We all want to have the best gaming setup, but not everybody can afford to pay thousand-dollar premiums for GPUs. But that’s fine, because there are a ton of great games available. If you’re looking for something that’ll run without much fuss, here’s a massive list of games to try out.
This post has been updated since its original publication, with new games added and old ones removed.
Anodyne 2: Return to Dust
A lot of games hark back to the polygonal PS1/early 3D-accelerated era of PC gaming, but not all of them do so well. Anodyne is one series that does, and Anodyne 2 is especially clever about it.
The sequel blends that early era of open-world adventures like Spyro and Little Big Adventure 2 with top-down dungeons evoking Zelda and the Game Boy Color era. Heather said it best when she played Anodyne 2 here:
Anodyne 2 feels like the product of several lessons coming home to roost, both in terms of how confidently it weaves together different gameplay styles and how much it nails old school Playstation visuals … even the few moments I’ve spent with it have been inspiring. If you like good games or want to slide into a truly nostalgic and kind-hearted experience, keep your eyes on Anodyne 2.
Both Anodyne games are playable on Macs too, if you’re after something for that platform. More info’s available on the Steam page.
Apart from being the kind of RPG that doesn’t require much dexterity, making it playable with just a touchpad, Disco Elysium also rolled up an update to make it playable on the lowest-end possible machines. “With this latest update, Disco Elysium’s minimum specs have been dropped down to Mariana Trench levels,” the devs announced in mid-2020.
But how low, you might ask? Low enough that mid-2012 Macbook Airs, or any PC/laptop with a Core 2 Duo (that’s a CPU from 2006) is capable of playing ZA/UM drunken adventure.
Also, Disco Elysium happens to be one of the best RPGs released in the last few years. So if you can, play it for that.
One of the best indie games of the last five years that knows how not to overstay its welcome. Surprisingly well optimised, too, and it’ll also run natively on Macs (although not natively on new M1 laptops, mind you).
Persona 4: Golden
Persona 4 was built to run on the PS2 and the Vita, so there should be no surprise that it runs just fine on today’s potato rigs and laptops. The JRPG is one of the best in the long-running series, and its PC release is probably the best indicator that, finally, Atlus might actually port Persona 5 to PC. (Or the Switch.)
The Persona series was always perfect as a second-screen adventure, and you can absolutely enjoy Persona 4 if you’re completely new to the franchise. (Persona games are standalone anthologies, much like the Final Fantasy titles.) It’s a cracking adventure, it was brilliant when it first launched, and it’s still brilliant today. Have at it.
Part auto-battler, part RPG, part settlement builder, part resource management and part deckbuilding, Loop Hero is one of the most creative indies of the last couple of years. A supremely clever game, and the auto-battling element makes it a breeze to play on a laptop too.
Imagine you’re a bunch of modders, and then you get hired by Valve. And just for kicks, you decide to make a top-down take on Aliens. Complete with unique classes, characters, over 40 weapons, loadouts, a level editor and mod tools, and then you release the entire thing for free.
That’s Alien Swarm. It’s the best co-op game available for nothing these days. Oh and just for fun? The game’s AI Director is the same one that’s in Left 4 Dead. And if 4 players isn’t enough co-op action for you, Alien Swarm: Reactive Drop supports up to 8 players … and it’s also completely free.
The Dark Mod
This is technically a massive love letter to Thief: The Dark Project, so you really should play that first if you can. Practically every modern stealth game owes something to Looking Glass’s iconic design, and The Dark Mod is the ultimate love letter to that.
It’s a standalone open source game, so you don’t have to buy Thief beforehand. Updates over the years have made it easier to maintain, install, while also improving performance on a wide range of systems.
Battle for Wesnoth
Imagine Fire Emblem as a strategy game but with hexes, more like the classic PC turn-based games of the ’90s. That’s kind of what Battle for Wesnoth, a free open source title on Steam, provides.
