Gaming laptops may be more powerful than ever, but we don't all have a laptop with a GTX 2080 in it. Some of us prefer a lighter, smaller notebook for life on-the-go, and sometimes that means giving up playing the most demanding PC games. Thankfully, in this age of bountiful indies and a huge classic library on Steam, there are still tons of fantastic PC games fit for our laptops.
This is our collection of the best games for laptops and low-spec rigs—games that can give you hours of entertainment without stressing out your system. We've pulled from all sorts of genres, so there are some quick pick-up-and-play picks alongside RPGs that could keep you busy for weeks. There are games here you can replay for ages all by themselves, and ones that you could use to kill some time between meetings.
These are mostly newer games with modest system requirements, but of course there are loads of classic PC games, from Doom to Half-Life 2, that will run buttery smooth on any modern laptop. Check out GOG's old games or the Internet Archive's in-browser emulation library.
Looking for a new laptop to game on the go? Here's our guide to the best gaming laptops.
Best laptop games: Co-op
Release date: 2018 | Developer: InnerSloth | Link: Steam
If you're up for a bit of subterfuge with friends, Among Us is one you can be sure they'll be able to play almost no matter how old their machine is. It even has cross-play between PCs and phones if that's all they have handy. Among Us is a familiar format to anyone who's played Werewolf or other similar group tabletop games. A crew of brightly-colored space engineers are stuck trying to repair a ship while discovering who among them (get it?) is the imposter trying to murder the rest. The fun is in how well you and your friends can fool one another more than fancy lighting effects, so it's an easy one to pick up and play on a low spec machine.
Untitled Goose Game
Release date: 2019 | Developer: House House | Link: Official site
The not titled goose game is plenty short and so are its required system specs. If you somehow went dark on the internet in the weeks following the Goose Game's launch, you may have missed how many goose memes it birthed into the unsuspecting mainstream social media sphere. The Goose Game is a charming little stealth puzzler about being a terribly foul goose on the loose in a quaint little British village. In our review, Luke Kemp says "I can’t remember the last game that made me laugh so loudly and so often while I was playing it."
Release date: 2011 | Developer: Valve | Link: Steam page
We could have included pretty much any Source engine game here, such is the impressive way it scales to lower-spec hardware. (Admittedly, that might be because it's getting on a bit.) While Half-Life 2 shines these days with visual mods and at higher resolutions, Portal 2 remains one of the funniest, smartest puzzle games around, even if you had cause to play it at 800x600 with all the settings turned to 'Low'. You're not playing this one to be wowed by fancy graphical effects—you're playing for Stephen Merchant's, J.K. Simmons', and Ellen McLain's terrific voice acting, and of course for that bit with the potato.
Release date: 2011 | Developer: Mojang | Link: Official site
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.
Release date: 2016 | Developer: ConcernedApe | Link: Humble Store
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.
Best laptop games: Strategy
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 Store
A phenomenal, bite-sized turn-based strategy game from the makers of FTL, and easily one of PC Gamer's favorite games of 2018. It's incredibly replayable, with different mech squads and tactics to master. As we said in our review: "Exacting, agonising, challenging, and intensely rewarding, Into the Breach delivers in the tiniest package the most perfectly formed tactics around."
Release date: 2010 | Developer: Firaxis Games | Link: Humble Store
Civ is usually a safe bet when it comes to low-end machines, and you won't need too beefy a PC in order to play the second newest entry in the series. 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. 4Xs in general tend to be quite kind to laptops, so if you meet the (slightly less modest) requirements, it's worth casting your eye over Amplitude Studios' fantasy-themed Endless Legend, and Triumph's Age of Wonders III as well.
Magic: The Gathering Arena
Release date: 2018 | Developer: Wizards of the Coast | Link: Official site
Finally, the digital adaptation Magic deserves. The eternal collectible card game has gotten plenty of bite-size videogames over the years, and limped along with the bigger, messier Magic: The Gathering Online, but this one is finally the real Magic experience, and it's still a lot of fun. 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 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."
