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Premium Ship Review #121 – Exeter

The following is a review of HMS Exeter, the tier V Premium British Heavy Cruiser kindly provided to me by Wargaming.  Please be aware that though this represents the release version of the ship, her statistics may change in the future.  To the best of my knowledge, these stats are accurate as of patch 0.8.1.  If you have any questions regarding any changes to this ship after subsequent patches, please feel free to contact me.

The developers and I don’t always see eye to eye.  The balancing of Haida, for example, involved a lot of upset even if it had a happy ending.  Before that, seeing Duke of York butchered and ground up into a pile of bland mediocrity was heart breaking — particularly from her original state of such a choice cut of fun and unique game play.  I was numb to the dismemberment of Prinz Eitel Friedrich where they sliced away everything that made her enjoyable; this kind of thing had just happened too often for me to be moved.  But something snapped in me with this most recent, tasteless offering from Wargaming.  I am in a rage regarding HMS Exeter and all of the wasted potential of this design.

I couldn’t scream loud enough that what they had was brilliant — it was simply at the wrong tier.  Exeter was finally the Royal Navy Light Cruiser (RNCL) captain-trainer we’ve been desperately waiting for since October of 2016.   She had such fun  crossover potential with Leander and Graf Spee, including making historical divisions.  Such opinions and promise were discarded, however.  Wargaming needed a moldering pile of mediocrity to offer up as a hand-out.  Exeter was earmarked as that victim.  Worse, they didn’t warn me that this was the case.  So not only did I expend a lot of energy trying to preserve what appeared to be an ideal vessel, my time was wasted because Wargaming was already locked in on a course long before balancing had even begun.  They simply didn’t elect to tell me and stonewalled suggestion after suggestion.

As it turns out, I’m not sure they even got the balance right.  But what should we expect for a project that was designed to be a failure (by my own metrics) before it began?

The following review borrows heavily from the preview article I wrote for Exeter in early January in order to save time.  I didn’t get any warning on this one and I had to cut corners where possible to get this review out while it was still relevant. I had less than 12 hours notice she was finalized and released and the warning didn’t even come from Wargaming.  My apologies if some of the sass appears re-used.

PROS

  • Large effective hit point pool combined with access to a Repair Party.
  • Heavily armed with six 203mm rifles.
  • Powerful torpedoes for her tier with an 8km range, the ability to single fire them and hard hitting warheads.
  • Excellent acceleration and rate of turn.
  • Very stealthy with a surface detection as low as 9.6km when fully upgraded.

CONS

  • Her armour is very squishy with 13mm extremities.
  • Terrible citadel protection and a high-water citadel to boot.
  • Slow rate of fire with a 15 second reload leading to terrible sustained DPM.
  • Poor fire arcs on her main battery guns.
  • Torpedoes can only fire wide or individually (why is this a thing?)
  • Turning radius is larger than advertised and her top speed is lacking.

Overview

Skill Floor:  Simple / CASUAL/ Challenging / Difficult
Skill Ceiling:  Low / Moderate / High / EXTREME

For the novice player, Exeter is okay.  She’s a little unforgiving with her squishy armour and her slow rate of fire.  Even gunship destroyers can prove quite dangerous if not handled correctly.

In the hands of an expert, however, the sky is the limit.  Exeter has some of the best concealment, the best AA defense, the best agility and the best overall durability of any of the tier V cruisers.  The only thing holding her back are her weak armour profile and low DPM, both of which can be mitigated.

Oh yeah, Exeter is totally balanced. That 15s main battery reload will keep her in line.  She has the best AA Firepower too currently but that’s highly volatile at the moment and subject to change with the CV rework ongoing.
iTQteVr.png– One of, if not the worst at its tier. This is a pronounced weakness.
jr7vbn9.png – Middle of the pack at its tier. Not terrible, but not terribly good either.
OzA23Hz.png – Has a significant advantage over her tier mates. A solid, competitive performer.
G8OWSR4.png – No other ship at its tier does this as well as this ship.

Options

Exeter has only one surprise.  For anyone that has seen a preview of Exeter, she no longer has access to a Smoke Generator.  It did not survive her test builds.

