Friday, July 29, 2016

Impressions of The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt

It's pretty good.

28 comments:

  1. Fuck, you expect me to read all this? This is meant to be an online article, not a trilogy of novels!

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    1. I'm not sure anything will ever top Gothic in my eyes. For a while I thought Witcher 3 would come close, but sitting at 94 hours and not even finished with the first Act, I have too many major complaints about it to put it in the same class as Gothic 2.

      For a game trying to compete in Skyrim's footprint, The Witcher 3 is absolutely top of the class, but at the same time it still suffers from a lot of the same issues -- and even some that I didn't have with Scrim -- despite vast improvements elsewhere in the design.

      My full review will be coming once I've finished the game, which could take all month at the rate I'm going. It's a really, really, long game with a ton of content, and I'm making incredibly slow progress only getting to play 10-12 hours a week.

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  5. Regards Gothic, that series is actually not so well known here in England, hence why I didn't play it as a teenager - I picked Gothic II up and played it for the first time last year (having read your posts on the series). I have to say, whilst there's no doubt it's a brilliant RPG *mechanically*, I don't see why you lionise it so. It has different major issues compared to the Witcher III which you don't seem to address. The world design where every square inch serves a purpose IS superb, as is the sense of skill progression. I also like how the only limit to where you can explore is how skilled you (the player + your avatar) are. The reduced handholding is also something I wish more studios would have the courage to implement today. There are still design issues though - playing a Fire Magician for example is horrendous in NotR due to the absurd mana upgrade ratios and the lack of mana regeneration. Having to run back to bed to sleep or chug potions every two encounters isn't just about extra difficulty, it's an ill thought out design choice which reduces player enjoyment, adding nothing.
    None of this is the issue though. Where I began to really have problems was that I found the actual quest *writing* and story to be rather slow and lacking. There were precious few options to really roleplay a personality through *dialogue*. The PC feels like an block of wood, devoid of character and emotion and you can't do anything about this! Yes, there are multiple *mechanical* ways to resolve quests (e.g. several ways to enter Khorinis, several options regarding what to do with the Claw of Beliar etc), but these were rarely framed in interesting narrative. Major events such as meeting Hagan are over in moments and lack any gravitas. Having wonderful quest design is fantastic but the problem is that these multiple resolutions were never given writing to match, so much so that I found myself no longer caring in the end! Part of the problem is that despite all the sophisticated NPC AI and schedules, (which were truly amazing for the time and indeed put Bethesda to shame as you say) the characters felt quite underdeveloped and unmemorable. They never really grow as characters and certainly don't hold a candle to the likes of Vampire Bloodlines or indeed the Witcher III (I know you mention in your review this is actually not the case in the first Gothic and I look forward to playing it). I feel similarly about the main quest actually - the narrative just isn't captivating enough (with the exception of the Raven segments in the Old World).

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  6. [continued]

    Truth be told, NPC character development, writing and narrative are areas where in my opinion the Witcher III is simply far, far superior to Gothic II by any measure. Indeed, the Witcher III is the most well written fantasy game I have played since Mask of the Betrayer. It's really not far off milestones like Torment and my childhood favourite Betrayal at Krondor. I don't really agree at all with this notion that Gothic II is completely in a class of its own. Mechanically it *is* far superior and something I would recommend to any true RPG fan, but as far as dialogue and plot go, the converse is true. Perhaps my experience was tainted by not playing Gothic II back in its heyday or by the poor English voice work, but my conclusion is that Gothic II and the Witcher III absolutely excel in opposite areas. The latter has poor itemisation, a character system that plateaus too quickly and rather "handholdy", repetitive quest mechanics (footprints/smell tracking/item selecting with Witcher senses) but on the other hand incredible, outstanding wiring. The former is incredibly tight as far as gameplay is concerned (except for the issues I've mentioned with magic) but does not at all have the same level of writing and emotion. By saying you elevate Gothic II to a league of its own I don't believe you are truly being objective anymore. You are simply betraying the fact that you personally prefer gameplay elements in RPGs over story/cinematic narrative.

