We used to view the idea of gaming on a laptop as a virtual contradiction in terms, at least for anyone who didn’t want to invest in a so-called ‘desktop replacement.’ Over the last decade, we’ve seen a lot more laptops shipping with integrated graphics that are capable of at least some light gaming and a proliferation of indie titles with less aggressive requirements. Put the two together, and you’ve got a lot more options for low-end gaming today than 10-20 years ago.
In this list of our favorites, we’ve tried to blend a mixture of modern titles and a handful of older classics. If you’ve been gaming for a number of years, we strongly suggest Googling “best games of X,” to remind yourself what hidden gems you might have missed the first time around. A game that required a midrange PC to play in 2011 likely runs just fine on an integrated GPU in 2019, especially if you’ve got an Ice Lake-based notebook or Ryzen APU-based laptop.
Since the last time we refreshed the list, we’ve trimmed a few titles off, kept a few, and added some new games. The PC gaming news cycle often doesn’t serve the interests of the larger PC gaming community when it comes to game discovery. This is particularly and sadly true for low-end gamers. Lost in the endless churn of new titles is the fact that there are literally thousands of amazing PC titles released long before you bought your system. Don’t be afraid to go digging for gems you might have missed in previous generations.
One way to express a love of PC gaming is certainly by investing lots of money in gaming hardware, but it’s certainly not the only one. What matters isn’t the amount of money you can plow into the hobby. It’s how much you enjoy it in the process.
Mutant Year Zero: Road to Eden
This XCOM-meets-Fallout title is based on the tabletop Mutant Year Zero game. If you’ve played the modern XCOM games, you’ll be familiar with most of the gameplay elements, though Mutant Year Zero gives you direct control of your squad outside of combat and fuses XCOM’s gameplay with some light RPG elements.
The worst thing we can say about Mutant Year Zero is that you’ll have to do some Googling to figure out which buttons are tied to which keyboard functions. The game’s plot and post-apocalyptic setting recall the best parts of Fallout, and while the game isn’t as deep as one of those sprawling titles, it still feels like a spiritual sequel. Mutant Year Zero: Road to Eden feels a bit like a “AA” game, for lack of a better phrase. Reasonably well-polished with solid aspirations, but you won’t mistake it for a 400-hour dungeon crawler.
World of Warcraft Classic
I had long since intended to have my WoW Classic reviews done by now, but the reality of leveling and my own crazy schedule have kept me working on my Classic Paladin and the slow climb to Lvl 40. Christmas is coming, which makes this a perfect time to revisit the best-loved MMO of Christmas, 2004.
It’s World of Warcraft: Classic, which is to say, #NoChanges (except for a few of the changes, but really, there aren’t that many). I might be leveling at the speed of grass growing, but by God, I am leveling. There’s a lot to love in the original version of Blizzard’s MMO classic, especially if you like games of this era in the first place. It may use the modern WoW engine, but Blizzard re-used original WoW’s textures and assets. The result is a game that runs just fine on a low-end PC, including Carrizo-powered AMD ultrabooks and Intel integrated graphics.
Untitled Goose Game
Untitled Goose Game challenges you to find the Canadian goose inside yourself. Yup. This is a game about being an unrepentant asshole. Since the joys of honking and flapping don’t require a high-end PC, Untitled Goose Game is another game that’ll run on just about any toaster you can drag out of storage or cajole into running.
Honk. Flap. Steal objects, trick humans, annoy pets, wash, rinse, and repeat if necessary. It’s a brilliant game for people turned off by “typical” titles looking for a silly, funny, low-key experience.
I’ve decided to switch my low-end PC recommendation from Arkham Asylum to the later Arkham City. Arkham Asylum is, to be sure, still an excellent game, and it runs on an even lower-spec system than Arkham City. But between the two of them, Arkham City is the better overall Batman game. Batman’s overall bag of tricks gets polished and AC offers you playing time as characters like Catwoman, with her own distinct moveset and animation style.