Consumables

  • Exeter’s Damage Control Party is standard for a cruiser.  This has a 5 second active period and a 90s / 60s reset timer with unlimited charges.
  • Like other British cruisers, Exeter has a Repair Party.  The duration and healing rate are standard for this consumable, healing up to 14% of the ship’s hit points over 28 seconds.  This comes with 2 charges base and a 120s / 80s reset timer.  She queues up to 50% of penetration damage and 10% of citadel damage.
  • Exeter’s Hydroacoustic Search mirrors other tier V cruisers with a 3km torpedo detection and 4km ship detection radius.  This is active for 100s with a 180s / 120s reset timer and 2 charges base.
  • Her Catapult Fighter launches 2 aircraft which are active for 60s.  They orbit at 3km with a 135s / 90s reset timer.  Exeter starts with two charges base.

Upgrades

  • The only option worth taking in the first slot is Main Armaments Modification 1.
  • In your second slot you have a choice whether to add extra protection to your engines or rudder.  Propulsion Modification 1 would be my first choice.  If you’re dead in the water, you’re not going to survive long.  Steering Gears Modification 2 isn’t a terrible choice, though, but less optimal than the disaster the former helps mitigate.
  • As ever, optimizing your guns is the best choice.  Aiming Systems Modification 1 will see the biggest performance increase for Exeter.  However, if you’re salty about CVs, then AA Guns Modification 1 isn’t a bad choice.  The relative short ranges at which Exeter fires isn’t punitive on gun dispersion anyway.

Camouflage

Exeter uses Type 9 – Exeter Camouflage.  This provides the usual 50% bonus to experience gains, a 10% reduction to repair costs, a 3% concealment bonus and a 4% increase to enemy shell dispersion.

Exeter has an alternate camouflage scheme in off-white and blue you can unlock by completing the second part of the “Naval Aviation” collection.  The original is quite dark.

Firepower

Main Battery:  Six 203mm/50 guns in 3×2 mounts in an A-B-X superfiring configuration.
Secondary Battery:  Eight 102mm/45 guns in 4×2 mounts with two turrets per side straddling the funnels in a forward-firing arrangement.
Torpedo Tubes:  Six tubes in 2×3 launchers rear facing straddling the foremost funnel

Exeter has a modest set of weapon systems.  They’re not without their flaws.  However, their drawbacks aren’t enough to damn this ship, particularly when coupled with Exeter’s strengths in agility and concealment. Lemme do a quick jpeg dump and we’ll go over things in more detail.

The first thing to know is that you’re not winning any trading matches with Exeter.  She has a small number of main battery guns and a long reload to boot. If Exeter cannot land citadel hits, her tier mates can tear her apart before her second heal becomes available.
These are shell flight times and penetration estimations for Exeter’s 203mm AP shells.  The energy of Exeter’s AP shells drops off quickly due to a high shell-drag coefficient which saps their speed.  Still, while Exeter’s AP penetration isn’t high it’s still more than enough to challenge the belt armour of any cruiser she might come across.  She’s fully capable of landing citadel hits against most cruisers up to her maximum range.
Exeter’s torpedoes are excellent for her tier. They do have a weird quirk where they can only launch wide / single as opposed the narrow / single of other Royal Navy cruisers and destroyers.
Exeter’s gun arcs leave a lot to be desired, especially when she’s forced to kite. At least her guns rotate quickly.  Her torpedo arcs are comfortable, though.

Alright, so what did we learn?

  • Exeter has low sustained damage output with her main battery guns.
  • Her AP shells are serviceable.  She’s fully capable of landing citadel hits against just about any cruiser she comes across at any range provided she has their broadside.
  • Her torpedoes are excellent but she can’t fire them from stealth.
  • I didn’t mention her secondaries but that should tell you a lot.  She has four barrels per side and they have a 4km range with a high rate of fire.  They’re not worth specializing into.  That’s all you need to know.

The picture painted here is a ship that relies on alpha strike, ambushes and hit and run tactics to best her opponents..  Exeter is well set up to accomplish this largely owing to her agility and concealment — two areas in which Exeter excels.  Getting to within 10km of a cruiser enables her to land citadel hits reliably.   Furthermore, her Repair Party makes taking such risks far more forgiving.  Thus you have a ship that’s fully capable of dictating engagement ranges and optimize the performance of her weapons.  If things go pear shaped, she’s likely to survive long enough to take a second bite of the apple or disengage as needed.

