Unreal Engine 5 reveal debuts stunning real-time effects for next-gen game graphics

Written by Chad Norton on Wed, May 13, 2020 7:05 PM
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Tech demos are always fun, they’re a chance to see new technologies at work for new games to come, and today Epic announced their new version of Unreal Engine with a real-time gameplay demo on the PlayStation 5. Unreal Engine 5 includes a bunch of next-gen graphical features like dynamic global illumination (called, Lumen) and virtualized geometry (called, Nanite). Plus, Epic announced a new scheme for developers that will allow them more freedom financially when it comes to licensing the engine.

One of our goals in this next generation is to achieve photorealism on par with movie CG and real life, and put it within practical reach of development teams of all sizes through highly productive tools and content libraries,” reads the official blog post on Unreal Engine’s website. There’s a lot of cool stuff to unpack here, but for now, check out the demo in real-time below:

So we’ve finally got a look at what some real next-gen graphics can look like. So far we’ve only had some faux-gameplay trailers from the Xbox Series X gameplay reveal livestream, which in all honesty was a bit lackluster in terms of visual fidelity. However, Unreal Engine 5 seems to completely step it up with jaw-dropping effects running in real-time.

My first gripe is that it’s clearly not running at 60fps, this doesn’t inspire a whole of confidence in the next-gen consoles performance targets, but it is running at 4K at least so 1080p will most likely be able to achieve higher frame rates.

Now onto the juicy stuff. First up we have Lumen, a new technology used in UE5 which renders “diffuse interreflection with infinite bounces and indirect specular reflections in huge, detailed environments, at scales ranging from kilometers to millimeters,” which is basically a fancy way of saying it can react to any scene and light changes immediately with extreme detail, a much more dynamic form of basic global illumination. 

This will allow artists and designers to create more dynamic scenes without having to ‘bake in’ any lighting effects, the indirect lighting will adapt accordingly to any scene change like the angle of the sun, or turning on a source of light, or creating a hole in the ceiling. This also saves time for developers as they will no longer have to wait for lightmap renders to be baked in order to edit the environment, essentially reducing time used for experimenting with new lighting setups.

The next big piece of technology shown off was Nanite, also known as Nanite virtualized micropolygon geometry. This fancy bit of tech allows artists to create as much geometric detail as they want, meaning they can import film-quality assets that comprise millions or even billions of polygons directly into Unreal Engine V. Anything such as ZBrush sculpts, photogrammetry scans or even CAD data can be imported with no issues.

Nanite geometry is then streamed and scaled in real-time which eliminates the need for polygon count budgets, polygon memory budgets, or draw count budgets, as there is simply no longer a need to bake these details into maps or even manually author LODs.

They say that there is no loss in quality, and whilst this may be technically true, you can clearly see a faint blurriness on high-quality textures from far away. I could be completely wrong here and maybe my glasses were smudged or something, so what do you guys think? We’ve already seen some of this in dynamic resolution scaling in some games, but now this is being applied to the geometry in a scene rather than just the resolution of textures.

There’s more stuff here to talk about in terms of new and updated technology used in UEV, such as Chaos physics and destruction, Niagara VFX, convolution reverb, and ambisonics rendering. And each of them are exciting in their own way but we felt these were the biggest points to touch on.

Currently, Unreal Engine 5 is slated for launch around late 2021, but a preview build should be available earlier in the year, and will support both next-gen and current-gen consoles as well as PC, Mac, iOS, and Android. Plus, they are implementing features into UE5 to allow for compatibility with UE4 projects, essentially allowing developers to seamlessly transition to the new version without any issues, so they can get started on making next-gen games already.

Interestingly, they pointed out that Fortnite, which currently runs on the Unreal Engine 4, will be transitioning to Unreal Engine 5 when it becomes available as a proof of concept.

