World of Warcraft sometimes gets panned for its graphics, which have never been on the bleeding edge of virtual reality. This, however, was a deliberate choice on Blizzard's part, and I think it's a good one. It allows for people who are behind the hardware curve (such as myself) to enjoy the game, and the graphics' intentional cartoonishness holds up better over time than hyper-realistic renderings, which often seem horribly dated within months. More importantly, WoW's beauty hasn't suffered for it. Azeroth is stunning.
I've compiled a list of the ten spots I personally find to be most beautiful, and by spots, I truly mean spots, not entire zones. I expect many of you will have wildly differing opinions, and I look forward to reading about them. The ten locations are listed in alphabetical order by zone; there's no way I could actually order them - I would never be able to decide!
1. The beach behind Ahn'Qiraj
Our own Olivia Grace nominated this location and provided the screenshot, and I couldn't agree more. As the name implies, this is the secret beach behind Ahn'Qiraj, an eerie, deserted spot that has a lonely beauty all its own. It's an ideal place for your toon to sit and watch the sun set over The Veiled Sea.
2. The Bitter Reaches (Azshara)
Azshara was one of the most affected zones of Cataclysm, and while the changes have in many ways revitalized the area, I will admit that I was sad to see the original Azshara go. It was the place I always went to when I wanted true solitude in game, but didn't want to spend ages swimming around a coastline to get to a secret area. Azshara just felt remote. Its orange, red, yellow, and brown color palette gave it a desolate, autumnal beauty that really can't be found anywhere else in the game. Though it's been heavily remodeled by the goblins, some of its former incarnation persists in places such as the Bitter Reaches, and for that I am glad.
3. Dalaran (Crystalsong Forest)
Dalaran is, to my mind, easily the most beautiful city in the game, though Silvermoon gives it a run for its money. With soaring purple spires and warm red-bricked streets, Dalaran feels inviting enough to actually live in. Dalaran also boasts an impressive view of the Storm Peaks and Icecrown from its position high above the ethereal glowing trees of Crystalsong Forest, a stunning zone in and of itself.
4. Oneiros/Jademir Lake (Feralas)
I love Feralas as a whole. Like Azshara, it has a real sense of remoteness that's not often found in WoW. I spent a while flying around the zone trying to determine the best spot, and eventually settled on Oneiros and Jademir Lake, which borders Dream Bough, one of the four portals into the Emerald Dream. All four portals have lovely scenery, but this one is my favorite. This area is easily accessible for Alliance thanks to the flight point at nearby Dreamer's Rest, but Horde will have to do a bit more running.
5. The river mouth in southern Howling Fjord
I think there are many Alliance players who vividly remember the first time they took the boat into Howling Fjord from Menethil Harbor. The above screenshot is one of the first sights that greets you as you sail into Valgarde - an ever-burning Vrykul ship chained to the cliffs above the narrow channel. Black smoke pours into the sky, nearly obscuring the center of the bridge above. It's one of the most memorable tableaux I've witnessed in all of WoW, and one of the most visually arresting.
6. Sun's Reach Harbor (Isle of Quel'Danas)
Quel'Danas, Eversong, and Silvermoon were all shoo-ins for this list, the only hard part was deciding which specific location it would be! There are some beautiful spots in southwestern Eversong, such as Goldenbough Pass, which were strong contenders, but in the end I settled on Sun's Reach in Quel'Danas itself. Quel'Danas incorporates both the lovely Thalassian architecture from Silvermoon as well as the gorgeous golden-leaved, white-barked trees from Eversong Woods, and combines them in such a way that brings out the best of both.
7. Shrine of Fellowship (Jade Forest)
I think Jade Forest is easily the prettiest zone in Pandaria, and the Shrine of Fellowship is one of my favorite places there. Situated at the top of a peak, you can take in the view without the trees themselves crowding out the other sights. While you're there, don't forget to straighten the broken incense burner for your Restore Balance achievement.
8. Halaani Basin (Nagrand)
Nagrand remains a perennial favorite among WoW players, and for good reason. It's one of the few zones in Outland that feels truly lush despite the huge amount of damage Gul'dan, Nerzhul, the Burning Legion, Illidan, and Kael'thas have all inflicted upon the land. This particular location is the Halaani Basin, my choice primarily because I love the eternal waterfalls pouring out of that floating rock in the left side of the picture. The never-ending spring is one of the many indicators that Outland is positively soaked in magic.
9. Whispering Forest (Tirisfal Glades)
Long ago, after the War of the Ancients, the quel'dorei were exiled from Kalimdor for refusing to give up the use of magic like the other night elves. They sailed across the sea to what is now known as the Eastern Kingdoms, and the western part of Tirisfal Glades is the first place they tried to settle. It didn't go so well for them; after a few years many of them inexplicably went mad. The other high elves decided this wasn't the place for them after all, and continued north to found Quel'Thalas. Some say that an Old God resides beneath that region of Tirisfal, and that's the source of the madness. Nobody knows for certain, but the Whispering Forest remains a lonesome, haunted, primal wood prone to strange occurrences.
10. Tenebrous Cavern (Vashj'ir)
Located in the eastern portion of the Abyssal Depths, the Tenebrous Cavern incorporates many of my favorite elements of both Vashj'ir and the real ocean: the giant worms, idly floating jellyfish, huge sea anemones, and beautiful corals. Vashj'ir was a given for this list as soon as I sat down to devise it, and it was tough to narrow it down to one location. There are many I think are equal contenders for this list. In the end it was simply a matter of personal preference (and jellyfish). Kelp'thar is also a beautiful place, as is the sunken city of Vashj'ir itself.