In ancient times, hundreds of years before the dawn of history, lived a strange race of people: the beta testers.

The only thing more anticipated than the Clan of Conan newsletter (coming up next week) is beta screenshots. But first, some background.

When we do shows and presentations, we've been using an older build of the game, largely because it's much better to let the beta testers find interesting and exciting new crashes and not, say, an assembled crowd of gamers and journalists. So while the game looks great when you see it at a show, people that wear their skepticism like a protective shroud always like to wonder why we're showing an old build and what we have to hide. Could it be, like the moon landing, a wild hoax pushed onto a gullible public by an evil, globe-spanning conspiracy?

Of course not.

This Friday, we're presenting four snapshots taken with the build currently running on the General Beta servers, with accompanying narration from yours truly on why each one was chosen and what's interesting about it.

Part of what I like about Age of Conan is how much you actually feel like a shipwreck survivor grabbing whatever you can to stay alive. You'll notice that the outfit I'm wearing in the various screenshots is rather motley, like I'm just grabbing whatever is worth salvaging after crushing my enemies, driving them before me, and hearing the lamentations of the women. This is because that is precisely the case. This is a low-level character trying to make his way the only way he knows how, so his outfit is made up of whatever I could scrounge along the way.

I took the gauntets/sandals off a dead Pict, the pants off a poacher in the jungle outside Tortage, and the shirt off a pirate right after I crawled out of the surf. I bought the shield after scraping together funds by selling my precious pike and the sword was a reward for fending off some cannibal raiders. The highlight of the ensemble is the Pictish Death Mask, and I was nice enough to snap a close-up of it, which you can see here.

I think the look of it is what's neat: It's dirty, it's worn. It may have been buried with a body and dug up by a graverobber, bandit, or someone in need of stylish headgear for a day out with the Pictish ladies. And it's distinctive enough that I was running around the beta test and another tester said, “Oh, hey, it's you. I knew it was you because you always wear that silly hat.” While I'd inadvertently become the “That Guy That Always Wears A Fedora” of the beta, it does illustrate the point: He recognized me because of what I was wearing and my character's look.

Which brings me to my second point: Everyone looks different. Here's a group waiting for me to quit messing around with my silly hatso we can go out and kill Picts, and even though there's some shared gear between the different characters (which makes sense, since we're all fresh off the beach and just starting to level up), at a glance, you can tell who is who, even with the UI turned off.

Something else we're all having fun with is exploring the world. Even people who work here keep stopping my desk as I ran around the world doing quests to ask me where I was and how I'd found it. For example, I was tromping through the jungle, came around a corner, and saw this shipwreck. Like a tourist, I snapped a picture, just because my first reaction was, “Wow.” Then I called people over to come see the cool shipwreck I'd found. That's one thing you'll see a lot of in game: Lots of ruins, old shipwrecks on the beach, and other things that make it feel like a world people live in.

And for the “Just show the combat already!” crowd, I present this portrait called, “Man Accidentally Stumbling On A Camp Full Of Picts That Are None Too Happy To See Him,” or, colloquially, Oh Shit!”