I had already posted a line or two about performance issues that I was having with Age of Conan before, and now it's time for a full post. With roughly two weeks after EU release I feel like I've tried every little "fix" and "trick" there is to get my FPS rate up and can describe the problem thoroughly. If AoC runs fine for you, you might as well just skip this.
Just for the record, I first started playing the game using the following system:
Athlon XP 3000+ @ 2.25 GHz
1 GB DDR RAM
Radeon X800GTO video card
As you can see, it's just a little bit above the minimum requirements. The game didn't even start properly at first, but luckily, I found a fix on the official forums. You simply had to change the RenderSetting_ShaderModel setting from "1" to "0" in your prefs_2.xml file. The reason is, ATI X800 cards only support Shader Model 2.0; while there's an option in-game to change to SM 2.0, the game is "dumb" in a way that it starts with SM 3 by default and you have to start it with SM 3 to be able to change to SM 2.0 in options. But enough about this.
With the said system, I haven't done much gaming at all, but I was able to reach Tortage, getting around 20 FPS in the jungle on lowest settings, and an unplayable 5-15 FPS when I got to the city. Still, I was a bit impressed with the performance. If that's how an old system runs the game, with a proper upgrade I should be able to run the game very smoothly, right? Or so I thought...
As a gamer on a budget, I chose the following upgrade for my system:
Athlon X2 5000+ Black Edition @ 3 GHz
4 GB DDR2 RAM
Radeon HD3870 with 512 MB GDDR4 RAM
I also got a new 460W PSU from Zalman and a Freezer 64 Pro fan for the CPU. Spent the day configuring the system and overclocking; it scored about 10.1k in 3DMark06 and passed 4 hours of combined 100% CPU and GPU load, something no game can accomplish. In the process I stupidly set /3GB switch - several sites recommended doing this as it supposedly allocates 1 GB RAM to the OS and 3 GB to applications on a 32 bit WinXP and makes it use the RAM more efficiently. However, I encountered a lot of problems (like lower 3DMark score) so I don't think the switch is needed at all if you have WinXP SP2 or SP3. Removing it fixed everything. So far, so good. At least till I launched AoC...
Low FPS no matter what kind of graphics settings I use. Turning on Bloom, Anti-aliasing and 3D Occlusion doesn't decrease my FPS. Nor does turning them off give me any kind of FPS boost (although it does seem to reduce "stuttering" at times). Here are some screenshots which explain the problem:
- Screenshot 1 - 1024x768 resolution, Low settings, ~14 FPS
- Screenshot 2 - 1280x1024 resolution, High settings + Bloom + 4X MSAA + Advanced Transparency, ~15 FPS
In the wilderness or dungeons, it's another story. If I suddenly start getting low FPS, I am able to boost it somewhat by "tricking" the game, but this only works for a few minutes, or until the next zone. Basically you need to make any change that makes the graphics engine of the game restart (flicker to desktop and back). This includes changing the resolution or the MSAA setting. That's why if I'm getting 20 FPS in a zone (NOT a town though) I'm able to boost it to 30-40 by turning on 8X MSAA setting. Again, this doesn't make any sense whatsoever, as 8X MSAA is supposed to give much bigger load on the graphics card, and decrease the FPS. This too indicates some poor coding or unoptimized graphics engine.
I must also add that I've never seen the FPS go over 50 - never, period. It doesn't matter if I set the graphics to Low, disable all the shadows and occlusion manually, and even reduce the resolution and the view distance sliders. People with graphics card of similar performance to the Radeon 3870 (such as various 8800 GT or GTS models) are reporting up to 120 FPS on low settings in instances - something I can only dream of. Note, I don't care about getting 120 FPS instead of 60 - I am just comparing the performance here and trying to describe the problem.
This is a very widespread "low FPS problem" and I don't have much faith in Funcom's ability to fix it anytime soon. After all, it took them 5 years to get the game to the state where it is now (far from finished, as Gaute himself said) and "fixing" this problem would probably involve modifying the graphics engine itself. Some people even reported that the problem existed back in beta, but didn't receive any attention from the developers. It isn't listed as a "known issue" anywhere I could find even now!
Here are a few forum threads to read up, if you're interested.
http://forums-eu.ageofconan.com/showthread.php?t=13465 [now closed]
While everything I wrote here up till now is related to ATI 3870 cards, some people with nVidia cards are having similar problems as well - take this guy for example. Most fanboys respond to such problems with "Your PC is too weak for the next generation graphics of AoC, upgrade it" but that's just not true with the powerful computers listed in the threads linked above, and is simply ignoring the issue at hand.
Personally, I've made a clean WinXP SP3 install, downloaded the newest Catalyst 8.5 drivers and did everything else I could. All other games work just fine, so I have to make a conclusion that the problem is Age of Conan, not my system. Plus, note the number of people complaining about low FPS both on official AoC and AMD Game forums.
All I want is to enjoy the game I waited so long for, which I cannot at the moment. I hope the developers will officially recognize this as a real issue and then start working on fixing it. If you still don't believe this is real and are too lazy to read the 50+ pages of forum talk, just take a look at this post. All this person did was change his video card from 3870 to 8800GT, and the performance increased more than two times. Does this mean everyone has to change their cards to nVidia because they are "better"? Hell no. My 3870 runs other resource-hungry games just fine, and it makes you think if nVidia's "The way it's meant to be played" movie at the start of the game actually means something... Well, I know I won't be buying a new card just because Funcom can't code properly. Forget broken quests, feats missing descriptions and useless skills - they need fixing, yes, but this is something much more important, fundamental even.
Gaute Godager, the Game Director of Age of Conan says in his letter to the community that the game as it is now is merely a platform, the engine on which all the good stuff will be built. Well, it seems the platform itself is flawed.
Please forgive the long rant; I hope you understand how frustrating it is not to be able to enjoy the game to the full. It's playable, but the performance is not nearly close to what it should be. Hoping for better times in Hyboria soon.