These days, the best games aren’t limited to expensive consoles with online memberships that cost hundreds of dollars per year. And, while the best laptops won’t be able to play some of the best PC games like Far Cry 5, the best laptop games and their convenience more than make up for the lack of visual splendor.
Plus, you can just take a quick look at some of the best indie games like Cuphead, and you’ll realize that the best laptop games can still be beautiful, without millions of polygons. Plus, there are some classic games like Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic that may look dated, but still hold up with stellar gameplay and stories – even if that particular game isn’t considered canon in the Star Wars universe anymore.
The best laptop games on the market today range from tiny indie games you maybe haven’t heard of, like Thimbleweed Park, to wildly popular triple-A games along the lines of The Sims 4. Whatever your play style, schedule and hardware, we’re willing to bet you’ll find something on this list that you’ll enjoy.
- Once you’re looking for something meatier, check out our best PC games
- CPU: 2 GHz
- RAM: 4 GB
- GPU: Intel HD 3000 or better
Whether he’s at LucasArts, Double-Fine or here and now in a new indie studio, veteran developer Ron Gilbert is also sure to serve up a slice of veritable gaming gold.
That tradition of impeccable output continues with Thimbleweed Park, a pixel art point ‘n’ click adventure that harks back to the glory days of Maniac Mansion while weaving it together with a very modern eye for creativity.
It’s effectively a murder mystery graphic adventure, where FBI agents Reyes and Ray – who in now way resemble another famous pair of fictional, UFO-chasing member of the Bureau – arrive in a quiet town to investigate a murder most horrid.
The way it weaves together a genuinely clever story and a cast of peculiar yet instantly memorable characters is something most games with far larger budgets miss entirely.
- CPU: Intel Core2 Duo E8400, 3.0GHz or AMD Athlon 64 X2 6000+, 3.0GHz or higher
- RAM: 2 GB
- GPU: Geforce 9600 GT or AMD HD 3870 512MB
You might be turned off by the intimidating amount of challenge it poses, but we assure you, Cuphead is worth a shot. If you don’t already find its colorful, whimsical art style endearing, then maybe you’ll be convinced by some backstory of how it was made.
Cuphead comes from an indie developer called Studio MDHR (short for Studio Moldenhauer), named after the two brothers who started the project, Chad and Jared Moldenhauer. In fact, the entire company consists of family members and friends who sought out to complete their dream project.
Marija Moldenhauer, Chad’s wife, did all of the inking and clean up in this hand-drawn ode to 2D platforming classics like Mega Man and 1930s Fleischer cartoons like Betty Boop.
- CPU: 2 Ghz
- RAM: 2 GB
- GPU: 256 mb video memory, shader model 3.0+
If you love farming sims (and, judging by how well the likes of Farming Simulator and Harvest Moon sell, there’s quite a few of you out there), then few games are going to get you jumping for agricultural joy more than the bewitching busywork of Stardew Valley.
Taking many a cue from the Harvest Moon games, Stardew Valley's top-down POV and cutesy characters feel meld together perfectly.
It’s a dull sounding core concept to be sure – tend your fields, grow produce, raising livestock, etc – but that’s the beauty of it. There’s a moreish peace to the mundanity of SV’s minutia as you expand your farm, fish down at the river and even head into the village to strike up friendships (and maybe something more *wink wink*) with a cast of NPCs. Farming has never been so much fun.
- CPU: Intel i5 Quad-Core
- RAM: 4 GB
- GPU: Intel HD 4000
In many ways, we’re inclined to describe Night in the Woods as Life is Strange meets Bojack Horseman. The interactive dialogue bits derive from the former while the overarching themes of coping with mental health issues rings true in the latter.
Night In The Woods itself was developed in Unity by Infinite Fall, the virtual studio where you’ll find coder and composer Alec Holowka and Twitter jokester slash illustrator and animator Scott Benson. Together, these two have created not just a game, but a gorgeous world full of relatable characters that you will hopefully resonate with.
You’re put in the shoes of Mae, a cat who dropped out of college and recently returned to her hometown of Possum Springs. And, because it’s modern point-and-click adventure game, it’s heavily narrative driven, with very few gameplay hooks that will keep your attention. So, if you like the Telltale games or Life is Strange, we reckon you’ll adore Night in the Woods.
Best of all, it will run pretty easily on integrated graphics, given that it has an appealing, but not highly demanding, art style. Surely, this is a title we’ll be talking about for years and years to come, even if it was snubbed at The Game Awards.
- CPU: 1.2GHz
- RAM: 512 MB
- GPU: DirectX 8-compatible graphics card with at least 32MB of video memory
You’d wonder whether Hotline Miami’s neon-drenched ultraviolence would exist if the film Drive had never been made, and while it’s hard to miss just how vigorously it doffs its bloody mask at the Gosling classic, the end result is an utterly brilliant little indie title.