    Anyway, I hope my perspective was at least interesting and I hope you keep up the awesome work! I think one interesting thing to debate is whether the Witcher III needs to be as big as it is! The open world design is one area which Gothic II absolutely nails. Gamers today seem to desire larger and larger game worlds but I don't see *any* advantage in building anything larger than the Witcher III. Its wasted space! Sadly, I fear developers don't see it this way!

    [Apologies for messing up my first attempt at posting! Phone issues!]

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    1. Your perspective was indeed very interesting, though I have disagreements. Acknowledging, right from the start anyway, that videogames as emotional experiences can vary greatly depending on the person (due to different synaptic conexions). Said this, I will concede that Gothic is not the best in terms of roleplaying compared to, say, old isometric games, yet it has more "social" roleplaying than any of those games in the way of factions. Indeed, personal identity didn't seem to interest the developers, which never gave a name to its character (and in interviews said explicitly they made it that way to allow the "player's transfiguration" in him), and is coherent with the kind of story Gothic (II) is; which brings me to the narrative problem you adressed. Now, I must say I have problems with apologetic critics; some may find a feature truly great and others quite the opposite. And so happens in narratives. I can't see what legitimates -other than current social trend- complexity over simplistic (in terms of plot intricacies and character layers) or postmodern over solemn and sacred. The story of Gothic is a classic premodern, kind of tolkien-esque story with static characters and a lighthearted, almost postmodern in some cases, tone. The Witcher III (which I haven't played) embraces postmodernity with its "amoral" (no such thing) individualistic -and dynamic- characters, soap opera tropes and its convoluted view of fantasy. It might be more validated because of the current thought (which by the way has nothing to do with medieval thinking, at least in the case of Game of Thrones) but it is ultimately devoid of objective legitimacy.
      Said this, the story of Gothic is definitely not extremely thought out as it has obvious inconsistencies -plot and tone wise) and -personally- not the best narrative emotional experience (self-transcendence need) but is compensated (and surpass every other emotional experience from any game) its narrative focus, immersion and attention to detail. As a world-narration makes sense and gives (me) legitimated enchantment.

      I share your last thought about larger worlds. Yet it is evident (I when I was a child) players do think (!) they would like that.

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    2. Cheers for this - I particularly like your idea of Gothic as social roleplaying. The factions are outstanding - indeed that is a kind of roleplaying not offered in the infinity engine games. I actually think they could have gone further with this idea. Even more faction specific progession, quests and dialogue would have been appropriate. (Although the faction specific dialogue *is* already great! I love how disparaging you can be as a Fire Mage to templar for instance - it absolutely fits the lore!)

      Regards the Witcher III, I absolutely recommend it - it actually doesn't make too much use of soap tropes - certainly not when compared to modern Bioware which sadly seems to be completely trope driven these days. There's an overwhelming sense of dread in most of the quests, with a rather bleak atmosphere throughout. Jeff Vogel made the interesting observation in his blog that a lot of it seems as though written by people who genuinely experienced/heard about the horrors of occupation and war first hand from family. Fundamentally, as you say it's a very emotive experience because of this.

      Sorry for being a bit of an apologist :)

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  7. - "By saying you elevate Gothic II to a league of its own I don't believe you are truly being objective anymore. You are simply betraying the fact that you personally prefer gameplay elements in RPG's over story/cinematic narrative."

    I don't see what the problem is. Honestly, I feel like EVERYONE should value gameplay elements in RPGs over story/cinematic narrative, because GAMEPLAY is what ultimately separates video games from books and movies. Mind you, I certainly do appreciate and value a good story and narrative presentation -- some of my favorite RPGs, after all, are Planescape Torment and Vampire Bloodlines, and The Witcher 3 is up there as well. But in the end, it's far more important to me how the world is built, how you can explore it, how you progress through the game (as a player character), what you can do in the environment, how the AI behaves, how the different systems work together, and ultimately, how you INTERACT with the game, because without any of that, you may as well just be reading a book or watching a movie.

