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Graphics and System Performance in Age of Conan (Review: Part 1 of 4)

by: Michael Hartman ; edited by: Michael Hartman ; updated: 4/17/2012 • Leave a comment

Released May 20, 2008 by Funcom, Age of Conan is one of the latest fantasy MMORPGs. It is very similar to World of Warcraft, Everquest, Ultima Online, and Dark Age of Camelot in theme and general gameplay, but right there is where the comparison stops and things start to go horribly, horribly wrong.

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    Normally gameplay should be discussed before any hardware issues, but Age of Conan is Crysis-like in the way it necessitates this kind of information first. Age of Conan runs terribly. It does not matter if you are at, above, or below the recommended specs. Load times are frequent and long. Framerates in heavily populated areas (like cities) are very low (under 5 fps for most systems, and barely over 10 fps for systems above recommended specs).

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    I tested this game on three different machines: one far above recommended specs, one right at recommended, and one somewhere between minimum and recommended. The top machine ran the game passably, but still had long load times and frequent framerate drops. But on all the other machines performance was atrocious. In major cities the FPS monitor literally dropped to SPF (Seconds Per Frame). That is not hyperbole - that is fact. Before Age of Conan, the only place I had heard of SPF was on sunscreen.

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    If you do not have a video card with at least a gig of ram, and if your main system does not have 3-4 gigs of RAM, forget about it. This game will run slower than Lolo Jones tripping over the 9th hurdle in the 2008 Summer Olympic Games.

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    A particularly frustrating element of Age of Conan's system performance is the fact that spell effects are completely linked to some of the high end settings. If you are in the low or mid range you will experience almost no spell effects at all. You won't be able to see when you (or your allies) are nuking and debuffing foes, for example. If you try to turn on the spell effects you get a lot of heavy, advanced features along with them (like reflective metal surfaces) that really drag down system performance. I have no idea why they did not create spell effects for the low and mid range settings.

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    One would assume that with such high system requirements the graphics would be stellar. Too bad this is not the case. The textures are brownish and washed out. The artistic design is bland and drab. The environments are dull, boring, and lifeless. The game looks more like something from the late 1990s than a supposed top of the line, modern graphical wonder.

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    Companies need to learn that there is more to a quality visual experience than just the number of polygons you pump out. If you do not have good artists and inspired design, anything you put on the screen is going to end up looking mediocre (or worse).

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    The boring, unimaginative designs for their armor and weapons surprised me because Anarchy Online (Funcom's first MMORPG) really excelled in this department. AO has great looking armor, extremely cool looking weapons, and an enormous selection of "social clothing" you could use for your characters. Age of Conan lacks all of those positives.

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    This article is part 1 of a 4 part review. Please continue reading: