Haven’t started messing with the new Cycles renderer yet, but have done some playing today with Blender’s default renderer.
The default renderer does have ambient occlusion and soft shadows, but light doesn’t bounce, so you have to be very creative and use a ton of lights to get the right look. Here’s my first tests, using some models I created using Blender’s modeling tools (which are fun to work with).
Oh yes. Learning a new 3D software is a humbling experience.