There’s plenty of content to enjoy: the game was first released in 2003 and has been updated with 17 separate solo campaigns over the time. Obviously it’ll run on just about any PC that boots these days, although the developers have done well to maintain a very clean aesthetic.
While not available on Steam yet (although it’s coming), OpenTTD is the open source fan-remake of Transport Tycoon Deluxe. There’s not much to say beyond that: it’s a huge fan project that has been running for ages, and is really the ultimate version of one of the best early-era simulator games. Check it out on the official site here.
A one-button game about healing patients by activating the defibrillator in time with each patient’s heartbeat, each of which is unique. A deeply clever spin on the genre, Rhythm Doctor is one of the highest rated games on Steam this year and a very cheeky way to learn music without realising it. There is a level editor too, and there’s local multiplayer support (or online play via Steam’s Remote Play Together feature) for the whole campaign. Check it out here.
To say much about lisa would be to completely spoil the experience, so I’m just going to leave you with this from the official description.
Players will learn what kind of person they are by being FORCED to make choices. These choices permanently effect the game play. If you want to save a party member from death, you will have to sacrifice the strength of your character. Whether it’s taking a beating for them, or chopping off limbs, or some other inhuman way.
Lisa is weird, fucked up, and utterly astonishing. One of the most underrated stories in video games, hands down, and it’ll run on just about everything under the sun. Get it here, and there’s a fan game to check out once you’re done.
Danganronpa: Trigger Happy Havoc
One of the great visual novel series, Danganronpa pits you in a life-or-death situation. You’re a high schooler with a serious problem: people are dying, and the only way to graduate is to kill someone without others finding out. The only way out is to solve the murder Ace Attorney-style, although there’s a lot of mini games sprinkled throughout.
The game also has one of the better villains in a visual novel series. Here’s the sadistic teddy bear Monokuma creepily laughing while a teenager cries in horror.
Just standard visual novel things. Head here if you’re into that stuff.
Imagine Slay the Spire roguelike deckbuilding, but you’re a dice. Literally. And you’re fighting vacuum cleaners, snowmen, dragons, cute space marines with hilariously oversized guns and more. It’s got a banging soundtrack too, courtesy of the same composer from Super Hexagon.
But really, it’s best to understand Dicey Dungeons by watching some gameplay. It’s cute, a great twist on some classic mechanics and plenty of laughs, as you’d expect from a Terry Cavanagh game. More info is available here.
Dawn of War 2
Still one of the best RTS co-op experiences, and one of the best strategy games to share with a friend. Dawn of War 2 broke a lot of ground by focusing on tactics rather than traditional base and resource management, but over a decade later the game and its excellent expansions still holds up today. DoW 2 often goes on sale for a few dollars, so you and a mate can grab it for the cost of a large pizza if you’re patient.
Fights in Tight Spaces
Imagine a John Woo movie crossed with a deckbuilder, and you’re halfway to understanding Fights in Tight Spaces. An early access game that’s a couple of months out, the game is all about managing your positioning, movement and the balance of your cards to navigate any given situation. It’s a deeply clever little tactics game with a simple hook and a brilliant aesthetic. Definitely check it out.
Umurangi Generation has a ton of different things going for it. For one, it’s one of those rare games based around the idea of photography, with each level being a different part of a dystopian future city that you’re chronicling through your lens.
The game’s also steeped in Māori culture, courtesy of Ngai Te Rangi designer Naphtali Faulkner. Faulkner’s living in Australia right now, and the game’s heavily influenced by the recent Australian bushfires, which you can see throughout Umurangi as the city hangs on the precipice of disaster.
Umurangi Generation is a low-key, chill game that moves at its own pace. That’s a great fit if you’re looking for something to play on a laptop or low-end rig.
You know, $7.50 is great value if you wanna immolate every shred of trust between your friends and family. The year’s best version of Werewolf or Secret Hitler, Among Us has absolutely exploded in popularity this year. Great with friends and for helping reconnect with friends when you’re not able to meet in person, although if you can get together in a group, the mobile version works great too.