With a pixel art style evoking the top-down look of Grand Theft Auto’s retro years, Hotline Miami revels in its almost psychedelic violence. The concept is simple: adorn a mask (each one is styled on an animal and adds its own buffs, debuffs and unique abilities), enter a level and paint the walls with your enemies gore.
Add in buckets of neon, a synth soundtrack that’ll have you sewing a scorpion onto the back of a white jacket in no time and one messed up storyline and you’ve got a classic in its own right.
- CPU: Intel Core i3-2100T @ 2.50 GHz / AMD Phenom II X3 B73
- RAM: 4 GB
- GPU: ATI Radeon HD 4850 or NVIDIA GeForce 9600 GT
Although it's relatively new at only two years old, that doesn’t mean Pillars Of Eternity is going to break your machine with its vast world of role-playing shenanigans.
And you’ll be thanking the RPG gods that it’ll play on your low spec PC/laptop, because POE offers one of the most deeply rewarding experiences you’ll ever play, regardless of how powerful your computer claims to be.
Most of the backgrounds in this huge gameworld are rendered in 2D, making them a) beautiful to look at and b) very easy to load.
Most of the action occurs in real-time but with a tactical pause feature that enables you to stop the action and re-order your party to suit the changing battle unfolding around you.
It’s made by Obsidian – one of the premier RPG developers out there – so you know you’re getting a premium experience at a lower spec.
- CPU: 1.5 GHz Core2Duo
- RAM: 2 GB
- GPU: OpenGL 1.4 or better
If someone told you a game about working in a border control office would be one of the most addictive games ever, we’d imagine you’d scoff and walk off shaking your head.
That is unless you’ve played a little indie gem by the name of Papers, Please. Set in a fictional take on the Eastern Bloc, you’re an immigration clerk tasked with processing refugees from an unfriendly neighbouring nation.
The core concept is simple: check each person’s documents against a clear set of rules, process those who meet the requirements and detain those with false papers.
The game’s designed to test your attention to detail, but also the strength of your moral compass. Sometimes you’ll have to decide if certain sympathetic characters should be granted asylum, even if it goes against the rules.
The twist is good performance effectively feeds you family, while mistakes put their lives in danger. It’s dark, but engrossingly so.
- CPU: Intel Pentium 3 1Ghz or AMD Athlon 1GHz
- RAM: 256
- GPU: 32 MB with Hardware T&L
Come on, do we really need to convince you to go out and own a copy of Knights Of The Old Republic? Arguably the greatest Star Wars game ever made (yes, even better than Dark Forces II and Rogue Squadron), KOTOR proved that the most recognisable lore ever could feel fresh and exciting again outside of the silver screen.
Coming from Bioware, the Canadian studio that would go on to create the Dragon Age and Mass Effect series, KOTOR offers compelling characters, intense action that mixes real-time tactics with turn-based mechanics a galaxy of stories that felt tangible and real. Sure, it’s technically not canon anymore, but it still remains one of the greatest games ever coded. Get this in your collection now.
- CPU: 2GHz+
- RAM: 3 GB
- GPU: 512MB
Part role-playing game, part bullet hell shooter, Undertale is a game like no other. The fact that this amazing game is the work of one man is astounding, considering the depth of consequence developer Toby Fox has built into Undertale’s world.
In the diminutive boots of a child who’s fallen into a monster-filled world beneath the earth, you’ll encounter vicious bosses where only the quick thinking survive.
The fact you can befriend bosses as well as fight them changes the fabric of the story, and proves it’s not just NPCs that offer vital moments of dialogue. It’s a game of empathetic reflection, where your actions dictate how a boss or monster reacts to you.
Aggression leads to more powerful attacks against you, while avoiding retaliation will soften the blows. Strange and seductive in its own special way, Undertale is a curio definitely worth chasing.
- CPU: Intel Core 2 Duo or AMD Athlon 64X2
- RAM: 2 GB
- GPU: NVIDIA GeForce 100 series (512 Mb) or Radeon HD 3xxx or better
When it comes to CCGs (collectible card games), Hearthstone does a pretty great job of keeping you and your deck of animated cards entertained throughout – but what happens when you want something a little less innocuous? You give a CCG with a unique spin such as Chronicle: RuneScape Legends a gander.
Based on the classic lore of Runescape, Chronicle combines card-dealing with the 3D setup of a RPG. Cards represent real characters and enemies that appear across a 3D-rendered pop-up books.
Cards are played sequentially, with player characters facing each one (ranging from foes to curses to stat buffs), before facing off against one another at the end. It’s bizarre, brilliant and absolutely worth your time.
Hey, it’s even got new single-player content when you don’t want to test your mettle against other users. Not bad for a low-spec CCG.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- CPU: 2GHz
- RAM: 1GB
- GPU: Nvidia HD 4450
Don't Starve 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.
- 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.
- 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. Civilization 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 Civilization IV. Despite being ancient, it still works fine on Windows 10 through Steam.
- 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.