Exeter doesn’t have everything her own way, however.  RNG can (and will) flub perfectly aimed shots on occasion.  Exeter’s 203mm AP do not enjoy any improved auto-ricochet bonuses, meaning angling against her is super-effective.  Fouling up her first shot can spell disaster if your opponent responds to the threat of your sudden appearance. Furthermore, Exeter is only a modest fire starter, this again throttled by her low volume of shells.  Against larger vessels, Exeter needs time to whittle them down — time she may not have.  Her triple torpedo launchers do not deal enough damage to allow her to a sink a full health battleship making suicide charges downright comedic.  Facing destroyers, her long reload often means she only gets a single volley off at them before they disappear.  This is rarely enough to finish off enterprising lolibotes operating in her vicinity.  If you screw up an ambush, Exeter looks pretty foolish, especially if you over-commit.

Thus, if you struggle to land citadel hits and you can’t make use of her fish, Exeter’s performance is a slow, steady burn.  Use island cover to lob shells at approaching targets.  Take what pot shots you can at exposed enemies and then retreat.  Preserve her hit points and take little nibbles as they become available.  Underestimate her at your peril, however.  Her individual torpedoes are monstrous.  Her AP shells are fully capable of catastrophically ending a cruiser that exposes themselves and her HE volleys can thoroughly gut a destroyer caught unawares.

Evaluation: jr7vbn9.png
What it would have needed to be OzA23Hz.png:
  Give her back her 12s reload and fix the fire aspects of her torpedoes to narrow / single.  Alternatively, give her a Smoke Generator so she can park her butt and cycle her weapons with near impunity.

Defense

Hit Points:  29,400
Min Bow & Deck Armour: 13mm
Maximum Citadel Protection:  13mm extremity / deck + 72mm transverse bulkhead
Torpedo Damage Reduction: 4%

Exeter’s deck amidships has two layers. The top deck counts as superstructure with only 10mm worth of protection. It’s the lower deck where the torpedoes reside that has 19mm of protection which carries through to the upper hull.  The one nice thing about her light armour layout is that short of hits to her citadel, most battleship rounds will simply overpenetrate.

Exeter is an overstuffed hit point piñata made of wet tissue paper.  Her bane is high explosive shells of nearly every gun caliber she faces.  Most Royal Navy battleships are capable of blowing out her citadel  with HE shells and scattering her machine parts across the surface of the ocean in a sloppy mess of fire and regret.  Even gunship destroyers are dangerous and can take her apart in short order if ignored.  Be especially wary of taking damage to her steering gears and engines — they’ll get knocked out often.  It’s smart to invest in Last Stand for your commander.

Said armour is ironically quite good at holding out against AP shellsm though.  Most calibers of AP shells will fail to fuse if they don’t strike Exeter’s 19mm hull or belt armour, resulting in over-penetrations.  Furthermore, her 13mm bow is fully capable of autobouncing up to and including 180mm AP.  Of course being “quite good” does not mean “impervious to”.  Exeter can and will be suddenly deleted by battleship caliber AP shells from any angle.  Similarly, 203mm AP shells are a nightmare, especially if they’re coming off an American heavy cruiser as they too can overmatch her bows and foil most of her attempts to angle her belt against them.  Her main battery guns are especially vulnerable and likely to break when tanking said hits.

None of this is new for low-tier cruisers, though.  Exeter does differ from the norm in three areas, however.

  1. Her citadel is a small(ish) target.
  2. She has a lot of hit points.
  3. She has access to a Repair Party consumable.

Points one and two are simply “nice”.  It’s the last piece which makes Exeter obscene.  It catapults her from “meh” status to blatantly overpowered.  None of the other cruisers at her tier have anything close to Exeter’s longevity.  Before I say anything nasty about it’s inclusion, it’s time to abruptly let this section be.

Provided Exeter doesn’t get herself outright deleted by any given attack, she’s pretty darned resilient.  You’re unlikely to be able to draw on the full 19,757hp her Repair Party can conjure but an extra 5,000hp to 10,000hp is more than reasonable, easily making her the toughest tier V cruiser by effective hit point total.  This (in my opinion), combined with her stealth, agility and the relative small target of her citadel makes her overpowered.  Emerald, being a travesty against humanity, gets away with having a Repair Party without catching any flak for it.

