donvweel

Such a great game to just ride through the country. Always something to stop and see. Comming from DDO howevver, the combat is very flat and repetative. If they could give Lord of the Rings some of the DDO style combat and character building you would really have something.

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Hirku

The Shire was probably the most enjoyable game environment I’ve played in. I would’ve gladly played an entire game in an MMO-sized version of it.

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Paragon Lost

Agreed, LotRO’s is masterfully subtle. It’s still the only mmorpg where sometimes I’ll just find myself stopping and just looking around for long periods of time. I’ve always enjoyed the low key armors and weapons as well.

threeknee
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threeknee

It’s still WoW. Wildstar comes in at a close second. I would not describe them as cartoony. I would describe a lot of other stylized games as cartoony, and I don’t like cartoony. But both WoW and Wildstar were serious about their aesthetics and committed to quality to give them the weight and emotion of a real fantasy/sci-fantasy world, which is why I love them.

Bree Royce
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Bree Royce

GW2’s landscapes always make me hunt for my screenshot button. Cannot stop snapping pics there.

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Jesse Wan

Especially the Asura, Rata Sum is my favorite city.

pepperzine
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pepperzine

Hated the entire aesthetics of wildstar. Definitely did the opposite of pull me in. The cartoony graphics (in this era of MMOs) and the comedy just aren’t what I’m looking for at this point.

For me I love the aesthetics of TERA. Their weird obsession with Elin aside, the graphics are gorgeous and, prior to their cash shop shenanigans, did a great job of immersing me in their fantasy world. I was in awe of the quality and beauty of the designs during closed beta.

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Bruno Brito

Wildstar, GW2, WoW, TSW, Fallen Earth ( yes. )

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Schmidt.Capela

I would be hard pressed to pick just one. Perhaps Glitch; while not breathtaking by any account it’s quite pleasant aesthetically, the art style fitting the gameplay so much.

Honorable mention for Trove. I always liked the blocky lure of Minecraft, but Trove evolved it into something even more alluring.

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Phubarrh

While it’s not quite on a par with its single-player predecessors, Elder Scrolls Online has me constantly stopping to just take in the scenery. That could just be because it’s the flavor of the month for me though.

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Kane Hart

I loved Neocron for the Unique game and being inside Neocron City felt really like being in a Cyber Punk broken down city. I loved it a lot they had all these little atmospheric sound effects too.

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Ailsa Nordstrom

If we’re talking environmental aesthetics, I’ve always loved LOTRO. Obviously some areas are better than others. Rift is up there, too. I asked my husband and he mentioned Aion.

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