As a PC gamer overburdened with gadgets, I have as much trouble choosing how to play a game as I do what I want to play in general. Am I in the mood to sit at my desk? Time for a shooter, then. If I'm in full lazy mode on the couch, out comes the Steam Deck. But if I'm traveling and only opted to bring my laptop with me, I need to pick a different sort of game—a game best suited to playing on a laptop.
Sometime it's nice or even vital to have a keyboard, mouse or full-size trackpad for a PC game, even if the performance requirements are pretty modest. Those are the games where the laptop truly shines.
The best laptop games can run on pretty much any low-end PC today, even though today's gaming laptops aren't necessarily weak. But even if you have a beefy gaming laptop with an RTX 4000 series GPU, you're constantly balancing heat and battery life when laptop gaming, so the best laptop games skew towards lighter system requirements. And most of our favorite laptop games can run on systems that don't have dedicated GPUs at all.
The games selected here won't set your fans going full blast, and are also ideal for playing with a trackpad or in relatively short chunks. They work well on a compact 12-inch screen or a bigger desktop replacement. We also recognize that for plenty of PC gamers, a laptop is your only gaming system—that's why we've included a few faves that are better with a controller or a mouse for those laptops that stay anchored at a desk. Those games have been highlighted with 🖱 and 🎮 icons.
The best laptop games have a lot in common with the best Steam Deck games, but without as much concern for controller or Linux support. We also have a lot more screen space to work with, so we don't have to worry about text legibility on a handheld-size screen.
Below you'll find our favorite pick-up-and-play games for laptops as well as RPGs and strategy games that you can play for weeks. We've mostly stuck to recommending new-ish games that have modest system requirements, but of course just about anything from the early 2010s or prior will run on a new laptop with ease. Check out GOG's old games or the Internet Archive's in-browser emulation library for many, many more options.
And if reading about the best laptop games has you reconsidering the quality of your machine, here's our guide to the best gaming laptops.
Best laptop games: Strategy
🖱 Age of Wonders 4
Release: 2023 | Developer: Triumph Studios | Link: Steam
A new 4X favorite in 2023. Age of Wonders 4 resembles big strategy games like Civ, but with its own magical flavor. As Fraser wrote in our 87% review: "By selecting the physical form, traits, cultural leanings and societal quirks of your people, you're able to create all sorts of unusual empires, from sinister mole-people with a penchant for cannibalism to industrious goblins who just want to build epic cities and make new friends. Through these choices you'll determine your empire's starting bonuses, alignment and magical affinities, establishing how you'll influence the world ... every time, I return from my fantasy foray with a sack full of anecdotes, like when I resurrected a rival ruler who had been plaguing me all game as an undead minion, forced to serve me for eternity. Magic just makes everything more fun."
Crusader Kings 3
Release: 2020| Developer: Paradox Interactive| Link: Steam
There's no series better at generating exciting, tragic, and hilarious stories than Crusader Kings, and there's no better version to jump into than Crusader Kings 3. It's just as complex as the original games, but it's also much more approachable and friendly to new players. The blend of sprawling grand strategy and incredibly personal decisions makes CK3 a game that's hard to quit playing, as you go from planning your conquest of Greece or your alliance with Moldavia to sweating out an assassination plot spearheaded by your own greedy spouse. The stakes always feel high, whether you're managing warfare, diplomacy, and finances on the world stage or slowly realizing that your once-darling children have grown into backstabbing traitors.
Slay the Spire
Release date: 2019 | Developer: Mega Crit Games | Link: Steam
An instantly addictive card combat roguelike, which takes the strategic fun of deckbuilding board games and marries it with the sensibilities of games like The Binding of Isaac and Risk of Rain, where finding random "relics" can change how you play. Or, if you get a lucky combination, turn you into a murderous card god. Like the best roguelikes and deckbuilders, Slay the Spire feeds you that immense satisfaction when you find a combo that absolutely wrecks. Enemies that were once intimidating fall before you like flies. It's a fun one to replay again and again, thanks to unlockables like more powerful cards for each deck type, and protagonists that play wholly differently from one another.
