As part of the second phase of looking back and analysing the game we've seen for the past three years - initiated back in March with the Class Story Critiques - I have decided to dedicate a post looking at which planets I view to be the most beautiful in-game, from launch to where we are right now.
I did set myself some rules before seeking the upcoming screenshots:
- These planets have to be accessible by both factions in order to count.
- Any areas shown pictured must be open or at least visible to both factions, and not part of any class or faction-specific phase.
- People have to be able to access these planets by themselves without need for a group.
- You have to be able to use your ship to access these planets.
So, let's get started.
Honorary Mention: Rakata Prime
I acknowledge that I am cheating with this, seeing as one has to enter a Flashpoint phase in order to access this planet and can't use your ship. It is indeed only this aspect in which Rakata Prime suffers, as otherwise it would easily be in the 'true' top 5.
Rakata Prime is obviously the setting for the Flashpoint Legacy of the Rakata, but it has been visually constructed in the original Knights of the Old Republic game, hence its prominence in the later stages of the Forged Alliances story. The Temple of Ancients is quite a faithful reconstruction, although the surrounding jungles and scenery have received a much-needed improvement. Rock pools, waterfalls, and lakes of pristine blue water and sandy beaches serve as the general territory to traverse through, and the general atmosphere is just absolutely stunning, helped no less by the occasional basking Varactyl.
Rakata Prime also has one of the only known instances of rain and lightning being seen from a considerable distance, rather than being consistently overhead as on Dromund Kaas. As with everything else, it just adds more and more to the ambience of the world.
For many, Voss is just the penultimate planet and often the one where Level 50 is reached. As such, people rarely get the opportunity to see just the absolute beauty that this world offers, helped no less by the fact that the actual planet quest itself takes you to actually quite repulsive areas; you must explore elsewhere to get to the more beautiful parts. Voss, for those of you who don't know, is actually almost entirely a BioWare initative; Voss is only known from The Old Republic. Thus, we have nothing to compare it to which we do with the vast majority of the other planets - the only other case being perhaps Belsavis.
Regardless, the planet which they have created from scratch has proved successful, mostly because of the strange methods of the Voss. I'd like to say that the planet itself, particularly when you take the time to explore, is responsible for this as well, but I sadly think that Voss is one of the most under-appreciated planets in the game for natural beauty.
Much like Rakata Prime, one could technically claim that I was cheating with this entry. Although one can access it using your Ship, Manaan has one function; to be a hub for one vendor, a mission phase, and the Depths of Manaan Flashpoint. That's all that there is to this world in The Old Republic, and I think that's a real shame, but it doesn't really make sense for there to be anything beyond this; Manaan is truly a neutral planet, and there should be nothing but serenity and goodwill here. The Flashpoint is another story entirely.
Much like Rakata Prime, Manaan could be visited in KOTOR, and again I would state that it is a faithful reconstruction. You don't visit Ahto City, it having been bombed, and both of these areas are vastly smaller than Ahto, but it regardless feels like it. It of course helps that they use the exact same music as in KOTOR, which just does call KOTOR veterans back and helps everyone enjoy this calm, serene world.
#3: Yavin IV
If I could describe SWTOR's depiction of Yavin IV in a tongue-in-cheek manner, it would be calling it "the bigger version of Rakata Prime". You have the similar lakes, creatures all over the place, and you even have an indigenous tribal species. Of course there's more to the planet than this. Yavin IV mixes the eerie jungles and caves with impressive architecture and temple ruins, and the result is utterly magnificent.
Yavin IV is of course going to be the planet with the newest incoming Stronghold, and although I first questioned the choice, it's planetside areas such as this which make me realise exactly why it was a choice. From what images have been released of the Stronghold, there will be a similar lake with a rainbow included, and Yavin's rainbows are beautiful. This is the first planet to include them, and I hope there are going to be more in the future.
Yavin's exteriors are beautiful, but even the cave network connecting the first and second areas can be eerily so as well. I particularly love the little fireflies you can just make out flitting around. However, there is one final aspect of Yavin IV which makes it all the more beautiful.
The gas giant Yavin ominously looms over the scenery! The sky is actually incredibly busy and it's very difficult to get a clear shot of it, as every so often a group of starfighters or a shuttle or a flock of Stonerays will fly past. Indeed, a Stoneray can only just be seen narrowly edging itself in on the right-hand-side of the frame. All the same, just looking out to the horizon and seeing a Gas Giant is absolutely wonderful. Yavin IV is of course famously seen in Episode IV: A New Hope, but aside from the opening of the Great Temple, all we can see of it are treetops, much like the above screenshot. We don't really have any canonical idea of what Yavin IV looks like on the ground, although this isn't the first game to offer its own unique interpretation, and this particular interpretation makes Yavin out to be far more beautiful than any other seen thus far.
Rishi actually features a lot of things which both Yavin IV and Rakata Prime also feature which make both of them great planets. What makes Rishi different is that it has a bustling and more modern civilisation. Both the native Rishii and the pirates who have adopted the world as a haven have created a bustling trade port whilst leaving large swathes of the scenery unharmed.
Mountains and waterfalls are abundant absolutely everywhere, and the various palm trees and beaches create an impression of a tropical paradise. Much like Yavin IV, though, there is something outside of the planet itself which makes it all the more beautiful. Because of the nature of the planet's story, both of the main separate areas are actually set at different times in the day; the first is set in the afternoon, and the second is seemingly set at daybreak following the encounter with Shae Vizla which is set at night. So in the second area, you have a calm and serene area with an absolutely beautiful purple sky with tinges of orange, and then you look in the right place and you see...
... a wholly separate Galaxy! This is the famous Rishi Maze, a Dwarf Galaxy which orbits that of the main Star Wars universe. Rishi is the only planet which we know of so far which has such a clear view of this amazing spectacle, and it can even be seen in the cutscene of your ship flying down to the planet, resulting in an even larger and clearer view. Whilst Rishi has been visually-recognised before, notably in The Clone Wars, this is the first interpretation which depicts the tropical jungle and pirate haven combination which we have access to, and it looks absolutely wonderful.
Alderaan has always been my favourite in-game planet. The scenery is magnificent, the architecture is amazing, the music is beautiful... there doesn't seem to be that much to dislike about it. This planet is the most notable for using perhaps the biggest and most beautiful background "paintings" which dominate the skybox. In this case, the huge mountain ranges are depicted actually pretty close to our questing areas, which adds to the general scale of the planet.
Indeed, Alderaan is one of those planets where just this background in itself, with none of the other "actually-physical" scenery anywhere to be seen, can make a beautiful image. This is directly behind Castle Panteer, where Bouris Ulgo infamously sets himself up as King of Alderaan. You can probably unfortunately see that these mountains are just the same two as in the first screenshot from Alderaan, just with their positions switched. It doesn't diminish the grandeur in any way in my eyes, though. The snowy mountainous scenery and architecture, particularly in the case of House Organa, is designed with the buildings shown all too briefly in Episode III: Revenge of the Sith, and it's nice to see these reconstructed in this game.
There are obviously many more planets besides these in the game, several of which are also very worthy contenders for the most beautiful of them all. It's regardless a wonderful experience to be able to visit all of these wonderful worlds in-game, as each has a tiny bit of beauty ingrained somewhere, be it in the ambience or just the visualisation of the world itself.