Now, probably the most significant change is licensing for developers, as Epic has waived any royalties for the first $1 million made with a game using UE5, allowing anyone to use and create games with the new engine for completely free until they hit that mark, after which will incur 5% royalties. This will undoubtedly pull more interest from developers to use UE5 instead of other engines available, such as Unity which requires you to purchase a license whether your game is successful or not.

Some examples for games using the previous version of Unreal Engine, UE4, (and some possibly even updated to UE5 next year) are Fortnite, Minecraft: Dungeons, Borderlands 3, Final Fantasy VII Remake, Gears 5, Hellblade: Senuas Sacrifice, PlayerUnknowns Battlegrounds, S.T.A.L.K.E.R. 2, The Outer Worlds, and Vampire: The Masquerade - Bloodlines 2.

What do you guys think of the new engine? What new features interest you? What games will we see updated to the new engine? How is this going to affect next-gen games? Let us know!

Our favourite comments:

There's a better chance of running this on a smart kettle than on my PC. Jokes aside, looks incredible. Always astonishes me how far tech has come.

JDeano

I hope this demo is available for everyone at some point, like Infiltrator is for UE4.

Pwnstix

Finally that Fortnite money has been put to good use. Btw according to Digital Foundry, the demo was running at 1440p 30fps and not 4k 30fps.

Kishaloy

Damn, if only they would use a more photo realistic character, then it would 100% look like an actual CGI movie of today. It looks so damn good, can't wait to see this level of graphics in games. I'm curious to see other engine demos, like cryengine and frostbyte. Haven't seen such demos on those really.

GreekBlood

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02:26 May-15-2020

Heard a tech-tuber talk about how this could make forward porting games easier by the engine (engine scaling the resolution of the game/textures to the hardware). Example running a ps5 game on a ps6 running faster and with more fidelity with minimum to no extra input from the developer.

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14:32 May-14-2020

All this is real-time on a 5k dollars graphics card maybe ? :)

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21:20 May-14-2020

They literally say "running on a PS5"

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14:20 May-14-2020

Why is stunning always the word used for video game graphics? I have never been stunned by how good a game looks.

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20:04 May-16-2020

Every assassin's creed I played. Think it looks awesome, until you boot it up and then it looks just like any other game. Not amazing, just good. This engine seems like a game-changer, but the developers have to make use of its features.

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11:40 May-14-2020

Is our reality just a demo running on Unreal Engine 5?

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10:39 May-14-2020

Raw textures were used
Imagine the files size...

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16:34 May-16-2020

Hence the SSD speed to stream the data. As a 3D artist I see the following happening:
1) SSDs MANDATORY for some games, with NVMes probably a required purchase at some point (PS5's SSDs are 10x faster than what we do over SATA);
2) Game sizes balloon. You think 150GB is a lot for a game...? LOL!
3) Game dev times shorter (hopefully) - asset optimization takes a lot of time. It won't be phased out entirely, since multiple GB per object in size for scans is something I wouldn't use in a game download, but it will make things faster.

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16:36 May-16-2020

4) HDD users will stall progress...why do people keep buying HDDs for gaming in 2020???!?!!?
5) Games will become more beautiful and easier to get into making! For now the optimization of models and such is not something we generally do in offline CG (stills, movies), so being able to skip all (or most of) that when making games - bliss! To prove this point, Epic had half the team making this demo pulled straight from the movie industry, by the way!

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18:38 May-16-2020

You think that demo had just 150gb? heh

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05:30 May-17-2020

No, I meant that everyone was "OMG" about RDR2 specs asking for 150GB HDD space... I'm saying 150GB is nothing compared to where we will be.

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19:06 May-17-2020

Xquatrox is right. 150GB is soon going to be nothing special about AAA games, if anything it will be viewed on the lower side of size requirements.

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20:07 May-16-2020

In comparison, the new call of duty requires 175 GB of disk size, while other AAA games are under 100 GB. How much storage would a call of duty on this engine need lmao.