Into The Breach
Release date: 2018 | Developer: Subset Games | Link: Humble
A phenomenal, bite-sized turn-based strategy game from the makers of FTL, and easily one of PC Gamer's favorite games of 2018. A sizable free update in 2022 brought Into the Breach back into our regular rotation. It's incredibly replayable, with different mech squads and tactics to master. As we said in our Into The Breach review: "Exacting, agonising, challenging, and intensely rewarding, Into the Breach delivers in the tiniest package the most perfectly formed tactics around."
Release date: 2016 | Developer: Firaxis Games | Link: Steam
Civ is usually a safe bet when it comes to low-end machines, and you won't need a beefy PC in order to play the newest entry in the series in 2023. Just don't go blaming us when you forget to sleep, so embroiled are you in your quest to wipe the warmongering Gandhi from the face of the Earth. While past Civ games have grown through larger expansions, Civ 6 has opted for the seasonal update model instead, and since 2016 has amassed dozens of new leaders on top of two expansions and smaller bits of DLC.
Magic: The Gathering Arena
Release date: 2018 | Developer: Wizards of the Coast | Link: Official site
This adaptation is finally the real Magic experience, and its recommended system specs belong to 2011 hardware—any modern laptop will handle it no problem. "It's free-to-play and generous," we wrote in our Magic: The Gathering Arena review. "When you buy a booster pack, whether with cash or gold earned in-game, you earn wildcards which can be traded for any card of an equivalent rarity (replacing the typical dusting and crafting systems of other digital CCGs). It is much more generous than tabletop Magic. You'll still need to drop money for whatever perfect deck's dominating the meta, or if you can't be bothered grinding daily quests for gold. But if you climbed out of the money hole of collecting Magic cards in a book full of plastic sleeves back in the day, this is a safe way of re-experiencing that without going broke."
Best laptop games: RPGs
Disco Elysium - The Final Cut
Release: 2019 | Developer: ZA/UM | Link: Steam
This is one of our favorite RPGs of all time, and our Game Of The Year in 2019. Disco Elysium is gorgeous in a sad, gritty way, but its painterly 2D environments won't push your system. It's a detective RPG that feels quite a lot like playing a classic adventure game or a visual novel. Expect to slow things down here to discover clues and secrets in its detailed environments and read a lot of fantastic writing. It's sly, clever, and full of surprises, meaning you can get some of the best new RPG action without needing a GPU that handles ray-tracing.
Thanks to the Final Cut version of the game that now comes standard, Disco Elysium's installation size is a bit beefier than it used to be. If you've got the space to spare though, it should still run swell.
Honkai Star Rail
Release: 2023 | Developer: MiHoYo | Link: Official site
The studio behind Genshin Impact released another hit in 2023, trading fantasy for sci-fi and action-based battles for a turn-based system. Despite the gacha mechanics, it's a great RPG, as laid out in our 90% review:
"When Star Rail hits, it hits. A climactic boss fight at the end of the first planet is a battle against a god in the middle of a snow storm where electric guitars wail and drums build. As she holds up a black vortex of cosmic energy and threatens your team, the music simmers in the background ... Star Rail's unrestrained commitment to its characters, world, and systems, earns it the right to have a glorious anime battle set to a rock anthem. It's a tonal chameleon that switches modes so deftly that it had me cheering it on. It's alive and imaginative in a way the fantasy world of Genshin has never been able to pull off."
Best laptop games: Puzzle & Adventure
Dave the Diver
Release: 2023 | Developer: Mintrocket | Link: Steam
An "adventure RPG" that sort of defies genre; Dave the Diver has you managing a sushi restaurant and diving in the sea as an explorer, with many more activities layered on top. Like, many more, as described in our 91% review: "Nearly every time I sat down to play Dave the Diver it threw a new feature or activity at me. Night fishing opens up the pursuit of new species and turns the once comforting ocean spooky, and new gear like tranquilizers and submersibles give you new ways to catch fish. A staff management system for the restaurant lets you hire and train workers to help out... There's a farm to breed fish so you don't have to rely entirely on daily dives, and a farm to grow rice and vegetables for new recipes, and eventually even an underwater farm to grow different types of seaweed. As soon as you've gotten comfortable with one system, the game throws a new one on top."
