Sometimes you'll find yourself out of the house, with nothing but a laptop and a whole lot of time. And sometimes you have to game on a budget.
But just because you're living with an integrated GPU doesn't mean you have to be bored. Here's some great games you can play on a low end PC or the potato-powered productivity device that is your laptop.
This post has been updated since its original publication, new games added and old ones removed.
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 around.
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, 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?