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05:31 May-17-2020

YES :)

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08:38 May-14-2020

Did anyone else find the fluid simulation weird? The water appeared too dense to me.

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09:35 May-14-2020

yeah the fluid behavior was really strange

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10:03 May-20-2020

It looks okay, not like movie good, but it's good nonetheless. Fluid is one thing that has never been easy to get right in video games.

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16:39 May-16-2020

The water was total garbage, but I'm sure the fluid and particle simulation engines will get updated with time.
Also no mention of metals, mirrors and reflectivity - because I have a feeling it breaks their data streaming optimizations. Raytracing in particular needs data to be there behind you to render reflections, not be "deleted" by the data culling system.

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03:53 May-14-2020

I prefer such improvements over ray tracing,most of the times its makes negligible visual change

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16:41 May-16-2020

I had a discussion with some 3D people when I saw the demo and this was our observation: the layperson will pick this over raytracing. And generally - this is true. It's easier to observe a difference + raytracing would break the optimizations needed to make what you saw above happen at that level of detail/speed, due to how it works (not really the fault of raytracing, but rather the janky and hacky way rasterization works).

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10:08 May-20-2020

Actually, lighting is way more important than you might think. Pick GTA 4 for example. Just look how much bettert the game can look with a modded shader, without changing textures or props.


Ray tracing can look really good if implemented correctly, but these improvements with movie assets rendering in real time are amazing too. So many games lack sharpness in details, often they are pixelated and jagged (mainly because of low res textures).

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03:41 May-14-2020

"All this on a ps5" translates to "here is what you pc gamers could of had 3 years ago had you not been held back by consoles. :/

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11:40 May-16-2020

Totally agree with you! Though we must accept the fact that according to Epic Games CEO, PS5's SSD is far ahead of the best SSD solution you can buy on PC today

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16:46 May-16-2020

Considering PS5s SSDs are allegedly rated at 5.5GB/s and our M.2 NVMes are rated between 2GB/s and 5GB/s - sorta... It won't come down to needing those speeds for a good while, but an SSD in general will be REQUIRED to have soon.
If I were a dictator - HDD gaming would have been banned years ago anyway, but people still buy HDDs for their gaming libraries in 2020, so there's that sad news...

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16:37 May-18-2020

Even though Ps5 SSD is far-ahead of high-end PC's we not gonna see any big difference between third-party games

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16:44 May-18-2020

but PS5 first-party titles will definitely take full advantage of 5.5GB/s SSD

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01:58 May-14-2020

Just a word of warning - pay attention how little is talked about and nothing is shown about reflections!
The reason: When your "infinite detail" tech relies on heavy data culling - raytracing will outright break any optimization...for what is shown in the reflections must also exist in the rendering pipeline.


Also a PSA: DO NOT BUY HDDs! I have a feeling that SSDs will become an outright required spec for some games in the near future. UE5 even mentions the new PS5 SSDs as what allows such demo detail in the first place! (fast read speed)

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02:59 May-14-2020

That would be goddamn expensive. Not to mention they could walk the same road with what they did with PS Vita Memory.

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14:02 May-14-2020

Nobody is talking PS Vita memory cards - just pure memory speed at this point. It is what enables the asset streaming at a speed that goes around GPU memory limitations.
HDDs will make this outright impossible (at that level of quality, anyway) so buying them for gaming now is a dumb move. Has been for the last 5 years, IMO, but definitely so now.

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18:02 May-14-2020

I mean, of course they are not talking about PS Vita Memory, but the business that they're going to do. In regards to PS Vita memories, instead of releasing games for the handheld, Sony instead chase the potential off selling the memory cards. That's one of the blunder Sony made about PS Vita. Rather than letting consumers use standard SD cards in their systems, Sony instead developed proprietary memory cards for the Vita- cards that were priced at ridiculously high rates.


I hope it's not the case with PS5 SSD, even thought i'm sceptical since Tim Sweeney words screamed marketing to me.

