Unreal Engine 5 vs Unreal Engine 4 – what has changed?

There has been a lot of changes since Unreal Engine 4. Probably more than I can cover in one article. Unreal Engine 5 has improvements across the board, I am really looking forward to this engine going live towards the end of the year. Although due to compatibility issues, I will not be upgrading my game to Unreal Engine 5, it would break compatibility, my game would break in the process. However, any new games I develop, I would be insane not to develop them in Unreal Engine 5.

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Why is Unreal Engine 5 a big deal?

Unreal 5 has across the board improvements, including chaos destruction, lumen lighting, nanite mesh, and world partition, allowing huge universes to be created, by loading and unloading sections as the player moves through the world.

Does Unreal Engine 5 improve performance?

Unreal 5 brings the lumen lighting system, making dynamic global illumination less costly and more efficient, nanite mesh, improving the quality of static meshes and making more beautiful and low cost environments, and improvements in physics and general efficiency.

Is Unreal Engine 5 free?

Unreal engine 5 in early access is currently free, and the engine itself will remain free for the entirety of it’s life cycle.

So what has changed since Unreal 4? Let’s get into it.


Arguably the biggest change in Unreal 5 is the switch over to Lumen Lighting. You will still have other options for your lights, you can probably still do RTX Raytracing. You can switch off both, and go back to baked lighting, if you’re on a really weak machine, otherwise I would not recommend it.

Lumen is dynamic real time global illumination, in essence, you can move lights around in the editor and they’ll update in real time, same with in game. Time was, you would bake the lighting, which can take anywhere from 1 minute to 10 hours depending on how high your quality settings were, then you’d move a light around, bake it again, then move it, bake it, move it, bake it, endlessly, taking up vast swaths of developer’s valuable time.

Now, you just move the light, and it will change in real time, no baking required. The process is now, you move the light, you move the light, move it, move it, move it, move it, ok I like this one, we’ll go with this. It was actually pretty beautiful moving a lightbulb through the trees in a nighttime scene, the light shining through the leaves as they blew in the wind, the shadows cast upon the ground, moving as the wind blew.

Lumen is definitely an improvement over baked lighting, baked illumination is the bane of every Unreal 4 developer, you have to have sat down and tinkered with Unreal for a few years, to truly understand how much time Baked Lighting actually wastes. It is common practice to leave lighting baking overnight. People have advised me of this, get the settings really high, put on a good bake before you go to sleep. Wake up in the morning and your lighting is beautiful. Hopefully, if you misplaced a light and it looks ugly, you’ll have to try again tomorrow night. urgh…. headache….

Lumen lighting is however, not as nice looking at RTX Raytracing. RTX looks better, but Lumen uses a fraction of the processing overhead, and it also works on a wider variety of hardware. It even works on my system, so you can bet it has low requirements. You’re going to have to decide if you want the best quality lighting, and only working on RTX cards, at the expense of a lot of overhead costs, or if you want to use the most efficient and low cost option, which looks very good, but not as good as RTX.

One of the things to be aware of is that Lumen will continue to be developed, and eventually will REPLACE ALL FUNCTIONS of RTX, so RTX is on the way out. RTX Cards are lot less useful as a result, you might start to see other competitors taking over the Nvidia market share a little bit.


Nanite mesh is a new kind of mesh, it allows for billions of triangles to be displayed on screen at once. It only sees and renders things that are visible on screen at any given time. So it doesn’t waste time rendering or considering things that can’t be seen. Nanite mesh is much higher quality mesh, you can enable it through the project settings, or if I’m correct, I believe it is enabled by default in all new projects, but disabled when opening a project, due to ensuring compatibility, and avoiding crashes. Nanite mesh is very efficient, it does not take up huge amounts of resources, in fact it takes up a lot less than standard high quality meshes used to, while maintaining equal or higher quality levels. It is on par with the highest quality meshes in quality level, and on par with the lowest quality meshes in file size and overhead.

Nanite mesh is a revolutionary addition which allow higher quality assets to be produced with lower cost to render.

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World Partition

World Partition is a new system designed to create Huge Expansive Open Worlds for the Unreal Engine 5. While Unreal 4 was already good at open worlds, Unreal 5 will open up your worlds allowing the creation of huge universes by loading and unloading sections natively and dynamically at runtime. You can manage these segments through a specialized new interface.

This will make open world games, a lot more standard in the new engine. You will see a lot more of them, because it is baked into the system. I suspect I will be making a lot of big open worlds with this system, as that is something I have always enjoyed doing, over standard levels, but the engine was found wanting and I could rarely get it to work.

In Unreal 5 it’s a different story, open universes will be everywhere.

Physics System Completely Overhauled

Unreal 5 introduces Chaos Physics, a new physics system built from the ground up for Unreal 5. It is a generational leap in physics capabilities, and will vastly improve the quality of Unreal Engine 5 games.

  • Rigid Body Dynamics
  • Rigid Body Animation Nodes and Cloth Physics
  • Destruction
  • Ragdoll Physics
  • Vehicles
  • Physics Fields
  • Fluid Simulation
  • Hair Simulation


Unreal Engine 5 will have a new destruction system. Ever since I played Red Faction I have loved destruction systems, and Unreal 5 will do it natively. It will use damage thresholds to control how difficult objects are to destroy, and connection graphs, to determine exactly how an object will break down and in what order it’s segments will break. So now in Unreal 5 we will have, no just huge expansive open worlds as standard across games, we will also see worlds filled with destruction, and destructible objects and terrain. Which is going to be fun.

Improved Cloth Physics

Unreal 5 brings across the board improvements in Cloth Physics. The old cloth physics system needed improvement, to say the least. I eventually stopped working with it on my models. It had a very unnatural look, and the skirt tended to jump around like it was in a hurricane whenever my character began to walk, eventually I just disabled it. But after a number of improvements and refinements, I think I might recant of that decision. I believe I will be implementing cloth physics in my games again.

Chaos Vehicles

Unreal Engine 5 will natively control vehicles. It can handle anything from 2 wheels to 8 wheels or more. You will see a lot more usage of cars in your games because they will be handled by default through specifically constructed systems. Previously, you would have to design and build the cars all on your own, now, Unreal 5 handles the control of cars for you. You will see a lot more of them. This will also work in conjunction with Chaos Destruction, so your cars will break down and fall apart as you crash into things.

Across the Board Physics Improvements

Unreal 5 will improve the basic function of physics with notable improvements in the fundamentals of physics, new physics systems, and other things like that, including physics fields, rigid body dynamics, rigid body animation system, and other improvements. You will see higher quality physics, in conjunction with chaos destruction and chaos vehicles. Unreal is gunning for advanced physics in ungodly huge open worlds, within which large amounts of objects will be destructible, and cars will be a lot more common. I can see the kind of games that will be made taking shape, and it looks like a really exciting future.

Final Thoughts

Unreal Engine 5 is looking to be a revolution in game design. And anyone sane will be using it. Unity is now looking vestigial, ugly, and primitive in comparison. Unreal 5 is set to quickly sweep the board and become the new standard in game design. The new Unity will have a lot on it’s plate if it wants to be competitive, and right now it is not even really being spoken of as happening anytime soon. Unreal 5 is going to be the new go to game engine for professionals, and indies alike. It will allow the creation of vastly superior games, and streamline the development process making games easy and efficient to make.

I look forward to working with it.

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