Evaluation: G8OWSR4.png
What would have to happen to DOWNGRADE to OzA23Hz.png:
Give Furutaka a Repair Party.

Agility

Top Speed: 32.0 knots
Port Turning Radius:
650m (720m actual)
Rudder Shift Time: 8.4s
Estimated 4/4 Engine Speed Rotation Rate:
6.7º/s

Exeter’s agility stats sit upon a throne of lies.

This isn’t anything new.  Royal Navy cruisers (and destroyers) are almost all terrible fibbers when it comes to their handling characteristics.  This is owing to their improved engine power which says “screw you, physics!”.  Thus Exeter agility has all sorts of fun and infuriating quirks like dragster-style acceleration, ridiculous energy retention in a turn and the ability to make 180º turns more dramatically than Wargaming discussing their “we won’t nerf premiums” policy.

Exeter has almost identical manoeuvrability characteristics to Nürnberg, the tier VI German cruiser which has the same 32 knot top speed and a 720 meter (actual) turning radius.  However, when you compare them side by side you get the following:

  1. Exeter accelerates ridiculously fast — better than you would see with Propulsion Modification 1 that’s available on tier VI+ ships.  She reaches a speed of 10 knots inside of 5 seconds, 20 knots in 8 seconds and 30 knots in less than 12 seconds.  Nürnberg with the upgrade hits these same 10 / 20 / 30 knot benchmarks in approximately 8 / 14 / 27 seconds respectively.
  2. Exeter preserves almost all of her speed in a turn.  Normal cruisers turn a 80% of their 4/4 engine speed.  Exeter turns at 98.8% of her 4/4 engine speed (31.6 knots).  Nürnberg, by contrast, decelerates down to 25.5 knots in a sustained turn.  Exeter thus maintains a top speed more often than other ships, especially while under manoeuvres.  While she lacks the straight line speed of Furutaka or Emile Bertin, she can be effectively just as quick in combat situations while ducking and dodging.
  3. Maintaining higher speed in a turn increases the rate at which a ship comes about.  Thus Nürnberg’s modest 5.4º/s rotation rate is dwarfed by Exeter’s own 6.7º/s.

So Exeter’s performance far exceeds what her in-port stats will tell you.  She may not have the raw power of her contemporaries, but she’s no slouch.

Evaluation: OzA23Hz.png
What it would have needed to be G8OWSR4.png:  This should say a lot.  There’s a lot of agile cruisers at tier V.  Fast ones too.  Exeter handles beautifully with that improved engine power but there are times I miss the raw speed you can find on ships like Emile Bertin.  Speed is life for fragile ships, after all.

Anti-Aircraft Defense

Long Range:  2 explosions at 560 damage and 52dps from 5.8km to 2.5km
Medium Range:  2 explosions at 420 damage and 86dps from 2.5km to 0.9km
Short Range: 22dps from 0.9km to 0.1km
Catapult Squadron:  2 Aircraft

Exeter doesn’t have an extensive AA gun battery. Her dual purpose 102mm guns are in red, her 40mm pom-poms in yellow and her 12.7mm machine guns in blue.  At least it’s symmetrical.  Remember how Exeter hates HE Shells?  You can add “getting stripped of most of her AA-guns from a single hit” onto the list of reasons why.

Let’s start with the following disclaimer:  Until the CV rework concludes, do not base and purchase decisions on a premium ship’s anti-aircraft performance.  All of the stats discussed here are still subject to change.

Exeter is arguably the best anti-aircraft support-cruiser at tier V.  While she lacks the raw sustained DPS totals, she has a combination of diverse AA assets which make her more of a threat than the sum of her parts.

What I found quite effective was proper use of (and specializing into) Exeter’s Catapult Fighter.  This didn’t form the backbone of my AA defense, but it spiked its effectiveness as readily as one would expect a Defensive AA Fire consumable to do at higher tiers.  This is largely owing to the smaller air groups found at tiers IV and VI (especially the former).  To this end, taking the captain skills Direction Center for Fighters and Superintendent is highly encouraged.  The former increases the number of fighters to three and the latter provides an additional charge.  Exeter completely shuts down tier IV dive bomber and torpedo bomber waves with her upgraded fighters — it’s really not fair.

