Unreal Engine is a pro-grade game engine that's accessible to everyone without any initial fees, but at the same time, it packs a big enough punch to power games like Borderlands 3, Star Wars Jedi Fallen Order and Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice, among many others. Epic Games has released a detailed presentation about Unreal Engine 5 and gaming devs are drooling over all the Epic features, pun intended.
While the devs are drowning in joy over the technical details, what does it all mean for gamers? I'm here, with my totally amateur game dev skills and fascination for games, to explain how Unreal Engine 5 will make the best use of NextGen Hardware. I'll try to keep all the information simple, non-technical and gamer-friendly.
1. Optimization for next-gen hardware
We've already seen how quick the load times are on next-gen hardware, thanks to a swift SSD. However, the CPU and GPU architecture of the next-gen consoles is a major improvement as compared to last-gen consoles, which means better graphics and performance. Unreal Engine 5 is tweaked to make full use of next-gen consoles' technical capabilities. If you're impressed by the AAA titles we've seen on PS5 and Xbox Series X so far, just wait for AAA titles that are natively built on PS5 and Xbox Series X.
Nanite revolutionized the polygon system. Historically, assets in video games were made out of polygons. More polygons meant more details and better graphics, but at the rate of performance. Nanite replaces traditional polygon meshes with a virtual polygon system that allows devs to add a huge number of polygons without taking a significant blow on performance. This means that the photorealistic assets that were previously reserved for high budget, pre-rendered films like Avengers will now be featured in video games.
Lumine is Unreal Engine 5's global illumination system. Lumine promises ray-tracing and reactive lighting on Unreal Engine 5. Since pictures speak louder than words, here's a comparison between traditional lighting in Unreal Engine 4 and Lumine and Unreal Engine 5.
4. Open Worlds
If there's one aspect where Unreal Engine 4 was behind its AAA competition, it was open world. Epic Games has set out to fix this problem with a number of improvements in Unreal Engine 5. For starters, designing an open-world game takes a lot of time and people. Unreal Engine 5 allows designers to work in one world at the same time, reflecting all the changes in real-time. This greatly improves the workflow and speed.
To keep up with the computational thirst of open-world games, Unreal Engine only renders a certain number of user-defined cells in the run-time. Horizon Zero Dawn used a similar concept where only the assets that the player was looking at were loaded at a time.
While that basically wraps up all the main points, there are also a number of nitty details like animation control rigs, particle systems, sound engine and much more. We'll just have to hold our horses and wait until a AAA studio push the Unreal Engine 5 to its limit to see its full potential.