    - "Truth be told, NPC character development, writing and narrative are areas where in my opinion the Witcher III is simply far, far superior to Gothic II by any measure."

    And you'd be correct. I love how every character in TW3 has some kind of personality and underlying motive, how every quest has some kind of worthwhile backstory. The voice acting and animations are some of the best I've ever experienced in a video game.

    That being said, I never felt like Gothic was ever BAD in any of these areas. People say the English voice acting is terrible but it never really bothered me. You say the characters are underdeveloped and unmemorable, yet I can vividly remember almost every interaction with every unique NPC from G1 and G2, and even grew a fondness for certain characters because of their recurring role in the story and how you got to interact with them. I really grew to appreciate Diego, Gorn, Milton, and Lester in G1 because of how they helped me, and when it came time to assemble my crew at the end of G2 I was able to pick purely based on people I liked and wanted to have with me purely from a narrative standpoint.

    Whereas, I'm CURRENTLY PLAYING TW3 and can barely remember any side characters at all because #1 there are just too many for any non-major NPCs to stand out and #2 seemingly every non-major NPC becomes completely obsolete once you finish their quest. The only characters I feel any attachment to in TW3 are Triss, Dandelion, and Zoltan, but that's really just because this is now the third game I've been alongside them. You're supposed to care about Yennefer and Ciri but I just don't care because I've had virtually no interaction with either of them the entire game thus far. The fact that "find Ciri" is the entire main quest is actually a hindrance to my enjoyment of the game, because it doesn't intrinsically compel me to advance the main story.

    In a purely aesthetic sense, TW3's stories, writing, and characters may blow Gothic's out of the water, but I feel like Gothic was always at least SERVICEABLE in these areas: it did what it needed to do to get the point across, and actually achieved a little more than it set out to, just by virtue of how the gameplay mechanics complemented and interacted with the story elements.

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    1. "I think one interesting thing to debate is whether the Witcher III needs to be as big as it is!"

      I feel like it's absolutely way bigger than it needs to be. This is where people will say "well you must not like open-world games in general," but I really do like open-world games; I just feel like very few get the formula right. There's a lot of great content to experience in TW3, but you have to wade through a lot of boring, mundane filler (in a world with generally poor balancing) to get to the good stuff, and you have to do everything because you don't know what's going to be fun or a waste of time until you finish it. Meanwhile, it turns the whole game into a transient blur, where you just go to a place once, "complete" the thing, and then move on to the next one, while overwhelming you with so many things in so many areas that individual things no longer stand out. Thus, playing TW3 can feel like a chore sometimes, especially when you factor in the mechanical deficiencies.

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      For everything else you've written, I agree or understand where you're coming from. We're going to have some subjective disagreements over what we value more in a video game, but I feel like that's unavoidable. One can't be 100% objective when it comes to art because beauty is ultimately in the eye of the beholder. Thanks for writing, and I look forward to reading your response if you've more to add.

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    2. Thanks so much for the detailed response Nick - apologies for the delay I'm actually currently on holiday! I've been following your blog for about a year and that was my first post!

      I completely see your point regarding gameplay over narrative - not much to argue with there! I personally do still thoroughly enjoy games as interactive novels/movies but there's no doubting that its not an optimal use of the medium to leave gameplay by the wayside.

      Regards characters in the Witcher III, I'm not surprised that you weren't instantly taken by Yennefer and Ciri - their character progression is fantastic but it does happen quite bit later in the game. Yennefer is masterfully done - whilst superficially a very abrasive character, there is so much more to her below the surface and her relationship with Geralt is really portrayed in a realistic way - complete with the whole range of emotions both good and bad. The parental relationship between the two and Ciri in particular is so well done and something that you just don't see often in video games. Your commentary on the Gothic characters really makes me want to play the first game - I think maybe that's where all the groundwork is done. It does feel that there is very little of this in the sequel. In any event, Gothic is something I now recommend to everyone I know. First and foremost because it's outstandind, but also because it simply deserves much more exposure. I don't believe games need to excel in multiple areas to be outstanding experiences - indeed I feel truly excelling in one area is often enough!