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16:50 May-16-2020

I didn't need a history lesson of the Vita, since I'm an owner of one and I remember the fuss ;) Mine is hacked and modded with a 200GB Micro SD card for that reason :)
That being said - this is not what is happening. SONY is merely trying to out-compete the market by offering a killer system with fast load speed. It's gonna be a shock to most console "gamers", since all they ever knew is slooooow HDDs (we're ignoring the relative handful people who modded their consoles to have SSDs).

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03:54 May-17-2020

Eh, we'll see. I actually still install my games on HDD. I only use my ssd to boot my PC. I was planning to get another HDD, but this makes me think. I hope SSD sata price will go lower once M.2 NVME becomes the norm. I'm sceptical, but i truly hope that's the case.

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04:42 May-14-2020

I agree with the do not buy HDD's part for main boot/heavy games. With price for good SSD's as they are (even NVMe's like mine) they is little reason to not get at least a good 500 GB one.


Also, let remind ourselves to be careful about PR speak and any part about architecture and such. Hype aound the PS3's cell architecture and PS4 use of unified GDDR5 (I think) were supposed to be game changers. And weren't let's be honest.


Better engines do seem to be a big part of the future. Can't wait that's for sure.

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14:05 May-14-2020

Yes, after all it is a tech demo. HOWEVER, the HUGE game changer here is that artists no longer need to screw around with LODs and normal maps. I urge you to read Digital Foundry's article about it - it contains way more information about it all, but in a nutshell - movie environment artists and offline CG artists (such as myself) are now able to jump into the engine with full-res assets and the engine will handle the rest. That means game graphics will 100% start looking infinitely better than before. Not just a dream anymore.

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16:18 May-14-2020

The stuff that I'm hearing about what the engine does for the devs (or CG artists like you) is what I'm most happy to hear. Making better work flow and making it easy to work and render huge files and more.


Honestly I'm much more interested in engine developpement these days than raw hardware. Seems to me that we haven't heard much on this front in the last few years.


But hey, it seems that these changes will be great for everyone and I hope that it wasn't all PR speak and ''well it was a tech demo that didn't really show the limitations''.

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17:45 May-14-2020

The limitation will be raytracing for sure, I can tell you that much. I've just watched Nvidia's Jensen's Keynote for GTC 2020 and the unveiling of Ampere for datacenters. WHile there was no real relevant info there for gamers, my extrapolation of the information is that Nvidia are pouring a lot into raytracing and DLSS. The examples of DLSS 2.0 vs 1.0 showed a massive improvement. That being said - the new consoles are sitting with AMD, so 4K will still be iffy, considering the UE5 demo here ran mostly at 1440p, rather than 4K (dynamic resolution).

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17:48 May-14-2020

While Nvidia pour a bunch of power into raytracing - the engine will ultimately not be great for it...or at least you won't be having those "infinite" detail models with raytracing. When your tech is based on careful data culling (hiding of what is not drawn on screen) and raytracing demands stuff to be seen to rays to render reflections and GI - it won't work well together without some form of major performance penalty (even considering that raytracing itself would be perfectly done on the GPU without interfering with the raster performance).

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17:51 May-14-2020

This is also why we're not yet seeing RTX support in DOOM Eternal. id wanted to make sure the game runs to their spec first and then adapt any extra features. Problem is - their idTech7 engine also, surprise surprise, relies on heavy geometry culling - what you don't see is not there. That is how they were able to increase the level of detail in their game while having it run faster. But it's the exact opposite of what raytracing needs... This is why RTX, for now, works best with simple game levels (such as Quake 2), rather than AAA blockbusters.

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03:41 May-15-2020

Thanks for the great info! Definitely looking forward to all of this.


I'm using DLSS 2.0 with Control (that I just bought in the Epic sales) and it's goddamn impressive, especially compared with 1.0 that just made the image blurry. Honestly it looks better in many respects, but with 2/3 of the GPU needs (with quality mode). Raytracing is such a power hog. Eternal runs amazing and looks great also.


Definitely looking forward to my GPU upgrade when Nvidia launches the 4000 series (or AMD equivalent if it's better). in like 2023 or something.

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16:52 May-16-2020

Glad you like DLSS 2.0!
I watched Nvidia's GTC keynote as it came out and the samples shown comparing DLSS 1.0 and 2.0 were night and day. It seems really very usable right now.
I wish more games used it, as I'd like to give it a try at rendering a 5K image from a 1440p+ source... 4K or 5K (8K and 10K in some cases where VRAM allows) is my preferred resolution when the framerate allows :)

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18:08 May-16-2020

Right now in quality mode it upscales from 50% of your res (performance mode is from 25-30% app.). The image looks a bit like using the sharpening effect, but much more natural. Even with quality mode I get some artifacting around characters in motion, but it's very faint and well worth the performance boost. This is night and day compared with 1.0 (say in BFV) that just made it ugly and undefined. I would say that in many respects it looks identical or better than native res.


I think more games will use it, seems like NV is really pushing it.

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05:35 May-17-2020

I'd like to see an "experimental" build where DLSS is enabled via the Nvidia control panel (like DSR, MFAA, etc). I know they have to train the AI network with a bunch of hyper res screenshots of each game to put the option there and for it to look good, so they are unlikely to offer DLSS globally and expect it to work perfectly. But I'd still like to try, just see how the AI can cope with random games, even when not trained especially for that game.

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14:09 May-19-2020

I've read that Nvidia now says that they don't need to train it on specific games. On their website they wrote: "DLSS 2.0 trains using non-game-specific content, delivering a generalized network that works across games". To be fair, how much of that is true is simply exageration or protecting secrets? I'm pretty sure they're working on the control panel feature, it would be so useful.


Perhaps on big releases the plan would be to train it on them to make it work even better on those games; at least that's what I would do.


I can't wait to see more.

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01:46 May-14-2020

They didn't bother with the character model and detail. It was meh


But everything else looked incredible. Unreal Engine 5 is getting released late next year. Good timing because i'll be getting an entire upgrade in 2022.

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01:32 May-14-2020

No loose hair tho...

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22:55 May-13-2020

Finally that Fortnite money has been put to good use.
Btw according to Digital Foundry, the demo was running at 1440p 30fps and not 4k 30fps.

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21:49 May-13-2020

As much as i dislike Epic, that was epic. It really seems like we're on a whole different level where certain numbers just don't matter any more.

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21:37 May-13-2020

Damn, if only they would use a more photo realistic character, then it would 100% look like an actual CGI movie of today. It looks so damn good, can't wait to see this level of graphics in games. I'm curious to see other engine demos, like cryengine and frostbyte. Haven't seen such demos on those really.

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21:14 May-13-2020

So they are just chasing numbers at this point. meh. Is it just me or does this look pretty ugly? Sure it has tons of details, but it looks quite ugly, maybe because it's full of details and depth or something... or the art style is just meh. The player model is meh as well, it's like they put 99% of their time on the environment and made horrible player character, just to have one. I swear the more realistic graphics get, the less good they look.

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21:26 May-13-2020

Can't say I agree. I'm not usually attracted to rocks but something's stirring.

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21:27 May-13-2020

yeah the player model is kinda meh.. but other than that it looks great with some tinkering here and there this thing would look way more amazing

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21:28 May-13-2020

I don't know how to put it... the environment looks like it's just overdone? If that makes sense? IDK, it's very unpleasing having so much details and depth.

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21:47 May-13-2020

I think that's just an art style preference. Regardless of the preference, the capability was pretty awesome. I still don't quite get how it all works, but it seems we're definitely on another level now.