One of the best indies of the current generation and absolutely worth a few hours time replaying. Apart from being relaxed enough to be easily playable on a laptop or low-end rig, Firewatch also had the remarkable effect of inspiring fans to take up firewatching for real, which is always a wonderful legacy for a game to leave.
One of the great stealth PC indies, Gunpoint is all about dodging alarms, sight cones and crafting clever plans to confound enemies. Sometimes it’ll all work perfectly, and other times you’ll completely screw it up. A great, short title with tight mechanics that’s often available on sale for a few dollars.
The Legend of Heroes: Trails in the Sky
One of the most well-crafted — and most enormous — JRPGs ever made, Trails in the Sky is an excellent adventure that you can comfortably get lost in for weeks. It’ll run on literally everything: the minimum requirements are a Pentium 3 550Mhz CPU, which was released all the way back in 1999. Your laptop can handle this one easy.
If you’ve got some patience, then one of the most difficult platformers awaits. La Mulana is one of the original Metroidvanias that delighted in brutalising players, far more than Castlevania or its ilk ever did. A complex dungeon and some truly brutal puzzles, but if you like a challenge, La Mulana will keep you busy.
Look. I personally wouldn’t play The Witness on a laptop of any description, but that’s because The Witness would be liable to make me throw said laptop across the room. The game has an astonishing ability to make you feel real dumb. Hell, some people started drawing on their TVs just to work out some of the puzzles.
But in all seriousness, it’s an extraordinary game. Great on the eyes, too, if you’re playing on a newer laptop with a HDR-capable screen.
Star Wars: Empire at War
Age of Empires meets Star Wars. Do you really need more than that?
Strife: Veteran Edition
A blast from the past courtesy of remaster legends Night Dive Studios. Strife was a shooter first released in 1996, built on the principle that DOOM-esque games were capable of incorporating deeper stories and RPG elements.
The re-released version plays much more nicely on modern screens and operating systems. The low-end requirements mean you won’t have to tank every detail into oblivion either. A great nostalgic trip and a wonderful window into a great era of PC games to boot.
Heroes of Might and Magic 3
Still the best and greatest of the HoMM high fantasy series. Don’t get the HD edition that’s floating around on Steam: make sure you grab the better version from GOG instead.
A harder version of X-COM, styled much more like the original MicroProse game, for those who hate themselves. I’m warning you: Xenonauts is damn hard.
Retro City Rampage DX
Retro City Rampage DX already runs on low-end systems, but if you really want, the game comes with an extra that’s designed to run on a 486 DX PC. There’s even a prototype Windows 3.1 version.
That aside, Retro City is great for scratching that 8-bit, early GTA vibe. It’s also a great call back to the late ’80s and early ’90s, for those that love exploring that world.
Love the original Fallout games? Then UnderRail might be up your alley. Humanity has retreated to a series of underground train stations, fleeing from the radiation on the surface. It’s fairly challenging, offers a deep character creation system, and has some savage difficulty spikes to boot. But if you love that era of isometric, hardcore RPGs, there’s something in UnderRail for you.
One of Klei’s best adventures and a great roguelite adventure. Klei’s art chops are world class, as always, but what really makes Invisible Inc is its deep customisation. The soundtrack and characters are excellent too, and there’s the Contingency Plan DLC for extra starting characters and a longer campaign.
Command & Conquer: Remastered Collection
Want that classic RTS feeling with a modern touch? C&C Remastered is a great choice, running just fine on modern integrated graphics. It’s not on Macs, though.
One of the greatest indies ever released on Steam, and also one of the most popular PC games on the platform. If you want something that’s great solo, shared with friends, or just a giant sandbox with more defined progression than Minecraft, Terraria is it.
