Yes, static actors can now use mesh collision, and they can be accounted in level lighting/cast shadows. You make new static meshes with your modeling package of choice, but you can also convert brushes/meshes to static meshes (and vice versa) in the editor.
Here's something I whipped up in a few minutes. I made a box room, place a bunch of decorations together, selected them all and converted them into a static mesh. This is how it looks together with a light source I made with the in-built particle emitter:
All made within minutes using only stock content.
Not sure about the nodes thing and the exact differences to vertex meshes. You can also set static actors using Vertex meshes to cast shadows and use mesh collision! They can even be made to count as world geometry in code.
There's many more features, mind! Multiple environment textures per mesh, enviro-mapped geometry, Distance Fog
, configurable lightmap detail, DrawScale3D... it's quite the deal.