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22:27 May-13-2020

it's technologically impressive no doubt. I too questioned if I don't like it because of the art style. Also it's not as complicated as they make it out to be. It's just that now we have the hardware to make it happen. It's just tons of collisions boxes that instead of stopping or blocking movement they do different things, like putting the hand on the door, or making those bugs get away from it in a random trajectory pattern and so on. Lighting is simple too, but again it's just that we didn't have such powerful hardware until now in consoles and in general.

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20:14 May-13-2020

I hope this demo is available for everyone at some point, like Infiltrator is for UE4.

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23:04 May-13-2020

However i haven't seen graphics comparable to the Infiltrator in a game.

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02:00 May-14-2020

However, scans and sculpts are already used in games. Heavily-optimized through hours and hours of work, but UE5 promises to take that effort away, which means you will actually see more detailed games. It's just a better way of doing things.

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19:31 May-13-2020

There's a better chance of running this on a smart kettle than on my PC. Jokes aside, looks incredible. Always astonishes me how far tech has come.

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21:34 May-13-2020

The more triangles he was talking about, the harder the fans on my system were spinning. Probably at 120%

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02:01 May-14-2020

I stopped reading after "The more triangles he was talking about, the harder..." xD

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Can They Run... |

| 60FPS, Ultra, 1440p
Ryzen 9 3900X 12-Core 3.8GHz GeForce RTX 3070 EVGA FTW3 Ultra Gaming 8GB 32GB
| 60FPS, Low, 720p
APU A8-7410 Quad-Core Radeon R5 7410 8GB
| 60FPS, Ultra, 1080p
Core i5-11400 6-Core 2.7GHz GeForce RTX 3050 Ti Mobile 8GB
| 60FPS, Ultra, 1080p
Ryzen 5 3600 6-Core 3.6GHz GeForce GTX 1080 MSI Gaming X 8GB Edition 16GB
100% Yes [1 votes]
| 30FPS, Low, 720p
Ryzen 5 3400G 4-Core 3.7GHz Radeon RX Vega 11 6GB
| 30FPS, High, 1080p
Core i5-11400 6-Core 2.7GHz GeForce RTX 3050 Ti Mobile 8GB
0% No [1 votes]
| 60FPS, Medium,
Ryzen 5 3500U 4-Core 2.1 GHz Radeon RX Vega 8 8GB
| 30FPS, Low,
Ryzen 5 3500U 4-Core 2.1 GHz Radeon RX Vega 8 8GB
| 60FPS, High, 1080p
Core i5-10400 6-Core 2.90GHz GeForce GTX 1650 16GB
0% No [1 votes]
| 60FPS, Ultra, 1080p
Core i7-7700K 4-Core 4.2GHz GeForce RTX 2080 Super 8GB 16GB
100% Yes [2 votes]
| 60FPS, Ultra, 1080p
Core i7-7700K 4-Core 4.2GHz GeForce RTX 2080 Super 8GB 16GB
100% Yes [1 votes]
| 60FPS, Medium, 1080p
Core i5-10300H 4-Core 2.50GHz GeForce RTX 3060 Mobile 16GB
0% No [1 votes]
| 30FPS, Low, 720p
Athlon II X2 245 GeForce GTS 250 4GB
| 60FPS, Ultra, 1080p
Core i9-10900X 10-Core 3.7GHz GeForce RTX 2070 Super Gigabyte Gaming OC 3X 8GB 32GB
100% Yes [1 votes]
| 30FPS, Medium, 1080p
Ryzen 5 3500U 4-Core 2.1 GHz Radeon RX 540X 2GB Mobile 8GB
100% Yes [2 votes]
| 30FPS, Low, 1080p
Core i5-4670 3.4GHz GeForce GTX 1050 Ti EVGA Gaming 4GB 8GB
100% Yes [3 votes]
| 60FPS, High, 1440p
Ryzen 7 3700X 8-Core 3.6GHz GeForce RTX 2080 EVGA XC Ultra Gaming 8GB 32GB
100% Yes [5 votes]