Some say that in order to be a PC gamer, you need to have a top-of-the-range, powerful desktop tower, but this simply isn’t the case. If you pick your games carefully, then it’s entirely possible to game on a device as relatively basic as a laptop, even if that laptop doesn’t have a dedicated graphics card. Some of the best gaming experiences out there don’t require much power from your PC at all, so without further ado, here, in no particular order, are the 15 best games to play on a laptop (assuming you don’t have a gaming laptop, of course!).
Undertale is a beautiful, powerful story about friendship and the enduring value of hope. It can also be a horrifying cautionary tale; it all depends on how you play it. We don’t want to give too much away here, so we’ll just say that if you’re at all curious about that description, play Undertale. On its surface, it’s a bullet hell-infused RPG with funny and sharp writing, but it’s so much more than that as well, managing to find a way to examine the human condition in a deep and emotionally satisfying way.
Subset Games may well be appearing on this list again before it’s through, but Into the Breach is the company’s best and most absorbing game. It’s a turn-based strategy affair in which you must guide mechs around a battlefield in order to defeat kaiju that are threatening the world. This one’s as much about positioning and clever tactics as it is about brute force, and if you decide to play it, you’ll quickly get sucked in by its micro-tactical scenarios and clever map setups.
Speaking of getting sucked in…Stardew Valley is essentially Harvest Moon for the modern gaming era (okay, so both Harvest Moon and Story of Seasons still exist, but both are inferior to ConcernedApe’s game). It’s a farming sim, so your goal is to grow crops, get to know the locals, and generally build a life for yourself in the sleepy titular town. You’ll lose hours to this one and not even realise it thanks to its deep, addictive central gameplay loops.
We told you that you’d be seeing Subset Games again on this list. FTL: Faster than Light may look visually basic, but it’s hiding a huge level of depth. In this space roguelike, you must carry a message to the Empire while being chased down by the Rebellion. You’ll need to manage all of your ships’ systems, upgrading them and using them to destroy any enemies in your way as you go. The game changes each time you play, making for endlessly replayable permutations.
A quick disclaimer: do not try to play Cuphead with your keyboard. It will end badly. If you want to master this brutal run-and-gun boss-rush platformer-shooter, you’re going to need to use a controller. Happily, though, it’s not graphically demanding, so you can easily play it on a laptop. Cuphead boasts beautiful art, intricately detailed gameplay, and monstrously overwhelming difficulty, so it’s not for the faint of heart. Those who persevere, however, will find a savage, beautiful experience that tests the limits of their skill.
ZA/UM’s inaugural game tells a story all about failure and promise. You are a detective who wakes up in his room after a legendary bender having forgotten absolutely everything. You must piece together the story of what happened to you while simultaneously solving a murder. There’s no combat in Disco Elysium; everything happens through skill checks, and the skills here are cerebral rather than physical, so you’re making checks against skills like “savoir-faire” and the wacky “Inland Empire”.
While we’re talking about great RPGs, we need to make sure we give a mention to the greatest of all time. Planescape: Torment has the kind of story that will make you disappointed and depressed once you’ve finished it, because you’ll realise that there are very few games telling stories as complex and detailed as this one. The combat isn’t great, but with writing this excellent, it doesn’t really need to be. The tale of the Nameless One and his companions will forever be etched into RPG history.
Lucas Pope is one of the most interesting game designers working in the industry today. The jury’s out on whether Papers, Please or Return of the Obra Dinn (which will also be appearing on this list) is the better game, but happily, we live in a world where you can play both. Papers, Please is a bleak document sim in which your role is to check passports and other travel documents, but there’s more going on than that, of course. Papers, Please has more than its fair share of memorable characters and great gameplay moments, so check it out if you need laptop entertainment.
The Obra Dinn has returned to port, and its entire crew is missing. You must discover what has happened to them. Lucas Pope describes this as an “insurance thriller”, and although that description might sound dry, Obra Dinn contains some of the most intellectually satisfying puzzling in any video game. When you correctly deduce the answer to some of the game’s puzzles, you’ll be filled with a thrill that’s hard to match anywhere else. If you love puzzle games that don’t hold your hand, Obra Dinn is essential.
10. Hollow Knight
Team Cherry’s beautiful 2D Metroidvania is absolutely brimming with content. You are a nameless bug who has come to the kingdom of Hallownest to seek riches and fortune, but what you find is an infected warren of tunnels, cities, and other majestic, ruined locations. You must dispatch the mad inhabitants of this kingdom and get to the bottom of what happened to it. Dark Souls fans will love Hollow Knight’s deep, twisted lore and beautiful soundtrack, while Metroidvania lovers will adore its huge interconnected map.
Night in the Woods doesn’t have a whole lot of gameplay to speak of, which makes it perfect if you don’t have a controller handy and need to entertain yourself on your laptop. It follows Mae, a young cat who comes back to her hometown after dropping out of college. What she finds there is more than just her past, but she’ll have to deal with that as well, perhaps unearthing some uncomfortable truths along the way. There’s also a healthy dose of weird supernatural horror that starts to assert itself around the halfway point.
12. Among Us
Among Us became famous during the pandemic for being every Discord group’s game of choice. It’s a social deduction game in which you must figure out who among your friends is the imposter. All of you must complete regular mundane tasks on your spaceship, but one of you is trying to murder everyone else and must do so without being caught. It’s an endlessly replayable gameplay model that never gets old, which is probably why it’s still one of the most popular games around today.
Kids and adults everywhere thrilled to the serene building antics of Minecraft when it launched all the way back in 2011, and the game is still going strong today. Of course, calling Minecraft a game is perhaps a little misleading; it’s more of a creativity centre in which you can build whatever you like. There is a game with goals and a failure state, but it’s not really the main attraction here; Minecraft is all about building increasingly elaborate structures with which to wow your friends.
14. Shovel Knight
Much like Cuphead, Shovel Knight is a brutally difficult 2D platformer, but unlike Cuphead, it evokes a bygone era where Mega Man and Castlevania were the kings of the gaming landscape. Naturally, this means lots of tightly-woven platforming sections in which anything other than perfection will likely get you killed, but Shovel Knight is nowhere near as unforgiving or off-putting as its forebears. It updates their design for the modern era while still keeping the engaging, precise heart that made them so compelling in the first place.
15. Hotline Miami
Do you like dark, day-glo nightmares that evoke the drug-fuelled hedonism and anger of the 1980s? If so, you should definitely check out Hotline Miami. It’s an ultra-violent arcade-style brawler reminiscent of games like Loaded, but unlike that game, there’s also a veneer of self-aware psychedelic insanity that gives Hotline Miami a real edge. Its story is surprisingly compelling, and although its gameplay loop can sometimes be controller-snappingly frustrating, you’ll always want to try again thanks to how quick and focused the action is.
As you can see, there are plenty of games to play on your laptop, even if it’s not a gaming-oriented beast. Which games have we missed here? What’s your favourite game to play on your laptop?