Traditionally only available on PS3 and the PS4, Journey has since made the leap over to PC by way of the Epic Games Store. Like some of the indies on this list, Journey is one of those seminal, unmissable titles. It’s also got relatively low PC requirements, only needing a Nvidia GTS 450 which any modern integrated GPU will be able to match.
An intriguing indie where you’re stuck in the world of Hamlet, with a twist: everyone you know will die, and the world continually repeats itself until Ophelia can figure everything out. Elsinore‘s dynamic story engine means Ophelia learns from every time loop, and the game immediately reacts to your decisions in the beginning and every future loop.
It’s a narrative adventure that really flew under the radar last year, and it’s great to dive into if you need a gripping story when you’re on the road. A minimum GPU requirement of a HD 4000 means most modern laptops will run the game with no issue, too.
It’s like oldschool Heretic, but in a modern wrapping with a totally different context. If you want more retro shooters, DUSK is also another banger of a title that runs on low end PCs, but as is customary, they’re both better with a mouse (wired or wireless).
Just before the end of the year, Tegan and I played through a bunch of indies from PAX Australia on the Kotaku Twitch channel. One of those games was a New Zealand-developed shooter called Amid Evil, which looked like a fun bit of nostalgia. And that’s pretty much what it is: a modern indie retake on Heretic, complete with giant blocky pixels to remind you of the ’90s.
Everyone else has had their say, but it’d be a bit weird if the editor of a gaming site didn’t weigh in, too.
Less of a traditional game and more a wholesome experience, Kind Words is all about writing anonymous letters – and responses – to people in need. Some of those questions might be fairly low-key things, like whether you like the rain. But many of them are personal, asking for a bit of guidance, career advice, help on dealing with a problematic friend, and the kind of issues that anyone can relate to.
If Twitter was less of a hellscape and had lo-fi beats playing in the background whenever you scrolled through your feed, the experience of it might be a little like Kind Words.
Baba is you
Baba is you is 2019’s The Witness: the puzzler that makes you feel stupid until that shining moment where everything clicks. Originally borne from a game jam, Baba is you is one of those rare titles that upends and confounds your expectations and understanding with every level. A brilliant, brilliant game, and one you can play on anything.
There’s a certain trick that smart game designers use to mess with their players. You’ll finish a level, all satisfied and cocky about it, and then the next stage will look exactly the same, with a twist. Maybe it’s missing the crate that was the lynchpin of your first strategy, or maybe there’s an extra enemy blocking the path. “Ha, you thought you were better than me,” declares the game. “You are not.” Baba Is You is the master of this design trick.
Cook, Serve, Delicious 3
Sometimes you need a game that’s constant stress so you don’t have time to stress. That’s a little what Cook, Serve, Delicious! is like to play. The latest iteration, CSD 3, is out now and can run on practically anything. I prefer to play it with the keyboard, but a controller works well too. Alternatively, the first and second game are fully fleshed out, and are fairly cheap on Steam.
Difficult, full of secrets to discover and with basically no requirements that would challenge any PC in the last seven or eight years, Nuclear Throne is a cracking roguelike shooter. It’s fast-paced, has plenty of clever ways to teach you how to move forward, has tons of weapons and characters to unlock. Best of all for low-end PCs and laptops: the game is locked to 30fps, so you won’t even feel like you’re missing out on anything. The game’s best played with controller or a wireless mouse though, for those on a laptop.
It’s been a bit of an indie darling since launching on Steam back in 2013. The roguelike top-down 8-bit shooter finally left Early Access this week, and it does so with one of the most impressive Steam records to boot.
Streets of Rogue
Take the spirit of GTA, mix it with Nuclear Throne, and then add a dose of emergent RPG gameplay. That’s basically Streets of Rogue, so you can see why it’s one of the highest rated games on Steam. And just like Nuclear Throne, its pixel-art style is compatible with practically any PC imaginable.
