Looking to start buiding video games? Not sure what game engine is right for you? In this guide, we’ve listed seven of the best game engines and covered why each may—or may not—be the right engine for you.
It has never been easier than now to build your own video game. Thanks to a wide variety of easily accessible game engines, the barrier for entry for building a video game is a lot lower now than it has been in the past.
Whether you’re new to computer programming, or you’re proficient in one or more programming languages, and you want to try your hand at game development, using an established game engine will help you A) learn game development more quickly, and B) build better-looking and better-functioning games in a lot less time.
Again, though, there are a lot of different game engines to choose between if you’re looking to start creating video games. And, they all have different pros and cons that may or may not make them the right game engine for you. In this guide, we’ve listed some of the best game engines currently out there to help you find the right engine for you to either learn on, or build your next video game on.
What is A Game Engine?
Game engines provide the software framework for video games to be built on top of so game developers don’t have to spend time building a game from the ground up.
Game engines allow developers to focus on the aspects of the game that will make it feel unique, rather than spending excessive amounts of time working on the basic features that the game will need in order to function properly.
In theory, the more basic features that a game engine covers and the more customization options that it offers, the more advanced of a game you can build with it.
1. Unreal Engine
The best game engine overall
Unreal Engine is widely regarded as the best game engine overall mostly due to the graphics it is able to offer and the wide range of customization options available. You can build visually-stunning, ground-breaking games in Unreal Engine.
Some of the more popular titles that have been built in Unreal Engine are: Fortnite, the Borderlands series, Rocket League, the Gears of War series, Bioshock, etc.
Unreal Engine isn’t ideal for all game developers, though. First off, it’s not as easy to pickup as some of the other game engine options out there and, if you aren’t looking to build robust 3D games, you’d probably be better off starting with a simpler engine (especially if you’re looking to build mobile games.)
That being said, despite the large variety of customization options available and the sheer potential for game-building inside Unreal Engine, the latest iteration of the engine, Unreal Engine 4, has made large steps in making the engine more user-friendly and easier for beginners to use. So, even if you are a beginner, if your end goal is to build ambitious and visually stunning games, it isn’t a terrible idea to start learning Unreal Engine right out of the gate.
The most versatile game engine
While Unity and Unreal Engine are often considered the top two game engines, both engines serve different purposes. Whereas Unreal Engine is best-suited for more robust games—especially from a graphics standpoint—Unity is more versatile and can be a better option for developers who are looking to build mobile games, 2D games, or story-driven 3D games.
To get an idea of how versatile Unity is, here is a sample of some of the best games made with Unity: City: Skylines, Kerbal Space Program, Hearthstone, Escape from Tarkov, The Room series, etc.
Unity isn’t considered to be an easy game engine for beginners to pickup, but Unity does offer a ton of free learning resources through Unity Learn, and the engine is intuitive enough to where beginners can start out there if they don’t mind a bit of a learning curve. If you do want to start learning how to build games in Unity, check out our guide on the Best Unity Courses, Tutorials, & Books.
3. GameMaker Studio
The easiest game engine to use
If you’re looking for an incredibly easy game engine to learn that doesn’t require prior programming experience, GameMaker Studio is probably your best bet. Rather than having to write scripts or lines of code, GameMaker allows you to “drag-and-drop” your game into existence.
Of course, the easy nature of GameMaker Studio makes it limited in the type of games you can make. GameMaker does support 3D game development, but it is really best-suited for building 2D games. Some examples of games that have been created with GameMaker Studio are: Spelunky, Undertale, Hyper Light Drifter, and Hotline Miami.
However, as indie game development has become more popular and because there is a big market for 2D RPG style games, GameMaker is an engine worth considering for certain developers.
Open-source, free-to-use engine
Another option if you want to build 2D style games or simple 3D games is Godot. Godot hasn’t been around as long as some of the other engines on this list and there really haven’t been any super successful games made with the engine.
However, the engine is open source, completely free, lightweight, has a strong community behind it, offers a ton of developer tools, and is cross-platform friendly.
If you want to check out some games built in Godot, their Showcase page displays some of the more popular games built in the engine.
Honorable mention #1
Like Unreal Engine, CryEngine is another game engine that is built for developing visually stunning games. As a testament to the potential of the CryEngine, here is a list of some of the more popular games built with it: the Far Cry series, the Crysis series, Kingdom Come: Deliverance, and Sniper Ghost Warrior.
However, while both engines have been used to build some really popular, graphics-intensive titles, Unreal Engine is currently considered to be the better “AAA game engine” because it offers more learning resources, is more user-friendly, and has a more sound source code.
6. Amazon Lumberyard
Honorable mention #2
Amazon purchased CryEngine’s source code and developed their own game engine: Amazon Lumberyard. So, in other words, Lumberyard has the high-end potential that engines like Unreal Engine 4 and CryEngine have, but with the backing of a big company known for innovation in a variety of sectors.
Still, Lumberyard suffers from some of the same downfalls that CryEngine suffers from: a lack of users, not a lot of learning resources, and not as reliable as other engines.
Star Citizen recently switched to the Lumberyard game engine, though. And, as Star Citizen is perhaps the most ambitious game ever developed, that should tell you something about Lumberyard’s potential.
Right now, though, if you’re a beginner game developer that aspires to make AAA games, UE4 is probably the better option for you. Unless, of course, you’re willing to be a trailblazer and work through some of the engine’s downfalls. Because, ultimately, it’s not out of the question to think that Amazon could put the resources into Lumberyard necessary to bringing it up to speed with UE4. And, betting on Amazon could pay-off in the long run for any game developer who is willing to go with the less-optimized engine now.
7. RPG Maker
Honorable mention #3
RPG Maker is another really easy-to-use game engine that anyone can pickup and start creating games. Like the other easy-to-use engines out there, though, RPG Maker is quite limited in the kinds of games it can make.
If you want to build story-driven 2D RPGs, however, RPG Maker is an engine that you’ll want to consider. To the Moon is one of the more popular games created in RPG Maker, but you can check out a larger list of games made with RPG Maker here.
If you’re looking to get into game development, there are a number of game engines available today that will help you get started. Whether you’re looking to build visually-stunning games, addictive mobile games, or 2D RPGs, there’s a game engine out there that will help you do so. In this post, we’ve taken a look at a variety of the best game engines currently available to help you find the right game engine for your needs.