Release date: 2016 | Developer: Red Hook Studios | Link: Humble Store
A brilliant, stressful strategy dungeon explorer that channels Lovecraft with brilliant narration and truly terrifying quests. As your party encounters horrors in the dark, the stress piles on, and too much stress causes them to take on new personality quirks that snowball into yet more stress and loss of sanity. This creates a constant tension. What if your plague doctor is the most reliable member of your party, but insults his comrades every few minutes, raising their stress levels? Permadeath is brutal in Darkest Dungeon, but you'll find it hard to quit even when an entire party of heroes gets wiped out.
Best laptop games: RPGs
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. All the rays here are gorgeously rendered with a modest 512MB memory graphics card.
Release date: 2019 | Developer: Failbetter Games | Link: Steam
Like Sunless Seas before it, Sunless Skies is part roguelike adventure, part interactive fiction. But it does both better than ever. It earned a 90 in our review, "because of how brilliantly its disparate elements combine to produce exciting stories, from scrapes you survive by the skin of your teeth, to moments where your own hubris gets you killed. It helps that death means something, because that elevates the stakes when you’re one direct hit from a yawning hole opening up in your hull and some hideous monstrosity is circling around for another attack... Beyond the changes you make, the sheer range of scenarios and potential outcomes means you’ll discover something new on every run."
For more wonderful writing in a game that leans more heavily towards interactive fiction with fewer survival mechanics, check out the sublime 80 Days, too. A game about traveling the world is perfect when you're traveling the world with a laptop.
West of Loathing
Release date: 2017 | Developer: Asymmetric | Link: Steam
The funniest game of 2017, and maybe the funniest RPG we've ever played. This is a game you explore for jokes, not loot. They're in every corner of the world, and even in the options menu, and it's a joy to discover them. West of Loathing is also a genuinely fun and clever RPG, with classes like the Beanslinger and Cowpuncher instead of genre standards.
As we wrote in our review: "Flush a toilet for an XP gain, search a haystack for a needle or dig through a mine cart for a hunk of meat ore (West of Loathing has a meat-based economy), and insult yourself in a mirror to gain a combat buff because you angered yourself so much. Most importantly, sticking your nose in every corner of West of Loathing isn't just beneficial for improving your character's stats and filling your bottomless inventory with weapons, garments, food, hooch, and hats (there are over 50 of them!). This is a funny game, and you'll want to root out every last shred of humor before you're done with it."
Release date: 2015 | Developer: tobyfox | Link: Humble Store
2015's breakout RPG inversion might owe a bit of its widespread success to the fact that a toaster could run it. This isn't to say it's not a looker or fun. For those versed in RPG and popular video game tropes, Undertale is a colorful, charming, upsetting swan ride through your habits and behaviors. Date a skeleton, pet (or kill) some dogs, think way too hard about mice and cheese. Undertale will make you second guess every key press except the 'Buy' button.
Torment: Tides of Numenera
Release date: 2017 | Developer: inXile Entertainment | Link: Humble Store
A successor to Planescape: Torment? It seemed too good to be true, and yet inXile took the engine Obsidian made for Pillars of Eternity and managed to return to the world of Torment in an RPG that recaptures much of what made the original so special. Lucky for laptop gamers, it can also run on low-end hardware, which is fitting for a throwback RPG. In our review, we wrote that "a slow start gives way to a thought-provoking adventure in a remarkable setting. A fitting follow-up to a beloved RPG."
Best laptop games: Puzzle & Adventure
Release date: 2017 | Developer: Zachtronics | Link: Steam
We have only good things to say about Opus Magnum, but this endorsement could really be swapped out for any of Zachtronics' insidiously deep and clever puzzle games. If cyberpunk's your jam, try out Exapunks instead. But why Opus Magnum? The joy of expression that comes from building simple (or ridiculously complex) machines to solve a particular problem, then sitting back and watching it all work.
We scored it a 91, writing "the magic to Opus Magnum is that while there are theoretical perfect machines, the space in which you construct your solution is so wide open that you feel like you’re piecing it all together entirely yourself, and the restrictions are entirely common sense, so frustrations are usually down to your own inability rather than arbitrary rules... You’ll see how your Steam friends rated and a histogram showing where your ratings lie across all players; I challenge you not to feel tempted to go right back again to make your machine better, and to wonder, how on Earth was it possible to make it *that* quick?"
