Let’s try to settle this age-old debate, Unreal vs. Unity. The features, comparison, and finally, deciding the one you choose over the other.
Unity and Unreal are two of the best game engines in the entire industry. However, as a beginner, choosing between the two isn’t easy.
And that’s obvious, given that you have many people on either side of the fence.
So, issuing blanket statements favoring anyone isn’t wise, and the further sections indicate a few factors to help you realize the best game engine for your use case.
Without any further ado, let’s enter the battleground.
First featured in 1988, Unreal Engine has come a long way and is popular among the industry elite. Unreal is developed by Epic Games, which is an American game developer and publisher.
This game engine is based on C++, but you can also deploy its visual scripting tool, Blueprints, for creating code-free. However, going without code brings some limitations, typical of all the no-code game builders.
Unreal is often lauded for the realistic graphics and the default tools and assets it ships with. On top of it, it’s free until your game hits $1 million in revenue, after which a 5% royalty kicks in on the excess income.
Still, there are custom licensing options if you want to waive the royalties altogether.
It’s predominantly used for creating in 3D; however, you can also create 2D titles with Unreal. But some might argue, stating there is a better (current) alternative.
Started in 2005 as a game engine specifically built for macOS X, Unity has extended itself to other platforms.
Unity Technologies is the parent company behind this game engine. This was started in Denmark as Over The Edge Entertainment (OTEE) around 2004 and later switched to its present headquarters in San Francisco, USA.
Unity lets you code in C# and has built-in tools to help you build games visually. Notably, Unity has gained this feat by integrating a 3rd-party tool, Bolt, to remain attractive to non-programming game developers.
Coming to subscriptions, you can start free with a limited-featured version and migrate to the paid plans to unlock more goodness. Games made with Unity are royalty-free, which makes it enticing if one is willing to pay for the subscriptions upfront.
Unity can help you create in 2D and 3D. However, as of now, its superpowers are perceived to favor 2D game development, especially for mobile platforms.
Unreal vs. Unity
Past the brief introduction, it’s time to weigh these two on some crucial aspects. Specifically, this showdown is from a beginner’s perspective with no background in game development.
#1. Ease of Use
Unreal Engine packs most tools right out of the box, whereas Unity comes as a minimal install with plugins to integrate as needed.
In this case, there have been cases where newbies were more comfortable with Unreal since it limits the initial back-and-forth. On the other hand, a few were confused because of the many tools they had access to and loved Unity’s minimalist approach.
Moreover, many believe C++ (Unreal) is complicated compared to C# (Unity). However, C++ is considered the top programming language for game development, also widely used outside of Unreal. Therefore, getting your hands dirty with C++ might open more doors (read jobs) than being a C# expert.
Besides, developers consider Blueprints (Unreal) vastly superior to Bolt (Unity). Thus, the choice is clear in Unreal if visual scripting is all you care about.
Another make-or-break pointer can be the number of tutorials and guides on either of these game engines. Unity has considerably more market share (more than four times), resulting in a big community and a gigantic library of help tutorials.
Finally, this section has no clear winner and is purely subjective to your preferences and ambitions.
#2. Dimensions and Graphics
Unity is a clear winner if 2D games are your forte. There are many templates to begin with, and you would have it much easier with Unity.
3D, however, is a difficult domain to crown the champion straightaway. Both are 3D capable, and there is hardly anything you can’t do in Unity that you can do in Unreal, and vice versa.
In addition, this also depends on if your next game will be an open-world adventure or indoors. Open-world games are better taken care of by Unreal’s capabilities, like real-time lighting, whereas interior settings can be done beautifully with either.
This brings us to…Graphics!
Both can be used to design stunning-looking games. You can ace anime environments in any one; however, photorealism is a domain where Unreal has the upper hand.
While Unity is catching up fast, the attention to detail offered by Unreal Engine is unmatched. And that’s the primary reason it’s the current favorite of the Triple-A gaming industry and top Hollywood studios.
However, this shouldn’t affect you as an indie game developer because Triple-A level games aren’t something you’ll do solo with a small budget.
So, ultimately Unity is better suited for 2D games, and Unreal is best for open-world 3D genres needing gorgeous and real-life effects.
#3. Asset Store
Most indie developers end up using the asset marketplace for fast-tracking game development. Unity and Unreal both have their marketplace to help you with this.
However, because of the considerably big user base, Unity presents great variety, which shows in the total asset volume.
As of this writing, the Unreal Engine marketplace has 29,200 items, while Unity beats this up by a mile with its 81,990 assets. Now, this might not have to do anything with the quality since it depends on the specific asset pack; regardless, the numbers speak for themselves.
In addition, as a beginner, you might not want to spend on paid assets with the word ‘free’ catching your eye quite often. In such a case where budget plays a significant role, Unity has 7810 free assets compared to 1100 Unreal Engine.
Consequently, Unity store holds a notable advantage over Unreal for beginners on a tight budget.
But what makes the marketplace battle interesting is that Unreal makes available a few paid assets free every month. These are generally high-quality packs that become paid for after a set period. So, this gives you access to premium material without even paying for them.
The only thing one has to do is check the Unreal marketplace once a month.
Conclusively, Unity wins with the sheer volume, but Unreal has a little advantage in providing you with upmarket content for free.
#4. Other Key Factors
Unreal is open source, while Unity isn’t. Though this isn’t the deciding element for most, you can grab Unreal’s source code and modify it for your use case.
This is something you should seriously consider if starting your game development studio.
Another thing to remember is Epic Games (Unreal’s parent) is in the serious game development business with a few Triple-A titles like Fortnite already to their name.
So, Unreal is often considered as the game engine by the developers for the developers.
On the contrary, Unity Technologies have built a few educational projects, but none competes with what Epic Games has achieved with their game engine.
Lastly, Unity can run on a comparatively underpowered PC, whereas Unreal needs powerful computing at your disposal. So, check if you meet the system requirements before opting for one.
Which One Should You Use?
Unfortunately, there is no clear answer. Both are powerful and can help you bring life to your imagination.
That said, Unity can run on a low-end PC, has a big community, and should be the ideal choice for developers targeting mobile platforms, especially in 2D.
Unreal is for people aspiring to be part of big-name game studios or aiming for 3D exclusively. And although Unity can do 3D, Unreal will serve you better and quicker.
However, there are instances where people learned both or started with one, only to switch to the rivals later. So, choose either based on your current requirements and switch if needed.
Unity’s huge community makes it easy for first-timers. It would help you get answers to your specific queries, and the YouTube tutorials will certainly give you a much-needed head start.
However, Unreal Engine’s visual scripting tool is superior to Unity’s, making the non-coders go with the former choice.
Unreal is based on C++, which is more complicated than C# (Unity). So, try Unity if you’re going to deploy code for the utmost flexibility and haven’t been exposed to the programming yet.
For non-coding folks dead set on visual scripting, Unreal packs more punch.
This is the same as asking how much a car costs. It depends! Based on the level of visual art, sound, user interface, marketing, team size, licensing, etc., it can take anywhere from a few thousand dollars to hundreds of million.
C# is easy to learn, while C++ is slightly more complex. However, C++ is the most used programming language for game development and can offer more job opportunities for its takers.
PS: I don’t want to add to the possible indecision, but there are a few more game-builder tools you can check out. And while you might have already played Made with Unity games since more than 70% of mobile games use them, check out a few titles harnessing the power of Unreal Engine 5.