Release: 2023 | Developer: Geometric Interactive | Link: Steam
One of the standout puzzle games of the year, we awarded Cocoon a 90% in our review. It's essentially a game about rolling around little orbs and putting things in their proper place, but there's a lot going on with those orbs, it turns out. Each contains a world of its own that you can hop between, as expressed by reviewer Jon Bailes: "What really makes the globe jumping fascinating is not simply that the puzzles are ingenious and neat and tidy—it's the extraordinary sense of relativity it evokes. Your entire world in one breath becomes a mere object in the next. It's a playful representation of cosmic scale."
Ghost Trick: Phantom Detective
Release: 2023 | Developer: Capcom | Link: Steam
A long-awaited remaster and PC version of a Nintendo DS game that didn't quite get its due, Ghost Trick is a very funny, very clever puzzler about possessing objects as a ghost to eventually solve your own murder. As described in our review: "This is the gaming equivalent of an unmissable crime novel, a gripping mystery where every answer leads to three more questions and connects 10 seemingly unrelated people or places together in a way you'd never imagined. I honestly couldn't stop until I'd seen it through to the end and when I did all I wanted to do was dive back in again."
Release: 2023 | Developer: Sad Owl Studios | Link: Steam
Videogame concepts don't get much more galaxy brain than Viewfinder, a puzzle game in which you snap photos of the environment, then "insert" those photos into the world where they become three dimensional reality. As described in our review, the effect is incredibly impressive: "Discovering the ins and outs of Viewfinder's unique logic is very reminiscent of the first time we all learned to "think with portals" in Portal. It's an obvious comparison to make, but it's not one I make lightly—Viewfinder's tricks really do feel as revelatory to play with as Portal's did then."
The Case of the Golden Idol
Release: 2022 | Developer: Color Gray Games | Link: Steam
Investigate a dozen baffling and gruesome murders, all involving the same mysterious artifact, in one of the most inventive and satisfying detective games in years. In The Case of The Golden Idol you're shown the moment someone has been killed, a grisly tableau frozen in time. Investigate by clicking on anything that seems suspicious or interesting—you can go through the pockets of the victim and bystanders, learn the names of everyone involved, and slowly collect clues, in the form of words, needed to solve the crime. Place the words into blanks on incomplete scroll to solve the murders and the motives behind them, each more puzzling than the last.
Alongside the individual mysteries there's a sprawling story spanning decades centered around the powerful and bizarre idol itself and the horrifying things people will do to possess it. The murders are fun to solve, and the story behind them is fascinating. I don't say this often (or ever) but this is one videogame that would make an outstanding mystery novel.
Best laptop games: Action & Platformers
🎮 Bomb Rush Cyberfunk
Release: 2023 | Developer: Team Reptile | Link: Steam
The long-awaited heir to Jet Grind Radio; we loved Cyberfunk's punk roller skating, awarding it an 85% in our review and calling it "a futuristic time capsule that bursts with sonic and ocular swag." This is the kind of game that sinks or soars on style, and we thought it soared thanks to the soundtrack and the "buttery" feeling of skating through each dense cityscape, finding secrets and bits of the environment to tag or do tricks off of. It's a late '90s / early '00s throwback that should run nicely on even an aging Windows 7 laptop.
Release: 2021 | Developer: Double Fine | Link: Steam
This sequel took its time arriving, but Double Fine made it worth it. Psychonauts 2 is a hoot, and the rare example of a big budget 3D platformer in this day and age, bursting with creative levels set inside its characters' troubled minds. Go inside a brain casino, explore your '60s spy movie-style secret base, dig into a shockingly long conversation about pancakes... there's a lot to do here, and it all feels designed with real love.