Arkham City feels as though it genuinely captures what it would be like to “be” Batman, with a clever twist on why you face a never-ending army of thugs. If you want to find out if you’re going to like the Arkham game series, I’d say this is the best one to try. If you need something even gentler on system specs, try the original Arkham Asylum.
Into the Breach
Into the Breach is a turn-based strategy game that takes place on small maps of 8×8 grids. From the makers of FTL, Into the Breach challenges you to beat back waves of attackers in turn-based combat. There are no XCOM-style probability fields to deal with here — you get full transparency into what actions will be taken by both your own characters and the enemies you engage with.
Into the Breach launched in 2018, but it’s still winning recognition for its unique approach to turn-based combat today. Definitely worth checking out, if you’re looking for some turn-based combat options.
West of Loathing
West of Loathing is a “graphical” adventure game that could run on a Lite-Brite. Don’t let the black-and-white stick-based graphics fool you — under the hood is a classic adventure game with RPG elements, killer clowns, demon cows, snake oil salesman, and a heap of spittoons to dig through in search of loot. The dialog is laugh-out-loud funny and the game’s irreverent humor recalls the best adventure game writing of earlier eras.
West of Loathing came out at the end of 2017, but it’s still a top pick if you need a game that runs on anything and offers some genuine laugh-out-loud moments.
Stardew Valley was heavily inspired by the Harvest Moon series of video games but adds its own spin on the concept. Explore Pelican Town, make friends, fall in love, and restore your grandfather’s farm to health in a gentle, open-ended title that will tease your curiosity as opposed to yanking you hither and yon with frantic quest demands.
Stardew Valley recently received a major endgame update in Patch 1.4, with new monsters, fish ponds, a new mystery to solve, various bug-fixes, quality-of-life improvements, and similar updates. Multiplayer support is also now available.
Cuphead’s visual aesthetic is truly unique — it’s the only game we’ve ever seen that mimics the “rubber hose” animation style of the early 1930s in a frenetic run-and-gun shooter. You’ll need sharp reflexes to beat the game, but not much in the way of PC horsepower.
Cuphead is a great game for someone looking for a game you might fairly call “Nintendo hard,” particularly if they enjoy its animation.
The open-world sandbox of Minecraft has been used to create everything from 1:1 scale models of the starship Enterprise to functional (if simple) CPUs. In between, there’s an easily accessible game with a rich crafting system, dangerous mobs, and huge worlds to explore. If your ideas of gameplay run more towards “give me a big space and lots of tools,” and less towards coherent narrative and story-driven play, you may find Minecraft much to your liking.
That doesn’t actually tell you nearly enough about Minecraft, a game that’s inspired millions of people to spend billions of hours stacking blocks on top of each other to build everything from an exact replica of the USS Enterprise from Star Trek to actual working computers. Minecraft is a phenomenal crafting and building game.
Orcs Must Die, Orcs Must Die 2
Orcs Must Die and Orcs Must Die 2 are some of our favorite titles for mindless slaughtery goodness and have a permanent space on my hard drive. This hybrid tower-defense/action game tasks you with burning, blasting, freezing, smashing, dissolving, shooting, and generally wreaking mayhem against wave after wave of orcs, trolls, ogres, and other various bad guys as they seek to invade your home. It’s easy to learn and sometimes surprisingly difficult to master.
Darkest Dungeon is a 2D, side-scrolling dungeon crawler with a side helping of Lovecraftian horror and a mental health management simulator. As your heroes wind their way through the stygian abyss, they’ll face the dripping claws and rasping moans of the eons-damned creatures that dwell beyond the stars. Safeguard them carefully, or you’ll find the abyss staring back at you when you least expect it…
Darkest Dungeon can be legitimately annoying, but if you love mods like “Longest War” for XCOM, this series is a treasure. DD doesn’t pull punches, and if you think you’ve figured the game out, that probably means there’s a DLC or difficulty level waiting to kneecap you around the corner.
So that’s our list. Feel free to chime in with your own. What older games or titles still have a cherished spot on your hard drive, and what games do you find yourself returning to, long after they’ve supposedly been surpassed by more recent releases?