If you’ve ever played hit games like Fortnite, Valorant or Dead by Daylight then you already have firsthand experience with Unreal Engine. With a staggering number of features and many years of development backing it up, it’s no wonder Unreal Engine is such a mainstay in the world of gaming. 

But as it turns out, Unreal Engine is good for more than just games: Its 3D graphics capabilities are so robust that it’s now being used in a number of other industries too. And since it’s free to use, there’s no reason Unreal Engine can’t bring your creative visions to life. 

What Is Unreal Engine? 

First released in 1998 as the engine behind Unreal, a first-person shooter video game, Unreal Engine has since become one of the most widely-used game engines in the world. In fact, it’s even been used to create some of the most visually stunning movies and TV programs of our time. 

So how was Unreal Engine able to bridge the gap between video games and the film and TV industries? It all comes down to real-time rendering.

Specifically, Unreal Engine is built to render photorealistic visuals in real time. While other 3D programs can create imagery which is comparable to that of Unreal Engine’s, the difference is that they typically take hours to render their final results. 

With Unreal Engine, though, the artist’s final results can be more quickly rendered, and the preview of those results is instantaneous. 

And perhaps most surprisingly of all, Unreal Engine is completely free to download and use for: 

  • custom projects;
  • linear content (such as movies); and
  • Internal (i.e. personal) projects.

You can even use Unreal Engine to develop video games at no extra cost—you’ll only need to pay a five percent royalty fee if your game earns more than $1 million USD.

Given that some 3D graphics programs cost hundreds of dollars just to download, that pricing system seems entirely reasonable. 

So if you’re an aspiring filmmaker, a seasoned game developer or something in between, Unreal Engine can give you the tools you need to bring your next creation to life. 

Creating With Unreal Engine

So you’ve downloaded Unreal Engine, and you’re ready to start creating. Now what? 

In truth, the biggest challenge here is deciding what to make first. That’s because Unreal Engine can be used to create a myriad of projects. 

Video Games

Since Unreal Engine was originally created to provide 3D graphics for video games, it’s no surprise it still excels at them. 

Within Unreal Engine 5, a third-person shooter game is displayed. The current scene depicts two players, represented by gray human-like forms, walking through a blue checkerboard-pattern 3D space.
In the Skillshare class “Unreal Engine 5 Blueprints (UE5): Develop Your First Two Games,” teacher Pixel Helmet puts the finishing touches on a third-person shooter game. 

And with its drag-and-drop assets, straightforward importing system and game-centric features, you can start creating your first games in Unreal Engine now. 

You aren’t limited to shooters, either: Unreal Engine can also be used to create platformers, puzzle games, mobile games, action role-playing games (RPGs) and more. 

Virtual Films 

More of a filmmaker than a game designer? No problem—Unreal Engine can be used to create original movies, TV shows and special effects, too. 

A three-dimensional depiction of a cloaked figure with glowing red eyes standing in a dark cave. The cave’s opening is positioned just behind the figure, sharply silhouetting its outline.
In the Skillshare class “Intro to Virtual Filmmaking in Unreal Engine,” teacher Cinematic Captures plays a scene from a short film they created with Unreal Engine.

All the features that can be used to create striking scenes in video games, including dynamic lighting, realistic shadows, detailed 3D assets and more, can all be used for cinematic purposes instead. 

That’s true whether you’re creating an animated movie entirely in Unreal Engine or adding special effects to a live-action scene—the choice is yours. 

Architectural Visualization and Interior Design

Since it excels at making photorealistic scenes, it’s only natural that Unreal Engine would be used for interior design and architectural visualization (archviz for short).

Within Unreal Engine 5, an interior bedroom scene is displayed. It consists of a modern bed, nightstand, two chairs and two plants, all on a hardwood floor. Below the scene, a menu displays various texture options.
In the Skillshare class “Unreal Engine 5: Architecture Visualization / Interior Designing,” teacher Abdul Nafay demonstrates how to add textures to an interior scene. 

And since Unreal Engine makes it easy to import assets from outside sources (and to find new ones via the Unreal Engine Marketplace), you can decorate your archviz or interior design scenes with just about anything you can think of. 

Want to design the next Sydney Opera House, or maybe just experiment with your living room furniture layout? Unreal Engine can help you do it. 

Unique Artworks 

Unreal Engine is a tool with more than just practical applications—it can also be used to create beautiful art, simply for art’s sake. 

Blue and pink blocks rising at varying heights from a cream-colored grid. The blocks in the bottom left are the tallest, while those in the upper right are the shortest.
In the Skillshare class “Unreal Engine | Develop Your First Interactive Art,” teacher Yu Fujishiro shows a type of colorful, motion-controlled art that can be created with Unreal Engine. 

Interactive scenes, abstract landscapes, realistic portraits and even virtual reality (VR) art can all be created with Unreal Engine. In short, the only limit to the kinds of art you can create using Unreal Engine is that of your own imagination. 

Games Made With Unreal Engine 

The list of video games made with Unreal Engine is a long one, but there are certainly some titles which stand out from the rest. 

Fortnite

Made by Epic Games, the company responsible for creating and developing Unreal Engine, Fortnite is one of the most widely-played and recognizable games around. 