Release: 2011 | Developer: Re-Logic | Link: Steam
Terraria is a huge game in a very tiny package. Even if you originally wrote it off as a 2D Minecraft clone, it's grown far beyond that label in the years since. Terraria is a crafting adventure with heaps of updates to its name with new bosses, biomes, fishing, and too many other things to name, and it's still seeing updates as of 2023. It's also wild how little this huge game demands from your computer with its tiny install size and modest system requirements.
Best laptop games: First-person shooters
🖱 Counter-Strike 2
Release: 2023 | Developer: Valve | Link: Steam
After years of Counter-Strike: Global Offensive being the biggest FPS in the world, Valve has transformed it into Counter-Strike 2, a free shooter that is largely similar to its predecessor. Then again, in the grand scheme of things Counter-Strike hasn't changed that much since its very first iteration in the '90s. As a result the small details matter a lot, and CS2 does make some meaningful changes that will keep the competitive scene on its toes for the next year or so. Whether you've never played CS or haven't played in years, now is an ideal time to jump in: the game hasn't been this shiny and new for a decade.
🖱 Amid Evil: The Black Labyrinth
Release: 2019, 2023 | Developer: Indefatigable | Link: Steam
In the wake of 2016's Doom, we've seen a resurgence of new-but-old shooters that fully embrace the graphical styles and level design of 90s hallmarks like Quake and Hexen. Amid Evil may be the best of them: it's the heavy metal album cover version of a 90s FPS, full of epic axes, swords that shoot green energy beams, and grenade launcher wands that fire miniaturized planets as weapons. Every area in the game has a unique aesthetic and set of enemies, so it never overstays its welcome. And because the design is faithful to its '90s inspirations, it'll run on a toaster (a suitably hardcore toaster, anyway). It also got an excellent expansion called The Black Labyrinth in 2023, which we think is even better than the base game. You get to punch dudes so hard they explode.
🖱 Warhammer 40,000: Boltgun
Release: 2023 | Developer: Auroch Digital | Link: Steam
The most recent champion of the bloody good retro FPS revival, Boltgun is a fast-paced shooter with a fantastic pixelated aesthetic. It isn't exactly trying to look like Doom or Quake or some other '90s shooter, but it evokes that feel while still conveying the massive scale of the 40K universe. Our reviewer especially loved the chainsword's use as a movement mechanic: "Slashing with the chainsword can be done in mid-air, dash included, which allows for some gory free mobility as long as there's something heretical nearby."
Best laptop games: Multiplayer
Release date: 2016 | Developer: ConcernedApe | Link: Humble
An indie sensation that brought the idyllic farm life of Harvest Moon to PC. Build your farm into a vegetable empire, go exploring, learn about the lives of your neighbors, fall in love and settle down. Simple graphics ensure this one will run like a dream on your laptop, and it'll make long flights pass by in a snap. Stardew Valley has officially supported co-op farming for a couple years now, which is undoubtedly a great way to go back to Pelican Town.
One of the main questions you see asked online about laptops is “Will it run Minecraft?”, to which the answer, for future reference, is “Yeah probably”. Mojang's infinite block-'em-up isn't terribly demanding specs-wise, and it's the perfect game to mess around with on a laptop when you're supposed to be writing features for PC Gamer about low-spec games. While it's often played on a tablet, phone or console these days, you're getting the latest updates and mod support if you choose to build stuff with your PC. Here's our frequently updated list of the best Minecraft mods.
🖱 Project Zomboid
Release date: 2013 (Early access) | Developer: The Indie Stone | Link: Steam
Despite technically being a decade old, we really just got into Project Zomboid in 2022; this multiplayer survival game has gone through some big updates in the last couple years. It's far deeper than it looks, with intricate systems for injuries, foraging for food, vehicle physics, and zombies with modeled vision and hearing. Multiplayer is a relatively recent addition that sent Project Zomboid rocketing into the most-played games on Steam where it's now carved out a comfy spot to call its own.