What is it that makes this look so good?

What exactly is it in the model that makes the first one look better than this?

Aside from the fingers on the hand, there’s just something about the model of the humanoid that makes it look so much better. It looks more smooth or something. I can’t exactly name it, but there is something that separates them.

A proper light setup, smooth shadows and ambient occlusion.

Hi, your eyes are not similar and it is a lot postpro in the first image.
Glare, vignetting, bloom, lens flare and may a bit blur.

Cheers, mib.

I used ambient occlusion and smooth shadows on that one.

Then the answer is simple: Your light setup is not good.
It’s highly underestimated how important proper lighting is. I recommend to simply read up on photography and movie lighting. It’s practically the same thing.

So I should try three point?

If it were that simple I suppose the previous responder would have just said, “Try three point lighting!” That three point cure-all is the most deceptive answer that people throw about. In fact when it comes to lighting there are no easy formulas to apply.
As regards this particular image look closely at the area under the chin and the inside of the left elbow to see the huge difference between what you are calling ‘smooth’ (you do mean ‘soft’, right?) and the shape and edge quality of the original shadow.

Well said.
There is no “Do THE three point setup”…
Three point is a guideline, a concept not a solution. A starting point to set a basic mood with it.
And it offers almost unlimited possibilities to set the mood depending on the lights type, size, energy and color.

Best advice I can give you? Play with light and get a feel for what parameters of a three point setup give you what results.
Also don’t hesitate to turn lights off, or set barely noticeable values.
And what’s important too is if you’re using a GI renderer or not.

I see normal mapping in the banner version. But overall neither of them really look good. They are just block people. The quantitative difference between the two renders is 10%. So yours looks ok. Keep rocking your blocks.

Is your work done with Cycles or Blender Internal?

For more similar conditions in the comparison:

It’s easy.
Sorry, i grabbed YAFU’s comparison…

Stage, studio stuff and traffic lights colors aside, first one talks while second one plays vegetable.