Levels: Unreal Engine 5 (Beginner’s Guide)

Are you ready to dive into the world of Unreal Engine and the concept of levels?

In this beginner’s guide, we’ll introduce you to the basics of working with levels in Unreal Engine. Levels are made of environments, objects, characters, enemies, and more that players can see and interact with.

What is a Level in Unreal Engine?

For those who are unfamiliar with the term, levels in Unreal Engine refer to distinct sections or stages within a game world. They provide structure, depth, and a sense of progression as players navigate through various environments, face unique challenges, and unravel captivating narratives.

Think back to the popular video game Super Mario Bros., where you progress through levels like 1-1, 1-2, 1-3, and so forth. While you can still jump and attack in each level, the layout of platforms, enemies, and hidden secrets changes. Each level in Super Mario Bros. has a unique layout and is a new adventure.

Similarly, Unreal Engine allows game developers to create different levels within their games, each with their own unique challenges, designs, and surprises while maintaining the gameplay mechanics.

If you’re creating different types of interactive experiences in Unreal Engine, you can also use different Levels to smoothly transition between different types of showcases or environments. These Levels function as distinct sections or stages within your project, allowing you to create distinct and immersive user experiences.

This feature is very useful, especially when you’re learning, so you don’t have to constantly create new projects. You can create a level, experiment with it, and if you don’t like it or something breaks, you can always delete it.

Unreal Engine also allows you to duplicate levels (Right click on the level icon -> Duplicate), which means you can make a copy of an existing level and make changes to it without affecting the original. This feature gives you the freedom to explore different design choices and revert back to a previous version if you’re not satisfied with the changes.

How to create a New Level in Unreal Engine?

How to create a New Level in Unreal Engine
Unreal Engine 5 File Menu: Save and Load Levels…

After learning what a level is, let’s create one!

To create a new level select “File -> New Level…” or just press CTRL+N.

At this point, you have four choices:

  • Open World: If you’re dreaming of creating a game with a big, open world, this template is perfect for you! It provides a starting point with sample content and utilizes the World Partition. This feature will help you create a massive and easily loadable open world environment. It’s a great choice if you want players to explore and roam freely in your game.
  • Empty Open World: Similar to the previous option, this template also focuses on creating an open world with the World Partition feature. However, it doesn’t include pre-made lighting or terrain. It’s a blank canvas where you can design and shape your world from scratch, giving you complete control over its look and feel.
  • Basic: This is an excellent option because it includes essential features such as lighting, a floor, and effects such as atmosphere and fog. This template provides a solid foundation upon which to build if you are a beginner looking to gradually learn and experiment with these concepts.
  • Empty Level: This template provides exactly what it says, a completely empty level with nothing in it. It’s the template you’ll probably choose the most because it gives you the freedom to design and create your own experiences from scratch.

Select the type of level you want, and let’s learn how to save and load it.

Unreal Engine 5 Level Templates
Unreal Engine 5: Level Templates

How Save and Load Levels?

To save, navigate to the top menu and choose “File -> Save Current Levelor just press CTRL+S.

Now a level thumbnail will appear in the Content Browser, and you can name the level whatever you want. Keep in mind that being organized is a valuable skill in game development, especially when working on large projects.

Congratulations on creating your first level!

As you can see, in Unreal Engine, you will save levels rather than projects. So, before moving on to the next lesson, make sure you understand the difference between them. If you want to learn more, check out our Beginner’s Guide to Unreal Engine Projects.

Now, when you close Unreal Engine and reopen this project, you can click on the level you just created to continue where you left off. Or select “File -> Open Level…or just press CTRL+O.

Alternatively, you can repeat the process and create as many different levels as you want.

How to set a default level in Unreal Engine?

If you’re a curious person, you might wonder: “But if we have multiple levels, how does Unreal Engine know which level to open when opening a project?”.

To solve this problem:

  • Navigate to “Edit -> Project Settings” in the top menu.
  • Select “Maps & Modes” from the “Project” section in the left column.
    • Alternatively, type “Map” in the top search bar.

In either case, you should end up at the menu shown in the screenshot below.

There are two kinds of maps in the “Default Maps” section:

  • Editor Startup Map: This is the level that opens automatically when you start the Unreal Engine editor. It determines which level you’ll see and work on for editing and designing. It helps make your work smoother by letting you start right away with a specific level, without needing to manually choose it every time you open the editor.
  • Game Default Map: On the other hand, the “Game Default Map” is the level that loads automatically when you play or launch your game. It’s the first level that players experience when they start playing your game.
Unreal Engine Default Levels
Project Settings in Unreal Engine

What is the difference between maps and levels?

Levels in Unreal Engine are saved as .umap files. Because of this, levels are sometimes referred to as maps.

So don’t worry about it, it’s just a different name for the same thing. In Unreal Engine, there is no difference between levels and maps.

How to open a level using Blueprints?

To open a level in Unreal Engine using Blueprints, simply drag and drop the “Open Level” node onto the Blueprint graph and specify the level name or select the object reference.

When the connected event or action is triggered, for example Event BeginPlay, the specified level will open during gameplay.

Don’t worry if you’ve never used blueprints before. In a later lesson, I’ll teach you step by step how to use them.

Unreal Engine Open Level Blueprint
Blueprint Node: Open Level

I hope you have learned and found this guide helpful!

Now, go ahead and experiment by creating and saving different levels.

When you’re ready, move on to the next lesson!