It’s not like Exeter’s regular AA values are lacking — she simply doesn’t have the OMG! hitting power you might expect from a “good” AA cruiser.  Instead, Exeter makes do with modest DPS levels, a couple of flak bursts per AA aura and good range.  All of these upgrade well with affordable options. AA Guns Modification 2 upgrade doubles the number of explosions she generates to up to four for her long and medium range auras — nominally spawning 3.  Finally, the more expensive (but arguably worthwhile) Manual Fire Control for AA Armament increases her sustained DPS values by a combined bonus of 50% to the reinforced sector.

Altogether, Exeter punches far harder than your opponents might expect a tier V cruiser capable. She has the base toolkit needed to keep herself safe and make aircraft carriers cry if you’ve the inclination to use it.

It should say something about low-tier AA that Exeter has enough flak to make tier IV aircraft carriers regret engaging her. Her DPS isn’t enough to shoot something down on the first pass, but it will start taking the squadrons apart on the second.  In addition, her long range flak bursts are particularly helpful when reinforcing an ally.  Specializing heavily into her AA yields some nice results.  Don’t forget to deploy your catapult fighter to make those attack runs even more costly.

Evaluation: IRRELEVANT

Refrigerator

Base Surface Detection: 10.98km
Air Detection Range: 7.08km
Minimum Surface Detection: 9.59km
Detection Range When Firing in Smoke: 6.06km
Detection Range when Firing in Open Water: 14.27km

Exeter hides well.  For a tier V cruiser, her concealment is pretty good.  She has the same surface detection as USS Flint at tier VII.  Most of the tier IV ships have the potential to be better, but they’re unlikely to be harbouring a commander with Concealment Expert or any kind of camouflage unless they’re a Death Pickle (Iwaki Alpha to those of you who don’t remember a time before applicable camo).  At her own tier, only Emerald is better.  Huanghe, Leander and Perth all best her at tier VI.  Belfast tops her at tier VII.

Of course, Exeter lacks the Smoke Generator that these other ships I named enjoy.  It’s not like she couldn’t use smoke if she has access to it.  Her detection range in while in smoke is around 6.1km — usable but by no means idiot proof.  Of course, giving Exeter access to her own smoke as a tier V ship would have been lunacy.  She’s already powerful enough without it.  Still, it is a shame to see that she doesn’t mirror Royal Navy cruiser consumables in this regard.

As for the rest, Exeter’s Hydroacoustic Search is well received — especially with on as many claustrophobic maps as she plays upon.  Similarly, when she’s top tier, there aren’t very many destroyers that can stealth fire their torpedoes.  Thus the charges of her consumable are seldom taxed and you can save it for actively hunting ships trying to hide in smoke, stripping them of their cover.

Yep, on the whole Exeter does pretty well for herself in the ol’ Refrigerator department.

Evaluation: OzA23Hz.png
What it would have needed to be G8OWSR4.pngQuite a bit.  Emerald is more stealthy and has smoke.  I’m not even sure convincing Wargaming to replace Emerald with something else would do it.  I mean, the most likely candidate is the Arethusa-class and that’s even sneakier.

No Miracle for Dunkirk

Sooooo… about that Royal Navy cruiser trainer we’ve all been hoping for.  Yeah, you’re going to have to stick with Cossack or like… I dunno, Vanguard or something for a little while longer.  Exeter isn’t quite the ideal ship for optimizing for Royal Navy light cruiser builds — especially if you’re training up one of the Dunkirk brothers and are hoping to maximize their benefits of their bonuses.

Here’s where you should put your first 10 points:

  • Start with Priority Target.
  • Grab Last Stand at the second tier.
  • Follow this up with Superintendent at tier three.
  • And finally grab Concealment Expert at tier four.

From here there are a bunch of skills worth examining.  My personal preferences led me to take Direction Center for Fighters, Adrenaline Rush, Expert Marksman, and Manual Fire Control for AA Armament.  This is hardly optimal but it does make her more comfortable while also giving her AA firepower some nice teeth.