      I fully agree with what you say about open worlds. I asked some of my friends about this - something which comes up all the time is the idea that "I just want to run in an arbitrary direction and not hit a map boundary". This is the issue! This is what encapsulates the whole problem - developers need to allow for this to please people but it certainly doesn't help gameplay. It adds nothing! Just for interest - what open worlds (other than Gothic and Stalker) do you think work? Those aforementioned games are actually relatively 'small' in open world terms and in many ways that's their strength!

      In terms of other game recommendations - I think I have a reasonable gauge on your taste from reading your reviews and I really think you should really look into Neverwinter Nights II: Mask of the Betrayer (that I mentioned earlier). I think you'd enjoy both the narrative and gameplay despite the atrocious camera! A similar experience I recommend is Drakensang II: River of Time which is virtually unknown. Its a Dark Eye game which takes the fluidity of Dragonage Origins and actually adds a great deal of mechanical depth and a nonlinear narrative. Whilst the first game is a bit lacking, this sequel really felt (to me) as a bit of a gem.

      Anyway - hope you're well

      Alex

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    3. I wanted to write earlier about the Gothic vs. Witcher topic but I didn't want to sound like an arrogant hipster because of what I was about to write down. But since you mentioned Drakensang now I just bite the bullet and go with it.

      I do think games like Drakensang and Gothic have the disadvantage that they are not from big devs/publishers and in the case of Drakensang that they are based on The Dark Eye and not its competitor AD&D. Since both game series are from German devs I think another downside is the lackluster English voice acting in the international releases. I did a quick Youtube search about it and I can confirm that the English voices are pretty much "meh" especially in comparison. I can only imagine how much more (yes even more!) Nick would praise Gothic if he was able to understand the original voice acting properly (I just assume he doesn't speak German) because they add immensely to the atmosphere. In the case of Drakensang the games already feel "streamlined" in comparison to the earlier Dark Eye games Realms Of Arcania which are much more true to the table top origins. But none the less the Dark Eye games have such a rich lore and an interesting world I am always happy when somebody was able to sink himself into the world of The Dark Eye and enjoyed his time.

      Another thing, and I can see people disagree with my opinion here, is that European games like Gothic, Drakensang or The Witcher feel more mature and natural in terms of dialogue and world to me than everything from Bioware and Bethesda ever could. A Witcher and a Gothic game have this "Medieval European feel" to me whilst f.e. Skyrim or Dragon Age feels to me like it's designed on a sketch board. Don't get me wrong, I think these games can be visually beautiful but the world doesn't feel like a world where people would live.

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    4. - "Your commentary on the Gothic characters really makes me want to play the first game - I think maybe that's where all the groundwork is done. It does feel that there is very little of this in the sequel.

      Gothic 2 is enhanced SIGNIFICANTLY by having already played Gothic 1. Besides all of the recurring characters (who basically just say "Hey, remember me?" and then give a one-line explanation in case you never played G1), the entire Valley of Mines map is a re-skinned and modified version of most of the original playing space from Gothic 1. Going back into the "Colony" in G2 and seeing how everything had changed is possibly my fondest gaming memory.

      Since you've already played G2, I should warn you not to set your expectations too high for G1. Gothic 1 has a better story and setting, especially in terms of the world-building and its depiction of an anarchist society in a prison camp (this article from RPS is a good read on the subject), but G1 is mechanically inferior to G2 in a lot of ways. Mainly, it's a much smaller, shorter game with less to do, which means you can easily "complete" the bulk of the game and have nothing else to do but progress the main story line. Meanwhile, there's also much less depth to the leveling system.

