When I first became interested in computers, the idea of gaming on a low-end laptop or desktop was a contradiction in terms. Your options were: Intel, if you could afford them, AMD if you needed a cheaper but good-enough option, and Cyrix if you hated yourself. In the modern era, we aren’t nearly so constrained. Modern games target every type of device and form factor, making it comparatively easy to find titles to play.
We’ve rounded up some of the better ones below.
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 Mobile 4000-based laptop. Integrated graphics don’t have to mean unplayable 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, or how new the games are, but whether you enjoy them.
This time around, I’ve added a “Runs on” listing to give the minimum specs for the game. I cannot guarantee how good the experience at the minimum spec is, but this way you can eyeball games and get a sense of whether your hardware can run them.
All games should be assumed to require Windows 7 or above unless specifically stated otherwise.
Your Inner Civil Engineer Requires: Pentium 4 2GHz, 2GB of RAM, GeForce 7200 GS, 150MB of storage.
Poly Bridge is a great puzzle game, somewhat in the tradition of now-ancient titles like The Incredible Machine. In this case, you must design bridges that can carry a certain number of vehicles while also coming in under budget. These two simple goals can be difficult to achieve in later levels (there are more than 60), since the game adds various hazards and the need to deploy construction techniques I’m fairly certain the Army Corps of Engineers does not approve of.
The game recently got a sequel (which I haven’t played yet). Reviews of it seem a bit less enthused than for Poly Bridge, with one noting it felt more like an expansion pack to the original. It is, however, excellently rated on Steam.
Stagger Drunkenly at an Adequate Frame Rate: Intel Core 2 Duo, 2GB RAM, 20GB HDD space, 512MB graphics card.
In Disco Elysium, you’re an alcohol-and-drug-abusing amnesiac detective who has been hired to solve a murder mystery. This sort of thing happens so often in games, you’d think there’d be some kind of agency in charge of ensuring would-be detectives still knew their own names.
As you work to solve a murder you’ll remember things about yourself as well and have access to a system of traits with which to flesh out your character. There are 24 skills in the game, and they all have an impact on how the game evolves. Pick the wrong (or right) ones, and you may end up arguing with yourself over the correct course of action. It won Game of the Year from several publications, and it’ll run on 14-year-old hardware.
Mutant Year Zero: Road to Eden
Search for Scrap On: Core i5-760, Phenom II X4 965, GTX 580 / AMD Radeon 7870 HD, 6GB RAM, 8GB HDD.
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
Visit Beautiful Molten Core if You Own: Is your PC literally old enough to vote? No? You’re fine. Officially, Core 2 Duo E6600 or AMD Phenom X3 8750, 8800 GT or Radeon HD 4850, or Intel HD Graphics 4000. Unofficially, you can run probably run Classic on less. I’ve tested it on a 2015 Razer Blade Stealth with Intel 520 HD graphics and the frame rate was high enough to make me think there’s some headroom in those already-low-end graphics options. Interestingly, WoW Classic isn’t listed as requiring a DX11 GPU.
Revisit a simpler time, when an MMO that largely takes place outside and requires you to congregate with large groups of people didn’t feel fantastical (at least not for those reasons). WoW Classic is everything you loved (or hated) about original World of Warcraft. I’m a biased fan, to be clear, but just because I’m biased doesn’t mean I’m wrong.
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). 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.
Alternately, you could pick up Runescape Classic, which literally runs on mobile phones now. Your move, Blizzard.
Untitled Goose Game
Chase People Like an A****** With: Core 2 Duo 8500, Nvidia GeForce 510, 4GB of RAM, 820MB storage. The 510 is a bottom-end card from 2011, which means midrange or high-end cards from 2011. As long as your GPU can handle DX11, you’re fine.
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.
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.
Soars Through Gotham On: Any dual-core CPU at 2.4GHz or more, Nvidia 8800 GT or AMD Radeon 3850, 2GB of RAM. Supports Windows XP.
I’m sticking with Arkham City in this update, rather than moving on to one of the newer titles. 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
Calculate Strategic Micro-combat Using: Any 1.7GHz CPU, 1GB of RAM, 300MB storage, and an Intel HD 3000 IGP.
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
Spittoon-and Snake-Themed Exploration Needs: An Nvidia GeForce 7200 GS, Core 2 Duo 7400, 2GB of RAM, and 4GB of storage. Runs on Windows XP SP2+.
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.
Want to Farm Crops and Help People? You’ll Need: Any CPU at 2GHz or more, any GPU with at least 256MB of RAM and SM 3.0 support, 2GB of RAM and 500MB of storage.
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 received a major endgame update last fall 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.
Visit the Era of Classic Animation (and Try Not to Die) if You’ve Got: An Intel Core 2 Duo E8400, AMD Athlon 64 X2 6000+, 2GB of RAM, Nvidia GeForce 9600 GT / AMD Radeon HD 3870, 20GB HDD space. Only needs DirectX 9.0c support, but still requires Windows 7.
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 2D game. 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.
Fend off Creepers and Illigers With: A Core i3 3210 or A8-7600, 4GB of RAM, 180-1GB HDD space, Intel HD 4000 or AMD’s Radeon R5 family, and a 1024×768 display.
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. Minecraft is a phenomenal crafting and building game.
Orcs Must Die, Orcs Must Die 2
Revisit the Simple Joy of Spring-Loaded Traps and Acid Bombs: Any dual-core CPU at 2GHz or above, a GeForce 6800 or ATI Radeon x1950 with 256GB of RAM, 2GB of RAM, and at least 256MB of VRAM. Supports Windows XP.
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. It’s easy to learn and sometimes surprisingly difficult to master.
OMD excels at offering a variety of fun ways to slaughter monsters in quick succession. Spring-loaded traps that hurl creatures through the air? Check. Acid sprayers and arrow traps? Check. Trinkets to transform you into a massive ogre, hurl fireballs, or turn orcs into chickens? Check.
Explore Your Ancestor’s Darkest Secrets: 2GB of RAM, a GPU capable of supporting OpenGL 3.2 (released in 2009), 2GB of storage. 1080p, 16:9 displays recommended.
Darkest Dungeon is a 2D, side-scrolling dungeon crawler with a side helping of Lovecraftian horror (hold the racism) 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?