Slay the Spire
A great deckbuilder that will not only run on anything – all you need is 2GB RAM and basically any GPU in the last decade that still functions – but it’s also available through Xbox Game Pass on PC. You can buy the game outright for about $35 right now, but you could also pay $3 and play it for three months instead. Just make sure you’ve updated Windows and downloaded the beta Xbox app.
After over a year in Early Access, the challenging deck-building roguelike Slay the Spire is officially out on Steam today with a Switch port to following later in 2019. The game was really good when I played the hell out of it back in early 2018, and though the finished version is mostly the same, it still bears the marks of nearly 14 months of updates, balance improvements, and overall polish.
Thronebreaker: The Witcher Tales
Want the enjoyment of a card game but don’t have a consistent internet connection, or you just want something with more of a story? Thronebreaker is a retooling of CD Projekt Red’s Gwent that provides a surprisingly deep RPG experience, with the cards used not only as a foil for 1-on-1 matches but some puzzle solving. And with a measly i3 being the recommended requirement – not minimum, recommended – it’ll run on basically anything. Thronebreaker also fills in the gaps before the Witcher games well, so it’s definitely worth checking out for Geralt fans.
One of the biggest indies from the last decade and one of the few games that everyone should check out without reservation.
Legends of Runeterra
The League of Legends CCG is coming to mobiles later this year, but for now its only PC players that can jump into the open beta. Gracefully, the game has wonderfully low requirements that will work on practically any modern laptop and integrated GPU. The CCG itself is halfway between Hearthstone and Magic: Arena – both great games run on low-end laptops themselves – and it’s a perfect extension of Riot’s universe for League‘s fans.
The Witcher 2: Assassins of Kings
The Witcher 3 might be Geralt’s magnum opus, but the GOTY edition of The Witcher 2 is still a superb adventure in its own right. The combat takes some getting used to, but you’ll have more leeway over the direction of the story, and it’s a great way to scratch any itches left over from the Netflix series.
Best of all: The Witcher 2 can run rather smoothly on low-end games and integrated laptops, particularly laptops over the last few years. YouTuber LowSpecGamer found a way to maintain a minimum of 30fps back in 2015 by messing around with the options in the Witcher 2 launcher, and you’ll get more leeway from any laptop with integrated graphics in the last three years. If your laptop is one of the ones with the low-end Nvidia discrete MX150 GPUs, you can go even further – hell, people have found ways to capably play Apex Legends and The Witcher 3 on those, provided you don’t mind playing on the lowest possible resolutions.
Risk of Rain
Part of the problem with gaming on the laptop, however, is that sometimes that’s all you have. No mouse, no separate controller, and sometimes no room for either anyway.
Risk of Rain is perfect in those scenarios, since it’s purely a keyboard-only game. An action platformer that gets harder every 5 minutes, Risk of Rain is all about balancing the risk/reward mechanic of hanging around a level long enough to gain XP and money before the crazier enemies show up. The 8-bit graphics are designed to run on just about anything too, so you won’t feel handicapped by your choice of hardware.
As long as you have an Intel Core i3 or better CPU, you’ll have enough grunt in your low-end laptop to run Civilization 5. And if you’re looking for a game that you can carry on your hard drive until the day it dies, it’s hard to ignore Civ 5.
There’s plenty of depth with the expansions and the mods available in the Steam Workshop, although chances are the Complete Edition will have enough content to keep you going through those lonely nights in hotels. It also plays just fine with the touchpad, which can be a lifesaver sometimes if you don’t have a spare mouse aroun
But if you’re after something a little more vibrant, a little faster and something a tad fresher, the side-scrolling platformer Owlboy will be right up your alley. Apart from the fact that Nathan found it was a surprisingly clever and quite modern despite the look, the game will basically run on anything. There’s no requirement for a discrete GPU and you only need 600MB of space, which is always a plus if you’re gaming on your work laptop.