      As for the characters, well, they're not THAT much more fleshed out than they are in G2, in terms of pure writing and personality, but you do get their actual introductions and all the associated exposition, plus interactions with key characters like Xardas, Diego, Milten, Gorn, and Lester (as well as others like Lee, Lares, Cavalorn, etc) will perhaps let you retroactively appreciate them more in G2, if you ever go back and re-play it.

      - "Just for interest - what open worlds (other than Gothic and Stalker) do you think work? Those aforementioned games are actually relatively 'small' in open world terms and in many ways that's their strength!"

      Other games that I like, and think work well as open-world games: Fallout New Vegas, Dragon's Dogma, Deadly Premonition. On a similar level, I really like Fallout 1+2, , Arcanum: Of Steamworks and Magick Obscura, Vampire: The Masquerade - Bloodlines, and both The Witcher 1+2, even though their world design is more a bunch of hub networks instead of a truly persistent open world. But, I find they still give you ample open space to explore with non-linear approaches to completing the game, which is what I really look for when it comes to open-world RPGs.

      As you've said, the benefit with many of these games is that their worlds are smaller, but more to the point, for me, is that their worlds have meaningful structure and design. Things exist for a specific purpose, and are all designed to contribute to the greater picture. I've long subscribed to the principle of "Chekhov's gun," which basically says that, in a work of fiction (applied mechanically in this case to video games) anything superfluous and unnecessary should be trimmed out of the [game], leaving only the most important and relevant details.

      With games like Red Dead Redemption, The Elder Scrolls, Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning, LA Noire, and Dead Rising (among many others), even including The Witcher 3, they often feel like the world is stretched too big, simply for the sake of creating more content to occupy more playtime, even if the extra playtime isn't unique or memorable. It's like they just churn out a bunch of repetitive designs, drop them into completely isolated and unrelated events, and paste them across the map. If you think of it like a body of water, it's like a lake that's a mile wide, but an inch deep. Whereas, a game like Gothic may only be a fraction of the size in diameter, but is so much deeper and therefore more engaging, more rewarding, and more interesting.

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    5. - "I really think you should really look into Neverwinter Nights II: Mask of the Betrayer (that I mentioned earlier). A similar experience I recommend is Drakensang II: River of Time which is virtually unknown."

      Neverwinter Nights 2 has been on my radar for a long time solely because Obsidian developed it, and I hold them in high regard as far as RPGs are concerned (I prefer KOTOR2, which they did, to KOTOR1, which BioWare made). I've yet to play it, however, so perhaps I'll try to move it higher on my list.

      As for Drakensang, I played the first game back in college and really enjoyed it, despite struggling a lot of to get a strong enough grip on how stats and abilities worked. I never beat it, because I got stuck on the "mother Ratzinsky" side-quest and insisted that I beat that damn rat before doing anything else. River of Time has been on my Steam wish-list for a while, but for whatever reason I've not gotten around to it yet.

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    6. Wow. I actually beat Mother Ratzinsky first try, maybe I had luck, but i felt so proud of it. Was a long fight. What bothered me about the game's AI in that particular dungeon was that the big rats would just beeline for my mage (lowest max HP) despite leaving it behind. When i engaged them they just ignored my fighters and went for my mage which was nowhere near for them to know and that hurt believability. I got stuck in the game much later, end of chapter 8. Was hoping I could find a solution, but haven't. The main side quest, Ardo's revenge or something like that has a tough battle, and apparently in my game it bugged out and guards never stop from spawning.. the script where the enemy gives up never plays I guess. Like you, I could actually finish the game by moving on with the main quest but I didn't want to do anything else before I'm done in the city with this important sidequest :( so i put the game down for the future. But I agree it's an unknown gem, recommend it to anyone who lies baldur's gate or other party based RPGs.

