13 Games You Can Play On Laptops And Low-End Machines

Sometimes you'll find yourself out of the house, with nothing but a laptop and a whole lot of time. And while laptops are getting more and more powerful, most are still low-spec machines when it comes to gaming.

But just because you're living out of home with an integrated GPU doesn't mean you have to be bored. Here's 13 games you can play on the potato-powered productivity device that is your laptop.


Risk of Rain

Image: Steam

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.


Civilization 5

Image: 2K/Firaxis

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 around.


Owlboy

Image: Supplied

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.


Warhammer 40,000: Space Marine

But sometimes you just want to open up your laptop for a bit of virtual catharsis. So for that moment, I give you the best Ork Slaying Simulator around: Relic's Warhammer 40,000 Space Marine.

It gets repetitive at points, but Space Marine is basically an unhinged, non-stop slaughter of Orks from start to finish. It's also quite an old game by today's standards, and should have no trouble maintaining a perfectly playable framerate on laptops with the 6th or 7th generation Intel CPUs. (Here's how the game runs on an Intel HD Graphics 4600 if you want a reference.)


Stardew Valley

Image: Stardew Valley

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

Image: Supplied

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.


Endless Legend

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

Image: Good Old Games

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

Image: Supplied

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).


Darkest Dungeon

Image: Steam

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.


Sleeping Dogs

Image: Supplied

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.


Duelyst

Rounding out this list is Duelyst, the free-to-play collectable card game that draws from the world of JRPGs as much as it does Hearthstone. Everyone also knows by this stage that you can play Hearthstone on anything, phones included, so why not go for something a bit different?

The fun of Duelyst is in the positioning. Matches take place on a battle grid where each player is responsible for the deployment and movement of their units, which are drawn from a deck of cards. Fans of Hearthstone will recognise most of the mechanics, but the pixel art and the added tactical layer are a huge bonus. And another plus is the fact that Duelyst doesn't need to run through Steam or another third-party service, which is a huge help if your only available internet is blocking connections to Steam/Battle.net.


So those are 13 games you can play on your laptop, from action platformers to addictive CCGs to good old farming simulators. What games do you play on your laptop when you're away from home - or your main gaming setup?


Comments

    surprised to see something like Space Marine in a list like this instead of one of the Torchlight games

    Spelunky also tends to perform more consistently than Risk of Rain due to how crazy RoR gets in late-game. For fans of both I would also recommend Caveblazers (currently following a similarly successful early access process to RoR)

      Aye the lack of Torchlight is surprising given the fact they don't need much to run, are cheap and are great games.

        I'm pretty sure they were designed explicitly to run on low-end hardware in the first place - it's why they stylised the characters akin to WoW insteading of trying for realism like their contemporaries.

    undertale?
    glad to see dungeon keeper up there.
    Hearth Stone would be another option in stead of duelyst too.

      Hearthstone is a bit of a given, so I wanted to go with something else. You can play Hearthstone just as effectively on your phone too, so might as well make use of the laptop screen for something a bit prettier. Undertale's a good choice, although I don't think it's as replayable as most of the list above.

    It's always nice to see Risk of Rain get some love - I've played about 60 hours and still go back to it regularly for bit of a distraction - the game nails pretty much everything, from the retro aesthetic to the excellent soundtrack. The artifacts also give the game great replayability, as each one/combination alters the gameplay significantly.

    Deadbolt is another game by the same company - similar aesthetic to RoR. I haven't played it yet, but the reviews are also great - the hardware requirements are also low end, so should run fine on a laptop, but looks like it probably needs a mouse moreso than RoR.

    I'd also add basically any game released more than 10 years ago to this list - any half-decent laptop or low-end PC should be able to handle SW:KOTOR or Half Life 2

    Last edited 04/01/17 2:19 pm

      With these things I like doing games that people might not expect. KOTOR is a given, especially since it's on phones and tablets now. Same deal with XCOM.

      I was thinking of including Nuclear Throne as well, but that game needs a mouse sadly. You could pack a controller, but I didn't want to fill the list with too many games that needed extra equipment. That defeats the purpose a bit.

        Fair point. However, I will always encourage people to play HL2. Always.

        Also, out of curiosity, where are you guys based in the city? We moved offices a while back to the Circular Quay end of Phillip St, which I'm pretty sure is close to you?

          Sorry, missed this one before. We're just opposite Circular Quay these days, so very close indeed.

