For some time now, I have been imagining a universe full of alien races and adventure. Mysterious worlds and places full of possibilities. Eventually I thought it would be amazing to play a game in that universe, but it would be better with friends. So a massive multiplayer game for me and my friends to play in, and make it available for other players around the world to play as well. Make this game so incredible and full of content that it feels like a living, breathing universe that just exists whether you’re logged in or not.

The problem is that I’m not an experienced developer. I’ve dabbled with code and modeling. I understand game development, in theory, but have no real skill to stand on. Sure I can draw a little and have a crazy imagination, but how could that ever be enough to create a great game that takes place inside this crazy universe? The ideas are limitless, with me, but the skills… limited. Tragically so, I fear. What’s worse is that, as much as I don’t want to admit it to myself, I’m not young anymore. Did I miss that point in my life when anything was possible? The air could be full of “coulda,shoulda,wouldas” but that doesn’t help anyone.

The question is, am I hopeless? If not, where to start, where to go from here? How do I get something started while working 70 hours a week, already, at my mundane jobs?

Ideas on their own don’t promise quality, often they’re just unworkable noise! My suggestion:
Try and find one gem of originality in there, isolate it, then scale it down to its essential parts.
Then learn to build a prototype over maybe a year or two. That’s what Blueprints are all about…
After all this is what TV series/movie writers and video games creators struggle with everyday.

Realistically, something like that is not within the capability of someone to do by themselves. It would take some years to develop the skills needed and after that there’s just too much work for one person. Building a team would be an option but that has a very low chance of working without funding (it’s hard even with funding)

In a small-team scenario, I think you can expect something like Astroneer or Cube World in terms of scope. The biggest hurdle is dedicating a couple hours every day to work on it. There’s a lot of ground to cover in the engine, and 3rd-party 3D development applications. You’ll want to take notes and/or screen shots during your development time so you have quick references to look at. Took me about a year to be even remotely comfortable with modeling, and another year for texturing. But once you learn one program, you can basically jump into any other competing program with little effort. (ex. I learned to model in 3ds Max but I can use Maya and Blender fairly well).

I’d suggest starting by exporting simple objects or skeletal rigs out of your modeling software and importing to ue4. Then while you continue modeling, export and import every now and again just to make sure you haven’t yet broken anything. There are certain modeling tools/behaviors that either won’t make it into ue4 or will fail the import. It’s better to know what you can and can’t do early on than burning a month on a complicated asset only to realize you can’t use it without some serious redesign.

This, precisely. I’ve been working on a game project of my own for 3 years (modeling, music, programming), only to realize it was still too much work for me to do on my own and it wasn’t half as ambitious as OP’s project. The best advice I can give you is to learn the basics of modeling and blueprints and then create a prototype; A small map that looks good (you can even buy some on the marketplace and modify them to you’re heart’s content), a basic combat system, and then present it on the forums or even to a small indie company. If that’s good enough they might accept the project if they have the funds(or find some investors). You’ll rip your hair while learning modeling and the ins and outs of unreal, but it will be very rewarding.