We often talk about the latest and greatest graphics cards and playing games at the highest settings, but there are times when that’s simply not an option. Whatever the reason may be, in times like these, it’s nice to have a library of fun games that won’t melt our processors.
Fortunately, there are a multitude of older games and even newer indie titles that are friendly for low-end PCs and laptops with integrated GPUs. Browsing through Steam or your preferred PC game platform trying to find something fun to play that won’t tax your system can be exhausting. That’s why we’ve compiled this list of 25 great games we can wholeheartedly recommend.
Even if your hardware is a few years old, most of these titles will work just fine.
Some are ideal right out of the box, while others can use lower settings depending on what kind of hardware you have on hand. Generally speaking, you’ll want to be running at least a dual-core CPU, an integrated GPU from the last few years or better, and about 4GB RAM.
For testing I tried them all on my wife’s three year old laptop that only has Intel integrated graphics. This may still be more modern than your average old laptop, but it’s not a gaming machine by any means. If you’re still unsure, you can download demos of many of the games, and Can You Run It is also a good place to check to see if your gear is up to snuff. Let’s get to it.
Oxenfree from Night School Studio is a must-have on any system, and thanks to its minimalistic, yet very stunning graphics and animation designed by Disney alumni, it is ideal for your older laptop. You play as the protagonist Alex, a teenage girl on an overnight excursion with friends to a mysterious island that used to be a World War II military base. The kids accidentally open a spirit gate and encounter ghosts and discover otherworldly messages from the past.
The real draw of the game is the conversation system, as every conversation can change the course of the narrative. You will spend the majority of the time exploring the island and trying to find a way to close the ghostly rift. The puzzle elements are challenging but not too hard. The gameplay might not be everyone’s cup of tea, but the story is what really drives the game.
FTL: Faster Than Light
As its name implies, FTL puts you at the helm of your own faster-than-light starship. The game plays from a top-down perspective showing your craft’s various compartments or rooms. Each of your ships four systems, Sheilds, Engines, Medbay, Oxygen, and Weapons, are housed in these rooms and are run by your crew. Your overarching mission is to deliver “data” to the Federation, but you will have many encounters along the way, some friendly and most not so friendly. To make matters worse, as you jump at light speed from system to system, you will have a Rebel fleet dogging your trail. If it catches up to you, your ship will be destroyed.
FTL battles take place in real-time, but you can pause to strategize and give your crew commands. You will always have something to do, whether it be managing your ship’s systems or commanding your crew to make repairs or fight boarding parties. The game is very challenging even on easy difficulty because every game is randomly generated. We played for 27 hours and were never able to reach the Federation, but every playthrough was unique and fun.
Although the game is still in early access, Factorio is a well-functioning game worth your time. In a way, it is similar to SimCity, except instead of building streets and buildings, you create conveyor belts and factories. You will collect resources and construct everything by hand at first, but as you progress, your factories will become more and more complex and automated.
However, building a massive manufacturing empire while raping the world of resources makes enemies with the alien populous — “Spitters,” “Biters,” and “Worms.” Eventually, you will have to fend off attacking foes using turrets, tanks, and various other weapons. Developer Wube Software has the official release slated for September 25, 2020, but don’t let that stop you from buying the very stable and virtually complete build right now.
When first-person shooter Borderlands launched in 2009, developer Gearbox marketed it as having “87 bazillion” different guns. In actuality, the game’s “Procedural Content Creation System” is capable of randomly generating over 3.5 million variations with different attributes, but who’s counting? It also provides each weapon with a slightly unique look.
While primarily a shooter, the game has a rich RPG-like character development system allowing players to customize one of four classes, each with unique abilities and skill trees. These elements combined with vehicular combat, open-world environment, a multitude of side quests, and an adaptive four-player multiplayer cooperative mode makes Borderlands a title that you can revisit multiple times with each new playthrough seeming fresh.
Untitled Goose Game
Untitled Goose Game from indy publisher Panic Inc is a more recent title. Players assume the role of a pesky town goose. The town is split up into sections with each having a set of missions or tasks to complete, like stealing items or tricking villagers into doing something. The game combines stealth and puzzle elements and oddly enough developer House House said it drew inspiration from Mario 64 and the Hitman series.
With its simplistic graphics, it is easy to let this game fly under your radar, but its gameplay is fun and silly enough to make it a good pick for lower-end systems. Its only real flaw is that it is too short. Most players can complete it in a couple of hours.