If you’re not familiar with it already, Fortnite is a third-person shooter that gained popularity with its “battle royale” mode in which players compete to be the last one standing. 

Its colorful environment, responsive graphics and cartoon-like characters all come courtesy of Unreal Engine. 

Valorant 

Created by Riot Games, the developer behind League of Legends, Valorant is a first-person shooter that found fast success among competitive and casual gamers. 

Like Fortnite, Valorant features colorful and distinctive characters with cartoonish qualities. But unlike Fortnite, it also boasts realistic-looking environments to provide a convincing first-person experience. 

Chivalry 2 

Centered around brutal medieval combat and all the grit, grim and bloodshed associated with it, Chivalry 2 is anything but cartoonish. 

It delivers gory dismemberments, bloodsoaked battlefields and glistening armor, all in a believable medieval setting of open fields and stone forts. Thanks to the capabilities of Unreal Engine, all those elements come together to create highly immersive combat. 

Street Fighter V

One of the best games for showcasing Unreal Engine’s versatility, Street Fighter V is an arcade-style fighting game that pits two players (or one player and a computer) against each other. 

With side-scrolling gameplay that forces players to face each other head-on, this fighting game is all about action. But with its gorgeous backdrops and highly detailed characters, it’s easy to get distracted by the graphics too. 

Tetris Effect

To help this modern iteration of the classic puzzle game of Tetris stand out, developers used Unreal Engine to make its visuals nothing short of spellbinding. 

With sparking fires, graceful whales, soaring air balloons and graceful mermaids, there aren’t many magical scenes that Tetris Effect hasn’t portrayed in its signature sparkling style. 

Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice 

A prime example of how even a small game development company can make a big impact with Unreal Engine is Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice

The recipient of numerous awards, including several from the British Academy of Film and Television Arts (BAFTA), this is a third-person adventure game that takes place in Viking Hell and tackles topics like psychosis, death and the afterlife. 

And with the help of Unreal Engine, Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice successfully creates an environment that evokes a sense of dread, suspense and isolation. 

Unreal Engine vs. Unity 

Unreal Engine may be one of the most widely-used 3D game engines, but that doesn’t mean it’s the only one. Its major competitor, Unity, is another game engine used by both hobby and professional developers. 

Like Unreal Engine, Unity: 

  • is available free of charge for individuals and many small organizations; 
  • can be used not only to develop video games, but also for movies, TV, visual effects, archviz and more; and
  • a staggering array of features designed to help users create any effect imaginable. 

But in other areas, the two game engines are markedly different. To choose the one that’s right for you, you’ll have to evaluate each difference according to your unique wants and needs. 

Programming Language 

Unreal Engine is written in C++, one of the most commonly used languages for video game development. But when you leverage Unreal Engine to make your own games, you’re not limited to C++; You can also use Blueprints, Unreal’s proprietary visual scripting system. 

Blueprints makes it easier for users to achieve their desired results, even if they’re not expert programmers themselves. So if you’re itching to bring your new game idea to life but don’t want to learn C++ before doing so, Blueprints makes it possible. 

Unity, on the other hand, is written in a combination of C++ and C-Sharp (C#). And when it comes to the language users must write in when working in Unity, C# is it. 

As a general purpose language created by Microsoft, C# isn’t as familiar to most game developers as C++ is. However, Unity’s own visual scripting system can help non-programmers start creating faster.  

Pricing 

Unreal Engine is free for most users, and the requisite five percent royalty only applies to developers whose Unreal-powered product generates more than $1 million in revenue. 

Crucially, you won’t be missing out on any features if you download Unreal Engine for free. If you choose to upgrade to their paid license, you’ll enjoy premium support and private training options, but won’t unlock any extra features. 

Unity is also free for many individuals and small businesses, but only if they earn less than $100,000 in revenue each year. 

Additionally, the free version of Unity isn’t the full version of Unity: It’s missing features like splash screen customization, game console deployability, the Havok physics engine and more, all of which can only be unlocked by upgrading to a paid subscription plan. 

Graphics 

Unreal Engine is perhaps best-known for its photorealistic rendering capabilities, and for good reason. Game developers and filmmakers have created some positively dazzling visuals with Unreal, including the otherworldly scenery of The Mandalorian.

As an added bonus, many of Unreal Engine’s presets, readily available textures and easy-to-use lighting systems make it possible to achieve polished results quickly. 

Unity is likewise capable of creating beautiful imagery for games, movies or other purposes, but it’s not as well-known for its ultra-realistic effects. 

Additionally, some artists and developers have come to the conclusion that it takes more effort to get polished-looking graphics with Unity than with Unreal. However, that could end up not being the case for you depending on the look you’re going for. 

Use Unreal Engine, Get Really Amazing Results

You don’t have to be a game developer or even a gamer to appreciate the power of Unreal Engine. Cartoon-like characters, sweeping vistas and super-realistic faces—this is an engine that does it all (and often for free). 

So if you’re thinking of learning how to use Unreal Engine, don’t hesitate to take the plunge. Even if you’ve never coded before, you can use Unreal to start making one-of-a-kind creations of your own.

Written by:

Carrie Buchholz-Powers