    I've played Civ 5, Endless Space and a bunch of other empire sims on my MacBook air.

    Have you tried throwing the new Civ6 at it?

    On another note, all of the Total War games before Shogun 2 works pretty well on low end machines

    I have an old Asus Eeebook 1.8g Atom. 1gb ram and Intel onboard graphics when I don't want to take the big bulky gaming laptop on a plane. Surprisingly I get away with playing GTA Vice City, the Mount & Blade series and Battlefield 1942. Sure they are old games but they handle pretty well especially for casual play.

    Exactly the sort of post I was hoping for!

    New territory for me, but have ended up with a Lenovo i5-7200U with GeForce 920MX GPU. The only game I'm so far game to try on it from that list has been FTL. Will Civ 5 really manage?

    Other games I will be trying/want to actually properly play some time this year on it:

    Overwatch
    Diablo 3 (finally)
    Starcraft 2 (need to finish the second expansion, and then onto the last)
    Stanley Parable
    Beginner's Guide
    Monaco
    Black Mesa and the Half-Lifes (sounds like a band)
    Dishonored 1 vanilla

    Then the Mass Effects, Shadowruns, and possibly XCOM 2

    Last edited 04/01/17 5:50 pm

      Dishonored 1 vanilla

      No. Doesn't run well on low end machines.

    I went on a little binge on GOG recently... aside from Stardew Valley, I have the first Crusader Kings game (I'm a bit of a recovering CK2 addict prone to relapses), SimCity 4, the first two Tropico games (they come as a bundle on GOG), and all the Cultures games (Cultures, Cultures 2, Northland & 8th Wonder of the World) installed on my new-ish Atom x5-Z8350-powered laptop with a 128GB eMMC drive and 4GB RAM. I know Terraria works as well. Have yet to install Steam on here but would like to see how Mount & Blade and Banished run when I do. Also I've seen the first Far Cry game run on a x5-Z8300-powered tablet, so I'll probably give that a whirl too at some point, though I expect significant FPS drops in jungle areas. It's just kind of fun throwing these old games on this little Atom and seeing how she fares. I'll also mention here that from what I can recall The Sims 2 Ultimate Collection ran more than a little laggy on my old Dell Inspiron 11 3000 with the Celeron N2830 - on a laptop I'd suggest it probably needs an i3 at the very least. Also note that I take a mouse literally everywhere my laptop goes because while some games might play well with the touchpad, I sure don't lol.

    As an old AMD laptop gamer I can add the following:

    Binding of Isaac - the original game was not so good. Being run within Flash, it really suffered on my system. The new remake was quite good.

    Any game with "nvidia" on startup would suck, no matter the detail level or resolution. I played Witcher 2 at 640x480 barely.

    Most Unreal titles worked really well, in particular Borderlands 1 and 2. Native res, decent detail level ran pretty well.

    Anything Source ran like a dream. Half Life and Left 4 Dead ran flawlessly which really highlighted just how badly "nvidia" titles were crippled on the old system. I know the nvidia toolset makes pretty graphics easy but is it so hard to put in a check... If nvidia then geralt gets beautiful white flowing hair, else flat.

    HuniePop is also dreamy ;)

    Just thought I'd add in the original Dishonored ran great on a 400 laptop when I played it a few yrs ago, oh and Hyper Light Drifter too. Though you'll need k and m and game pad respectively.

    I'd add, along with the caveat that a gamepad would be very useful:

    Eldritch
    La Mulana
    Spelunky
    Cave Story
    Teleglitch
    Legend of Grimrock

    Got to disagree on the Binding of Isaac. My lappy is not a potato but heating problems have aged it beyond the already respectable 2 years it is pushing and in order to run tBoI without lag, I need to close most other programs. After a few hours of playing it starts lagging anyway and a restart is necessary. Civ 5 on the other hand does indeed run fine. Don't Starve runs perfect the first few hours. With Guacamelee I experienced much less lag than with Isaac.

    Great list! That pretty much sets you up for years of gaming lol. Didn't realize Civ and endless legend didn't need much grunt, would've expected them to need a ton of resources.

    My first instinct was Undertale, and though I saw you mentioned in another comment that it's not very replayable, I guess it depends on who you are. That's turned in to a "play every year" kind of game for me, even though it's the same every time, just to go through the story with those characters. Eachto their own I guess :)

    Also, hell yes on Stardew Valley. That will most definitely keep you entertained for many hours ;D

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