Hotline Miami is a top-down shooter initially launched by Devolver Digital in 2012. You play as an unnamed protagonist (fans refer to as “Jacket”) in 1989 Miami. The game is divided into Chapters, with each having several stages. Missions begin with a phone message that ultimately has Jacket facing off with a Russian Mafia operation. The goal is always to gruesomely eliminate all the bad guys in that location.
Starting each stage unarmed, Jacket must use stealth, at least until he finds a gun or melee weapon. He also has access to masks, which can be found on bodies. Each disguise comes with unique buffs to help get through the stage. While it is an action game, it is also somewhat puzzle-oriented in that players must figure out how to complete areas without being killed, which is not easy. If you can’t get the jump on an enemy, you will likely perish and have to start the level again.
Its retro graphics combined its 1980s-inspired soundtrack give it an almost GTA: Vice City vibe. Its structure makes it great for playing in short bursts, like while you are waiting to board at the airport.
Despite its cartoonish, beautiful graphics, Cuphead is one of the more taxing games on the list, both on your hardware and your sanity. Studio MDHR’s 2017 bullet-hell is one that many have found frustratingly difficult, so it’s not for everyone. However, once you get the hang of its levels (after dying many, many times), it becomes addicting. The sense of relief and satisfaction after completing a stage is a suitable payoff.
You play as either Cuphead or his brother Mugman. The 1930 style is reminiscent of the old “visit-the-snackbar” animations with their anthropomorphic popcorn and sodas dancing around. Coupled with its cool soundtrack, the game makes for a fun experience whether you are watching someone else die or you are playing yourself.
Perhaps one of the more underrated titles on the list, the Hack series consists of three hacker simulators from developer i273 — Hack Run, Hack Run Zero, and Hack Time. They harken back to the days of text adventures, so you can literally run them on anything. The games put players in the shoes of a hacker.
The story plays out from a command line prompt as you infiltrate a mysterious corporation snooping on emails, running scripts, and uncovering clues to delve deeper and deeper. The puzzles can be quite challenging at times, requiring a very keen attention to detail. It is easy to miss clues as the text scrolls off the screen, but diligence pays off, and it is quite satisfying when you crack some of the more security-hardened systems. If all else fails, i273 added a hint system in the most recent updates for those who get stuck. These games are all worth their very inexpensive $3 price point.
Released in 1998, Half-Life remains a classic that has been updated and remade on multiple platforms. The first-person shooter puts you in the shoes of Gordon Freeman, a scientist at a research facility known as Black Mesa. Thanks to an experiment gone wrong, Freeman finds himself battling creatures from another dimension. The 2004 dystopian sequel, Half-Life 2, is set six years after the dimensional rift caused by the Black Mesa Incident. This time he has to contend with the Combine, a multidimensional society of beings that conquered the Earth within seven hours after being unleashed.
West of Loathing
Asymmetric’s West of Loathing is a goofy, open-world adventure done up with stick figures. In fact, the whole game looks like a middle-school student’s art project, but don’t let the childish graphics fool you. The followup to the browser-based game The Kingdom of Loathing, is funny, filled with Western clichés that will have you laughing out loud. It plays like a roleplaying game with a hand-drawn stats sheet and everything.
You will be facing demon cow, cowboy skeletons, goblins, and other crazy villains in turn-based combat. There are plenty of quests and exploring to keep you busy for a long while, Pardner. Best of all, those simplistic graphics we mentioned means the game is likely to run on a potato.
Bridge Constructor Portal
In a spinoff of Clockstone’s Bridge Constructor games, Bridge Constructor Portal adds a new element to the recipe, namely Aperture Science portals. You play as one of the Aperture Science Enrichment Center’s new hires. Your job is to engineer functional bridges in test chambers (60 in all). By functional, we mean cars and trucks have to get from one side to the other without it collapsing. Making it all the more complicated is portals that teleport the vehicles from one area to another, often with enough force to topple your structure. The gameplay is basic but is not easy once you reach the higher levels. There is even a cameo of GLaDOS to help you through the tutorial. Not to spoil anything, but there is still no cake.
Into the Breach
Into the Breach is another strategy title from Subset Games, the makers of FTL. However, this one is turn-based. The plot puts you in control of three mechs from the future pitted against giant bugs called the Vek, which threaten humanity. The gameplay is similar to other games of this nature.
Battles take place on a grid, with each mech being able to move a certain number of squares and attacks within a turn. The mechs are equipped with different weapons and abilities, so careful thought is required to defeat the enemies faced in each round. The retro graphics are well done and easy on the system requirements.
