With the next generation of consoles rapidly approaching, Epic Games has decided to provide a first look at the next version of its graphics engine, Unreal Engine 5. The company showed off the capabilities of the engine with a demo running on the PlayStation 5, which you can see above, though it will support both current-generation and next-generation consoles, as well as PC, Mac, iOS, and Android.
There are two key additions in Unreal Engine 5 that promise higher-quality graphics than what we've seen before. First, there's Nanite virtualized geometry, which essentially means developers can import "film-quality" source art, such as ZBrush sculpts and CAD data, and it will just work without developers having to worry about polygon budgets. It also isn't necessary to create details for normal maps, and there's no loss in quality.
The other key feature is Lumen, a new global illumination system that promises more realistic and dynamic lighting. Epic says Lumen can render "diffuse interreflection with infinite bounces", and this works at very large and very small scales alike. The effect of this capability can be seen as light sources change, such as by changing the angle of sun, turning on a flashlight, and so on, as the lighting adapts to every change in real time.
Epic says that Unreal Engine 5 will be available in preview early next year, with a full release planned for late 2021. The current release of Unreal Engine, version 4.25, already supports the upcoming consoles, and it will be possible to move projects to the next version once it's available. Epic Games itself will be updating Fortnite to be built on Unreal Engine 5 in mid-2021.