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    7. Yes, Neverwinter Nights II is an interesting case - Josh Sawyer explained how they actually had to salvage it fairly late in development and the release version ended up quite buggy. The main campaign is really good fun (and I think intentionally a bit self mocking) but it is a bit clich├ęd. Its main sell (for me) was that some of the characters (particularly Khelgar and Sand) were genuinely very funny and entertaining. It also really does have moments of pure Obsidian brilliance. The real reason to get NWN2 though is Mask of the Betrayer - that's a truly outstanding piece of work that I wouldn't want to spoil for you in any way. Its a huge contrast to the main campaign, having virtually no humour and being very cosmological and philosophical. I just wish the game had better camera control!

      I know that you're not a huge fan of Bioware so the original NWN is probably not on your radar. I dont think you miss out by not playing the main campaign - but I'd be remiss not to mention Hordes of the Underdark which is actually brilliant. In general, both NWN games were all about their expansion content (along with user generated modules, and the amazing multilayer/persistent world aspects).

      Drakensang II has got all that great tactical combat from the original but it's far less frequent (I thought there was *too* much combat in the original). The cool thing is that when combat does happen, it's much harder - in fact one of the fights in the game is utterly Kangaxx level brutal. Sad that we won't get another Drakensang game because they really were a neat 3D modernisation of that infinity engine 'spirit' of gameplay, maintaining far more mechanical depth than the likes of (for instance) Dragon Age - which would start to streamline heavily in its sequels.

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  8. After this much waiting, your The Witcher 3 review just has to Be 10000 fking thousand words filled with breathing screenshots! WE WILL ACCEPT NOTHING LESS!! ;-) lol

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  9. Out of curiosity, what computer specs are you using for video games? Is the smae computer you got with Skyrim (or the other way around)?

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    1. For Scrim four years ago I was running a Radeon HD 6850 with 1GB vram, Phenom 2x4 960T @3.0GHz, and 4GB RAM, on Win 7 with an Asus M5A97 motherboard.

      I've since upgraded everything but the motherboard, case, and OS. Now I've got a Radeon r9 380x with 4GB vram, AMD FX 8350 8-core 4.0GHz, and 8GB of RAM, with a beefier PSU, better CPU heatsink, and extra (big) case fans.

      With that setup I can run Witcher 3 with almost everything at max settings in 1080p, lowering just a few things from "highest" to "high" to get the framerate up from 35-45 to a more comfortable 50-60.

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  10. Fun fact: Witcher 3 has already sold over 10 million copies worldwide which is higher than Oblivion, Morrowind, Fallout 3, Dragon Age 3, Mass Effect 3 and heck every other RPG except Scrim and Falljoke 4! Amazing to see their hard work paying off so much.

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    1. Usually that info makes me extremely skeptical.

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  11. Well I guess this is the approx full sales breakdown:

    Oblivion - 6 millions

    Fallout 3 - 6 millions

    Morrowind - 4 millions

    Mass Effect 3 - Maybe close to 5 but certainly not even close to 10.

    Dragon Age: Inquisition - This game sold a bit better than DA2 which itself sold less than DAO which itself sold about 4 millions I guess.

    Fallout 4 - It was 9 million on consoles and 2 million on PC about 3 months ago I guess, so maybe it is sitting at 15 million now.

    Skyrim - 20 million confirmed by various sources. Maybe even 22 considering how popular the game is even today.

    Witcher 3 - 10 millions confirmed by developers themselves.

    I have no other RPG in mind that sold anywhere close to these numbers except maybe FF VII and X which both were about 7 millions?

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  12. Also worth noting is that Cd Projekt Red is now worth over $1 Billion. No longer an underground indie company! Yay!

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    1. They never WERE "Indie" (which by today's definition means small and likeable, not independent...) in Poland. They're one of the 3 biggest gaming companies in the country, alongside Cenega and Techland.

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  13. It took 134 hours over the course of 3.5 months, but I've finally finished the base game of TW3. Time to start working on this review.

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  14. This is literally the 100th time I have checked for that review lol :)! Please, spare me from the pain and release it already my Lord!

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