Hearthstone is Blizzard’s competitive card-battling game. Its complexity and depth have thrust it into the professional esports arena, but that does not mean it cannot be enjoyed by the individual up for a casual experience. The game is set in the Warcraft universe with nine classes to play as — Warrior, Shaman, Rogue, Paladin, Hunter, Druid, Warlock, Mage, and Priest. Your choice determines what hero cards you can use during matches.
Rounds are played using customizable decks of cards with the object of reducing your opponent’s hit points to zero. Collecting and organizing decks is a metagame itself. Four types of cards with four levels of rarity (rarer being more powerful) lead to immensely strategic decisions outside of the main game. Add to that, Blizzard’s quarterly expansion of card sets and those deep into the game will find themselves spending hours just planning their deck.
Hearthstone has decent AI for playing solo against the computer, but it was really designed for two-player competition. After going solo for a while to get the hang of things, you find yourself drawn toward matches against players regardless of how much you may hate multiplayer games. The resulting challenge is rewarding and dramatically builds your confidence and skill.
Buy it from: Blizzard
No list of strategy games would be complete without a Sid Meier’s Civilization title, and fortunately, Civilization 5 is tame enough that it won’t kill your low-end hardware. You start the game with a single settler in the year 4000 BC. Turn by turn, you will build a city and expand it into an empire. By researching technologies, you continue your quest for world domination against other nations over the course of 6,050 years.
Combat strategies are deep, with several types of military units to do your conquering. However, conquest is no cakewalk. A lot of thought goes into successful campaigns, so it is not for the impatient.
Portal is set in the Half-Life universe, although this is only apparent through references made during the game. You play as Chell, a female test subject at an abandoned facility called Aperture Science. The game is more of a first-person puzzler than a shooter. Your only “weapon” is a handheld device that can make entry and exit portals on flat surfaces.
The only “enemies” you face are automated gun turrets and an evil rogue AI known as GLaDOS. Most of your time is spent trying to figure out how to get through test chambers using the portal gun. Portal 2 is much more of the same, albeit with a reluctant alliance between Chell and GLaDOS to outwit a new antagonist named Wheatley. The sequel also introduces a two-player cooperative campaign.
Buy it from: Steam
Starcraft II is a slight departure from Blizzard’s original Sci-Fi real-time strategy game. While you can still play as one of the three species Protoss, Terran, and Zerg, The campaigns are less linear. That is not to say that developers have made it non-linear, the storylines still progress as you would expect. However, you don’t go from one set mission to the next. Instead, you can select from a variety of tasks to achieve your end goal. There are also a few new mechanics to mix things up. For example, some battlefields have lava that slowly flows through it, eating up the ground and forcing you to move troops to high ground. Aside from that and a few other surprises, StarCraft II is still the familiar formula of gameplay that made Blizzard’s RTS sagas famous. Build your base, research technology, and build an unstoppable army.
Buy it from: Blizzard
Orwell is set in a dystopian world heavily influenced by George Orwell’s 1984, hence the name. There are two episodic games in the series — Orwell: Keeping an Eye on You and Orwell: Ignorance is Strength. Similar to the Hack series (above), the game simulates a computer with the player in control of it. However, it departs from there. You play as an operative for “The Nation,” a totalitarian government with a computer system set up to spy on everyone.
You will snoop emails, monitor surveillance cameras, and other Big-Brotherly duties. The narrative plays out as you uncover clues and facts related to a series of bombings. The graphics are simple and stylistic, photos make heavy use of polygons to give it a surreal digital feel. The puzzles are not too hard, which is okay because the narrative is what drives this title. You almost get a sense of doing something naughty as you pry into the lives of the “suspects” in the game, which fulfills any voyeuristic urges you may have without breaking the law.
Unless you have been living under a rock, not much needs to be said about Minecraft. The game has sold more than 180 million copies across multiple platforms and has around 112 million monthly active players. The sandbox building sim has generated online video content, real-world merchandise, and spinoff games such as Minecraft: Story and Minecraft Dungeons. It has also acted as a palette for artists who have created stunningly beautiful environments and creations like Elysium Fire’s sprawling Cyberpunk 2077-inspired city.
Minecraft has no goals, and there is no winning in the game, although some have created various minigames to play within their worlds. However, at its heart, it is more like a massive Lego building set. Creations are only limited by the player’s imagination and the blocky graphics, which have not changed since its 2011 release, making it perfect for weaker hardware.