Unsurprisingly, if you were busy farming up a storm at home you can do it on the road as well. Stardew Valley has bugger all hardware requirements save for 2GB of RAM and a GPU with 256mb of video memory, which pretty much any laptop from the last few years will be able to manage with no problems at all. You can also play quite happily using the keyboard, although taking a controller with you isn’t a bad idea.
The Binding of Isaac
Another game that runs on a potato, The Binding of Isaac deserves a special mention here because it’s perfectly playable with keyboard controls. The arrow keys determine the direction you shoot and you just rely on SPACE for items, WASD for movement and SHIFT (or E) to place bombs. Easy.
Oh and there’s the small part that The Binding of Isaac is an excellent game with loads of depth. There’s a reason it has a competitive scene.
If you like the idea of playing a thoughtful 4X on the go, but want more of a fantasy bent to the experience, Amplitude’s Endless Legend is an excellent alternative. You’ll want to turn the graphics down all the way, but the game will run. Which is nice, since it gives you a reason to discover why Junglist thought Endless Legend was a better game than Civilization 5.
Dungeon Keeper 2
But if you need some strategy with a sick sense of humour to keep you distracted while you’re away from home, there’s perhaps nothing better than Bullfrog’s bizarre classic, Dungeon Keeper 2. The original is arguably a purer experience – well, as pure as commanding a bunch of minions from Hell trying to belt the snot out of wandering adventurers – but the sequel stands up a lot better in this day and age.
It’s something I would recommend having a separate mouse for, however, although you can control the first-person elements with the keyboard easily enough. And don’t worry about the system requirements – DK2 released in 1999, although the Good Old Games version plays nicely with Windows 7, Windows 8.1 and Windows 10.
Faster Than Light
Released in 2012 and one of the most successful early uses of the Kickstarter platform, Faster Than Light should be on most people’s PCs already (if not their tablets). There’s plenty of content and difficulty thanks to the expansion and the modding scene, and FTL also has a small footprint on your hard drive (which is a lifesaver if you’re running off a 128GB SSD).
Another recent game with bugger all hardware requirements is the grim world of Darkest Dungeon. A RPG with roguelike elements, Darkest Dungeon needs nothing more than a few GBs of RAM and an OpenGL 3.2+ compliant GPU – which is basically everything from the last five years.
On the practical side of things, the game’s turn-based nature means you won’t have any issues just playing it with the trackpad if that’s the only option available to you. The developers do recommend having a 1080p screen as a minimum, but with 1440p and even 4K laptop screens increasingly becoming standard that shouldn’t be much of a stumbling block.
Oh and just in case you needed it: Darkest Dungeon is pretty damn good, if a tad punishing.
Sometimes you just want to lose yourself in an open world. And what better world to explore than the brutal streets of Hong Kong. Sleeping Dogs was already incredibly well optimised on PC, but it runs just fine on laptops as well. I’d recommend packing a controller in your travel case for this, and it’s not the kind of game you want to download on airport Wi-Fi.
But any integrated graphics from the HD 2500 series and up can run Sleeping Dogs, albeit at reduced settings. And besides, sometimes when you’re miles away from home it’s just good to grab a bike and punch a few blokes in the face. (The story is also uncannily good, if you like the undercover cop shtick.)
Euro Truck Simulator 2
You might miss having your full trucking rig from home, but any laptop with an Intel HD 4000 or better GPU will be able to run SLS’s cathartic trucking simulation. Euro Truck Simulator 2’s relaxing nature already makes it a strong candidate for being on your laptop, but the added benefit is that the game has a full suite of keyboard controls. You’ll still have to use the trackpad to turn the game’s camera around, but since left and right is mapped to A/D you can manage that on a laptop pretty easily.
So those are some games you can play on your laptop or potato PC, from action platformers to addictive CCGs to good old farming simulators. What are your favourites?
The Cheapest NBN 50 Plans
It’s the most popular NBN speed in Australia for a reason. Here are the cheapest plans available.