Skip to main content

3 Unreal Engine 5 features PC gamers need to know about

Epic just opened up Unreal Engine 5 to all developers, after releasing the game engine into early access in 2021. It’s being used to develop a new Tomb Raider game, and it promises to provide a true generational leap in how games are developed for PC and consoles.

Short of Fortnite, we don’t have any Unreal Engine 5 games at the moment. But there’s still a lot to get excited about. Here are the three most important Unreal Engine 5 features that will make PC games look and play better than ever.

Temporal Super Resolution

Akito attacks enemies with magic in Ghostwire: Tokyo.

Temporal Super Resolution (TSR) is the defining feature of Unreal Engine 5, even if it takes a back seat to the fancy new lighting and shadow engines. TSR is an internal super sampling tool that allows the game to achieve near-native image quality while rendering at a lower resolution, which improves performance.

It was key to getting Epic’s The Matrix Awakening demo running, and we’ve already seen it in action in Ghostwire TokyoAs features like Nvidia Deep Learning Super Sampling (DLSS) and AMD FidelityFX Super Resolution (FSR) have shown, supersampling is the linchpin for the next generation of graphics, offering the visual flare of features like ray tracing without the performance penalty.

TSR is special because it’s not caught up in the shenanigans of upscaling features from AMD, Nvidia, and Intel. It’s a general solution built into Unreal Engine 5, and it works across graphics cards and consoles. Developers can now easily integrate high-quality, temporal upscaling to their games without concern of vendor lockout.

Based on our early look in Ghostwire Tokyotoo, it offers similar image quality to native resolution while doubling performance, in some cases. For PC gamers, that hopefully means being able to jump up a resolution, or push more demanding features without the performance cost.

Lumen, Nanite, and virtual shadow maps

Lighting in Unreal Engine 5.

TSR is so important because of the improved rendering features of Unreal Engine 5. The three major new rendering features are Lumen, Nanite, and Virtual Shadow Maps (VSM), each of which works together to provide more accurate lighting and world detail at a lower performance cost.

VSM and Nanite have a similar idea behind them. Both virtualize highly-detailed rendering techniques and only feed the player the detail that matters. In the case of VSM, a massive shadow map is broken up into chunks, and only the chunks that matter to what the player can see are rendered. Similarly, Nanite is a geometry system that “intelligently does work on only the detail that can be perceived and no more.”

Bringing these two features to life is Lumen, which is a new dynamic global illumination system in Unreal Engine 5. It looks to strike a balance between cheaper screen space global illumination and the more demanding ray-traced global illumination. Similar to Nanite and VSM, it can break up fine details — such as diffused indirect lighting — and render them at a lower resolution. Critically, Lumen also supports hardware-accelerated ray tracing.

Together, the three features should bring a sense of depth we’ve never seen before in PC games. We only have The Matrix Awakens demo and Epic’s 2020 UE5 demo to go off of now, but both bring more realistic lighting than we’ve ever seen before. With features like TSR, as well as the performance-saving measures in Unreal Engine 5’s new rendering features, we may see real games that look as good.

Mass AI

Mass AI system in Unreal Engine 5.

We’ve focused mainly on graphics, but Unreal Engine 5 also includes some features that will improve gameplay. The new “Mass AI” system is what we’re looking at here, which provides a set of tools for developers to place dynamic characters in an open-world setting that each has its own simulations running.

The Matrix Awakens showed this system in action. Epic technical director Jeff Farris said in an interview that this A.I. system was used to simulate 35,000 crowd members, 18,000 vehicles, and 40,000 parked cars in the demo. Even more impressive, the system can simulate all of that regardless of where the player is.

Traditional open-world games only pull A.I. instructions based on where the player is, so an NPC on the other side of the map is just sitting and waiting for the player to show up. Epic is able to achieve large-scale A.I. simulations thanks to features like Smart Objects, which include instructions for interaction baked into the object, and Mass Avoidance, which is an avoidance system for large sets of NPCs.

That should translate into more dynamic open worlds. If you leave a group of NPCs and come back a few minutes later, you won’t see the same loop of characters performing the same tasks. The next entry in The Witcher franchise is using Unreal Engine 5, which speaks to the power of this A.I. system.

Editors' Recommendations

Jacob Roach
Senior Staff Writer, Computing
Jacob Roach is a writer covering computing and gaming at Digital Trends. After realizing Crysis wouldn't run on a laptop, he…
Two years later, the PS5 could never live up to its performance promises
A PS5 standing on a table, with purple lights around it.

The seams of the PS5 and Xbox Series X are starting to crack. Over the past week, two games launched that challenged the status quo for performance on current-gen consoles: A Plague Tale Requiem and Gotham Knights. Unlike nearly all console releases since 2020, both games shipped locked at 30 frames per second (fps) without a performance mode.

In late 2020, when the Xbox Series X and PS5 debuted, the norm was that players could opt for a high resolution at 30 fps or sacrifice a bit of visual fidelity for a smooth 60 fps. Sony never explicitly said the PS5 would always deliver a smooth 60 fps (Microsoft hinted at it), but that has been the expectation over the past two years. That's changing, and the situation won't improve going forward, especially for these third-party releases.
Next-gen, aging

Read more
Gotham Knights resurrects Arkham Knight’s massive stuttering problems
gotham knights preview harley quinn missions

Gotham Knights isn't off to a good start, especially on PC. After the developer announced the game would be locked to 30 frames per second (fps) on console with no performance mode, I immediately saw visions of the infamous Arkham Knight PC port -- and my worst fears were confirmed.

Although Gotham Knights isn't as disastrous on PC as Arkham Knight was at launch, the game still has serious performance issues. It's demanding without much of a visual payoff, but the real issue comes down to how much the game stutters regardless of the hardware you're using.
Get ready to stutter

Read more
DDR5 can improve PC gaming performance, but it’s still a useless upgrade
DDR5 RAM installed in a PC with the ReSpec logo.

DDR5 -- it's all PC gamers can take about now that AMD Ryzen 7000 is about to launch. Although Intel has supported DDR5 since the launch of its 12th-gen Alder Lake processors, Ryzen 7000 is the catalyst that will kill last-gen DDR4 off for good. When you next upgrade your PC, you'll need DDR5, but paying up for a faster kit of memory may not translate into real-world performance gains.

One of the best DDR5 kits will still offer a great gaming experience, but the delicate balance of speed and latency puts high-end DDR5 in a precarious position. On one hand, faster DDR5 can offer practical differences in some games, but on the other, even faster kits can result in lower performance. And in some games, RAM speed doesn't matter at all.

Read more