Best laptop games: 10 top low-spec titles that won't melt your machine


Introduction

Best laptop games

It may be the opinion of some PC gamers that you aren’t a hardcore player unless you’re rocking a GTX1080 and have a different VR headset for each day of the week. But almost any half-decent laptop made in the last five years can actually play an amazing library of games without even needing a dedicated GPU.

We’re here to show you the amazing low-demand recent games that you’d be a fool to miss, as well as some AAA smashes that work surprisingly well on low-end hardware.

  • Once you’re looking for something meatier, check out our best PC games

1. FTL: Faster Than Light

FTL: Faster Than Light

  • CPU: 2GHz
  • RAM: 1GB
  • GPU: Card with 128MB+ dedicated memory

FTL sounds like an ultra-hardcore game when you describe it: a real-time strategic space roguelike. A roguelike is a game that makes you start from scratch when you die. However, FTL is actually well-suited to pretty casual laptop gaming. You can even get it for iPad, after all.

You tool up your star ship, recruit your crew and do your best not to get destroyed as you take an important message from one end of the galaxy to the other. Screenshots don’t really to FTL justice, as all you just see is a blocky graphic of your ship, not really its spacey surroundings.

However, it’s the perfect game for public play: nothing on-screen to make you feel too embarrassed. Or keep fellow passengers glued to your screen if you play on train journeys.

2. The Elder Scrolls: Skyrim

The Elder Scrolls: Skyrim

  • CPU: dual-core 2GHz
  • RAM: 2GB
  • GPU: DirectX 9 compatible

Few games stay relevant as long as Skyrim. It should feel ancient, but a mod scene has kept it vital for the past half-decade. Being so old has also meant humble hardware has been able to catch up with its real-life spec requirements.

It’ll run pretty well on Intel Core-series processors from the last 2-3 years, and even plays pretty well on some recent Atom/Pentium CPUs on its lowest settings. If you have a real dog of a laptop, there’s also a mod that’ll cut down the settings even further than the game itself allows, called Ultra Low Graphics Mod. Imaginative naming.

In case you’ve been locked in a cupboard for the past five years, Skyrim is a massive open-world RPG that won countless ‘game of the year’ awards when it was released back in 2011.

3. Broken Age

Broken Age

  • CPU: 1.7GHz dual-core
  • RAM: 2GB
  • GPU: Intel HD 3000 or newer

Remember the game that earned millions and millions of dollars of funding on Kickstarter back when such things were unheard-of? That’s Broken Age, the point ‘n’ click platform made by one of the people who came up with Monkey Island back in the 90s.

While it didn’t single-handedly revive the genre, it is a fun tale that is nowhere near as frustrating as most of the early 90s adventures, most of which are best viewed through a pair of rose-tinted nostalgia specs. From a distance.

You play as both male and female characters, skipping between chapters in their respective stories to make sure the narrative doesn’t get stale. We’re steering clear of spoilers, so we’ll leave it at that.

4. Half-Life 2

Half-Life 2

  • CPU: 1.7GHz
  • RAM: 512MB
  • GPU: DX 8.1 compatible card

You might head straight for 2D games when you think of games that’ll work with pretty modest hardware. However, some once-fancy 3D games work very well with non-gaming laptops. Valve’s Source engine is particularly good at working with lesser GPUs, making classics like Half-life 2 play well on modern integrated graphics hardware.

If you’re not up for a thinking person’s FPS like Half-Life 2, you might want to check out fantastic first-person puzzler Portal 2 instead. It is also based on the Source engine. Portal 2 takes the portal gun from Half-Life 2, which makes teleporting holes in walls, and makes a whole game out of it. Possible one of the best games of all time, actually.

5. Minecraft

Minecraft

  • CPU: Intel Pentium D
  • RAM: 2GB
  • GPU: Intel HD

It’s easy to think of Minecraft as retro in some way, but it’s far more innovative than some of the nay-saying haters would have you believe. It is not just for kids. Try it, you might just like it.

This world-building classic was never out to wow audiences with its Crysis-style graphics, but its highly scalable visuals let you tweak Minecraft to suit any machine. As well being able to fiddle with the draw distance and the few visual effects the game uses, you can change the field of view too.

Minecraft is also well-suited to laptop gaming because you don’t need to be super accurate with your cursor, which is handy if you’re using a trackpad rather than a mouse.

6. Rogue Legacy

Rogue Legacy

  • CPU: 1.6GHz
  • RAM: 1GB
  • GPU: x1950 Pro, 7900 gt

Take 90s platform stylings, add a roguelike twist, a thoroughly modern random level generator and a few RPG sprinkles and you have Rogue Legacy. It’s one of the most addictive indie games of the last decade.

You play as a knight type, leaping right into a castle full of nasties. When you die, and you will die, you return as one of that warrior’s descendants. The castle will be different, as will the class of your character. While you have to start from scratch each time, you can unlock bonuses by collecting gold from chests in the castle.

This is the bit that makes it more accessible than a true roguelike game, where you really have to start from square one when you die.

7. Don’t Starve

Don't Starve

  • CPU: 2GHz
  • RAM: 1GB
  • GPU: Nvidia HD 4450

This is a cracking little game where you wander around in a slightly twisted nightmarish world, exploring and picking up supplies to try to survive, day by day. When the sun goes down, awful creatures start prowling around the shadows. If you don’t build a fire, you’re a goner.

You have to eat to keep yourself healthy, and even your mental health deteriorates if you don’t find out ways to pep yourself up.

There are some nice visual effects in don’t starve, but as a predominantly 2D near-top-down game, it’s happy to work with all but the most basic laptops.

8. Hearthstone

Hearthstone

  • CPU: Intel Core 2 Duo
  • RAM: 2GB
  • GPU: Intel HD 1000

If you don’t mind a real risk of addiction in your laptop gaming, Hearthstone is a title not to miss. It is a little like nerd classic card battler game (and also video game) Magic: The Gathering, but much better-suited to quick, casual play.

Like so many modern casual games, though, you’ll probably end up playing it for a lot longer than five minutes. And it feels even more “right” on a laptop than a hulking desktop.

It’s a Valve game and, like most Valve titles, fares incredibly well on lower-end hardware. It officially supports the Intel HD 1000 integrated GPU, from way back in the Sandy Bridge generation half a decade ago.

9. Civilization V

Civilization V

  • CPU: Intel Core 2 Duo
  • RAM: 2GB
  • GPU: Intel HD

Is Civilisation the ultimate “PC” game? Many of us have spent a fistful of full days working through Civilization’s virtual recap of the ages of man, whether it was back in the 90s, or just last week. Civ V has more of the casual vibe that previous Civ games, but that makes it more palatable if you’re looking for something to kill 30 mins, rather than 3 hours.

It’ll work on almost any Intel Core series laptop from the past five years, but if you find yours still isn’t up to the task, don’t forget Civilisation IV. Despite being ancient, it still works fine on Windows 10 through Steam.

10. The Sims 4

The Sims 4

  • CPU: Core 2 Duo
  • RAM: 2GB
  • GPU: Intel HD 3000

EA gets a lot of flak. It was rated as the most hated company in America two years in a row, after all. However, it doesn’t half know how to court a big audience. And that means making sure games like The Sims 4 work on just about everything.

This infamous lifestyle sim even has a “laptop” mode designed for systems that can barely make it through the title screen of The Witcher 3. The game itself is very much business as usual: you slog through a virtual life, making bucks and designing living rooms. Or doing your best to torture some poor virtual peon by locking them in an inescapable toilet.

Other less casual EA games that work amazingly well on most laptops include Dead Space 1-3 and Dragon Age: Origins.

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