Final Evaluation

I championed for Exeter’s addition to World of Warships all the way back on August 8th, 2017.  I certainly wasn’t the first, but that was the date that I took ownership of my own interest and began pushing hard for her inclusion.  She came up repeatedly with my talks with Wargaming over the following months, including a more formal proposal when Pigeon_of_War asked for suggestions in March of 2018.   Let me be clear: I’m not taking credit for Exeter being added to the game — I merely stress how much I wanted this vessel to appear in World of Warships.  I wasn’t quite Haida-levels of rabid for Exeter, but it was close.

When I made my suggestions, my earliest estimations was that she could show up at tier V, bare bones with nothing in the way of gimmicks.  I later amended this to tier VI with the possibility of up-tiering her to VII if they wanted to give her the usual combination of British consumables.

So when Exeter arrived, I should have been elated.  Instead I felt nothing more than frustration.  She was placed at tier V with every bell and whistle imaginable, immediately setting off alarm bells that she was going to need nerfs or re-tiering.  I theory-crafted from what I saw of her in port stats and wrote about my worries — especially for the statistics that I couldn’t see, like her auto-bounce features and engine power.  Play testing confirmed these fears with a big ol’ exclamation mark.  Sarcasm ensued:

From patch 0.8.0 during her original test build on the live server.

The fix Wargaming implemented was to reduce her main battery rate of fire from the historical 5rpm down to 4rpm and the pluck her Smoke Generator from her.  This ignored the repeated requests and advice from the community and content creators to bump her up to tier VI.   Wargaming’s changes were supposed to bring her into line and make her an acceptable tier V premium cruiser.  This DIDN’T bring her into lineShe is not an acceptable tier V premium cruiser.

Like the changes that smacked Prinz Eitel Friedrich or Duke of York upside the head, Wargaming’s nerfs made these ships less comfortable to play.  While they did address performance somewhat, in Exeter’s case it was more of an annoyance that a direct hit to her power level.  Waiting an extra three seconds for each reload is a nuisance but it’s not going to stop Exeter from wrecking face — certainly not when she’s got every other advantage stacked in her favour.  Exeter is at a minimum a tier VI ship being stuffed into a tier where she doesn’t belong.  This is comparable to sticking a tier X battleship at tier IX and nerfing the sigma and AA-power and thinking it won’t over-perform.

Oh wait, it did.

So Exeter’s here and she’s strong but she’s annoying because she doesn’t live up to her potential.  The ship I very much wanted to see is a bloated powerhouse.  I feel scummy for playing her.  I’m mad at myself for finding any enjoyment clubbing baby seals with Exeter.  My only consolation is that she faces a real challenge when up-tiered.  You know there’s something wrong when I can look at tier VII opponents in a tier V cruiser and think highly of my chances.

It would be a mistake to get too invested into Exeter.  She’s just going to get nerfed down the line.  I mourn the ship that could have been — the ship this self-admitted teaboo desperately wanted to see.

Would I Recommend?

There are two ways to acquire Exeter:  Paying for her (duh) or unlocking her through the Exeter’s Last Stand missions which ran from March 1st 2019 until March 29th, 2019.

For PVE Battles?

Yes.  Bloody shame you can’t play scenarios with her.  She’d have to be tier VI for that.

For Random Battle Grinding?

Yes.  The baby seals won’t club themselves.

For Competitive Gaming?

Yes.  Pay to win, baby!

For Collectors?

Yes.  It’s HMS Exeter.  She fought in repeated surface actions against more powerful enemies.  Her battle against Graf Spee alone makes her collectible.

For her Fun-Factor?

No.  She makes me have a sad, but I’m biased here.

What’s the Final Verdict?

How would the ship rate on an Angry YouTuber scale of Garbage – Meh – Gud – Overpowered?

  • GARBAGE– I hate it!
  • Mehbote – An average ship.  Probably forgettable.
  • Gudbote – The best thing ever.  Totally not overpowered because I like padding my stats in it.
  • OVERPOWERED – I hate playing against it!
From patch 0.8.1. Spot the differences.

In Closing

In the spirit of the Epic WGNA Forum Meme Thread, March 2019, I am going to preemptively head off any criticism (both constructive and not) with this jpeg.  Yes, this even applies to you, super-helpful-person who has nothing but my best interests at heart.  You’re clearly a monster that deserves nothing but scorn and contempt for pointing out that small typo.  This is the new standard for what the acceptable norm when dealing with any kind of feedback:  quoting anime and being a dink.  ♥

Thank you all for reading!

 

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