Baba Is You
Release date: 2019 | Developer: Hempuli Oy | Link: Steam
The best puzzle game of 2019? Certainly the one with the catchiest name. It's about pushing blocks, but also pushing words, which then become commands. And from those simple combinations, wild varieties of puzzles unfold. It's hard to describe but easy to understand once you play it, and in our review we dig into why it's so fun to play:
"[One] solution is to make use of the blocks which determine your avatar—they read 'Baba is you' in a vertical line. Don’t disconnect them, otherwise 'you' no longer exist in the level and cannot interact with it. But you can use 'Baba' as the start of a horizontal command, a bit like a programming crossword puzzle. Write 'Baba is win' and it makes you (Baba) the win condition of the level. There’s so much potential and it’s so satisfying!"
Release date: 2018 | Developer: Wadjet Eye | Link: Steam
The latest adventure game from Blackwell creators Wadjet Eye is one of its best, bringing in demons, exorcisms, and some light roleplaying elements that affect how the story plays out. Take it from our review: "Unavowed is another fantastic adventure from Wadjet Eye, and it’s great to see studio founder Dave Gilbert back in the saddle. The humour didn’t always land for me and some of the voice acting is a little iffy, but otherwise this is a fine example of a modern point-and-click adventure. The addition of character customisation and companions doesn’t sound like much, but it massively changes the feel of the game, even if other aspects, such as the puzzles, are still steeped in the past."
Release date: 2017 | Developer: Buried Signal | Link: Steam
An ingenious puzzle game years in the making, hand-drawn by creator Jason Roberts. Gorogoa tells a story with its puzzles, rather than simply placing puzzles in a thematic wrapping. This is part of what makes it something special, and particularly engrossing, as we wrote in our review: "The story itself is an interesting, ambiguous framework through which to explore the idea of repeating patterns. You aren’t quite seeing the underpinnings of the game’s universe so much as you’re tuning into refrains that recur across time and scale—coherence rather than transparency... A fantastic feat of interlocking storytelling and design."
Best laptop games: Action & Platformers
Release: 2019 | 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).
Release date: 2018 | Developer: Matt Makes Games | Link: Steam
The indie platformer darling of the past few years, and with good reason: Celeste combines tight, instantly satisfying controls with wonderful music and a story that may speak to you, if you've ever battled your way through depression. If you're more into the jumping than the self-reflection, that's okay too—Celeste has the snappiness of Super Meat Boy, where trying a challenge over and over again takes only seconds, and nailing it at the end leaves you pumping your fists. That air-dash. *Chef's kiss*
Like many PC platformers, Celeste is perfectly playable with mouse and keyboard, but you might want to throw a controller with a good D-pad in your bag if you're traveling.
Release date: 2017 | Developer: StudioMDHR | Link: Humble Store
Quite possibly the prettiest game you can play on a laptop or low-end system thanks to its hand-drawn, classically animated 2D graphics. Cuphead channels Gunstar Heroes and other 90s platformers with tough as nails multi-stage bosses, but learnable tells and patterns make it conquerable if you keep a cool head and stick with it. It's worth playing for the phenomenal soundtrack and art alone, but why not team up with Mugman and take down a few bosses while you're admiring the craft?
Release date: 2017 | Developer: Suspicious Developments | Link: Humble Store
Made by former PC Gamer editor Tom Francis, creator of the also-excellent (and low-spec-friendly) Gunpoint, Heat Signature is a game about sneaking onto spaceships, braining guards with a wrench or using all kinds of gadgets to carry out a mission, and dealing with the chaos that ensues. In our review, we wrote: "Heat Signature inspires creativity through emergent complexity like any great immersive sim. I can't stop regaling friends with my stories of heists gone bad or boasting about my flashes of brilliance in the heat of the moment. Heat Signature is brilliant at teasing these anecdotal threads out of a procedural universe."