Buy it from: Microsoft
Deadlight is a 2012 side-scrolling survival horror title from Tequila Works. The game is set in the Pacific Northwest and depicts the action with silhouetted against stunningly rendered backdrops. The year is 1984, 145 days after the breakout of a pandemic. You control a character named Randall Wayne who is trying to catch up with his friends after being left behind in a warehouse.
The atmospheric platformer has many environmental puzzles and hazards to figure your way through. The infected zombie-like creatures, referred to as “Shadows,” present a constant threat to your survival. You start with only your wits, but will soon come across weapons as you get further along, including an axe, a pistol, and a shotgun. Ammo is very limited, so your main tactic will be avoiding the Shadows and finding a way past them or using those environmental hazards to dispatch them.
Limbo is a 2D-platformer in the same vein as Deadlight. It even uses a similar silhouetted graphical style but done up in moody greyscale. The game mechanics are much the same, too. You can climb, jump, push or pull objects, all to figure your way to your goal. It is a dark game involving a young boy who wakes up in a forest on the “edge of hell.” He is searching for his missing sister while encountering hostile denizens, including a giant spider.
Most of the gameplay involves solving environmental puzzles and avoiding traps that usually kill you before you even know they are there. And you will die many gruesome deaths. Some of the death scenes are grisly, even in silhouette. For the squeamish, developer Playdead included a setting to filter the death scenes, which it does by flashing to black.
If you prefer your action RPGs more old-school and top-down Diablo II is hard to beat. The game takes place in the randomly-generated world of Sanctuary shortly after the events in the first Diablo. You play as one of five different characters — The Amazon, The Necromancer, The Barbarian, The Sorceress, or the Paladin. There are also The Druid and The Assassin if you have the Lord of Destruction expansion pack.
Using the unique abilities offered by each class, you will unravel the mystery behind the corruption spreading throughout the land and discover the true motivations of the Dark Wanderer introduced at the beginning of the game. Your quest will ultimately have you facing the Dark Lord of Terror himself, Diablo. The graphics are dated, but with retro games making a comeback, that is not necessarily a bad thing, and it is definitely a good thing for laptops and low-end hardware.
Buy it from: Blizzard
RimWorld is another sim/strategy game where you are trapped on a planet in the outer reaches of the galaxy. Your goal is to build a spaceship to escape into space. To accomplish this, you have to manage a colony, research technology, and deal with game events, including natural disasters, pirate raids, and intercolonial conflicts. The game randomly generates events and colonists, including their stats, personality, and backstory, so no two playthroughs will ever be the same.
The depth of the game is enormous. You will continuously be juggling duties keeping close tabs on food production, research, defenses, and various other factors of survival. This depth makes the game very challenging, but there are six difficulty levels giving players a more granular control of the challenge than most other games of this type, but it is still not a walk in the park.
Buy it from: Steam
Magic: The Gathering Arena
Magic: The Gathering Arena is the digital version of the card-collecting game of the same name (albeit without “Arena”). It is somewhat similar to Hearthstone in its overall concept but plays much differently. The main difference boils down to defense.
Attacks in Magic are always targeted at the opponent’s hero. That player can then choose to use a minion or other card to block that attack. In Hearthstone, players can choose to attack minions specifically to weaken defenses. The addition of an opponent sub-play makes for a more drawn out battle rather than the quick time-limited matches of Hearthstone. However, it also makes for a significantly more tactical game.
Hearthstone often feels like solitaire because there is no interruption of your plays during your turn. On the contrary, in Magic, your opponent can actively try to defend and thwart your moves as you make them. So if you are into a card game with a bit more depth, Magic: The Gathering Arena is the way to go.
If you like your turn-based strategy with stealth and cyberpunk elements in the mix, you might want to try Invisible Inc. The year is 2074, and mega-corporations have taken over the world. Invisible Inc is a spy agency that has 72 hours to get its powerful AI named Incognita installed in the enemy’s computer system. To do this, the player must complete various missions to gear up with cybernetics and other equipment that will help them as they sneak about and hack computer systems before taking on the final enemy.
The gameplay is similar to XCOM, with agents having a set number of action points to use during a turn. Time management also plays a significant role as everything you do eats away at your 72-hour time limit. The procedurally generated levels mean that no two playthroughs are exactly the same. The visuals are simple and practical, making it ideal for PCs with specs on the lower end.