If it can be said, right now the most advanced graphics in any MMO (short of EvE Online) is AoC.
New techniques for shading and the way the graphics card is used (for example, part of their engine is a licensed piece that has also been purchased by both Turbine and NCSoft) help bring the game's visuals above other titles.
But, with Funcom's release, they also had a major setback in the cancellation of the DX10 module.
That will start to change, as coming in the next patch to Testlive is the DX10 settings that has been spoken of.
What is also noted on the latest ATI driver release (8.12 here) that the push is on for stability as well as some major visual quality changes.
Under resolved issues for the ATI driver is...
"Age of Conan DirectX 10, may intermittently become unresponsive during
game play" *Resolved*
This is the next step then for AoC's evolution.
I have noted before that for some games, technology is the driver for sales. Thanks to such advancements in hardware and the cost becoming very reasonable (the ATI 4870 has hit $199.00, which runs AoC at a perfect 60FPS with all the goodies on), games like Far Cry 2 and Crysis are becoming more of a reality to a standard PC user.
They also fly off shelves mostly in part of not being good games, but thanks to new technologies inherent in the engines.
Of course, the horsepower has not always been an advantage with DX10, as Crysis has shown some horrible performance for one...
But, good news is coming. Far Cry 2 recently had benchmarks done at HardOCP, which show better performance in DX10 than DX9.
This is important as it was one of the major componenets of Vista that was to drive sales. It failed horribly though.
This right here shows there may be cause to finally upgrade to Vista, especially with the right hardware.
Another argument was cost, but now I can build a system between 600-800 bucks that will run these games in DX10 perfectly.
Price is not a problem.
So, back to the issue at hand...Age of Conan.
I honestly believe one driving factor for sales was the DX10 moniker.
New technology is key to advancing how much we are able to leave our realm of reality and enter that fantasy world we wish to inhabit.
More realism will bring a player closer to enjoying that world.
Of course, bragging rights is another. Everyone wants to show off their rig. The fact that most review sites use AoC now as a way to test the newest hardware in gaming and for gaming purposes shows it is one of the titles being watched.
Adding the DX10 is just another hop on the evolutionary chain of computing power.
Now, if this works, then we could see another surge in populations (of course if server merges do not get going soon, it may not matter much).
I really think this is one of the reasons AoC survives though. Technology, and some innovation in how the game is played (cutscene quest givers, more realtime than most combat, and non-gear reliance are a few) help keep this game afloat.
Now, as content continues to get updated, and the merges take off, and then DX10 comes into play, AoC may outlive everyone's expectations...
All thanks to technology first and foremost...