If you want a top-of-the-line rig, there’s virtually no limit to the amount of cash you can burn through while assembling a gaming PC. Powerful computing gear doesn’t come cheap, after all. But assuming your last name isn’t Gates or Buffett, you’re probably going to have to rein in those plans and go with what you can afford, or even the non-gaming PC you already have.
Never fear. Even if you’re running a standard everyday desktop or laptop, there’s a good chance you can run the games on this list. These are all great games that don’t require your computer to be equipped with loads of RAM or pricey graphics cards. (Keep in mind, you should always check the listed system requirements of any game before buying it.)
You probably wouldn’t expect a modern AAA game to run on a low-end PC. But when our gaming editor fired up Overwatch on a cheap, low-power laptop (specifically this one with Intel HD Graphics 4400), he was surprised to find that it was playable at a lower resolution and low settings.
In case you haven’t been following gaming news this summer, Overwatch represents a classic move by developer Blizzard, in that it’s a unique, accessible spin on the genre’s conventions. It’s an online team-based shooter that pits some of the most original characters imaginable against one another. Each character is overflowing with personality, and plays an important role on your team, whether that means healing your squad-mates or absorbing enemy fire so your offensive teammates can inflict maximum damage. Better yet, Blizzard plans to keep supporting the game with free maps and characters for a long time to come.
All that, and it runs on non-gaming hardware. Not bad.
2. Stardew Valley
Stardew Valley is an indie farming game that outdoes just about every other faming game out there. In it, you inherit your grandfather’s farm, so it’s your job to plant seeds, harvest crops, and make a home for yourself in a new town. You can build relationships with your neighbors and even get married if you manage to woo the lucky resident, which is not always easy. If you’re looking for a laid-back game that won’t stress you or your computer, check it out.
3. FTL: Faster Than Light
In case you haven’t experienced the terror of interstellar travel before, FTL will get you up to speed on the dozens of things you need to worry about. In this game, you’re in charge of all the systems on your ship, including oxygen, fuel, weapons, shields, and personnel.
As you travel through space, you’ll come upon combative aliens who want nothing more than to exterminate you. Any encounter could be your last, so it’s up to you to identify their weaknesses, formulate a plan of action, and carry it out — hopefully before they wreck your ship. All of this action plays out in the simplest of graphics, ensuring that the game will run on just about any computer you have lying around.
4. Hotline Miami 2
This game might not look like much in screenshots, but don’t let that stop you from playing one of the most heart-pumping, intense action games around. Your job in every level is to enter buildings and kill everything in sight. The catch? One hit and you’re dead. It’s a tough game, but success is incredibly rewarding. Thanks to the game’s rudimentary graphics, you won’t get PTSD from the violent acts you commit, nor do you need a high-end PC to run it.
5. Darkest Dungeon
This game kicks off when someone ventures too deep beneath a Gothic mansion and unleashes all manner of horrors. The dungeon-like cellars then become a Wild West for adventurers to go in and clear the area. Your job is to assemble parties of four to go down and face the monsters. The goal is to bring them back alive and without having gone mad, but it’s no easy task, especially since dying means you have to start over from scratch.
6. The Binding of Isaac: Afterbirth
The Binding of Isaac: Afterbirth is a souped up rerelease of a game that debuted in 2011. It stars Isaac, a boy who hears that God has spoken to his mother and demanded that she sacrifice him to prove her faith. Isaac immediately retreats to the basement of their house, where he finds floor after floor filled with monsters he must defeat, using his tears as projectiles.
It’s depressing stuff, but the levels play like the dungeons in the original Legend of Zelda, and the dozens of weapon upgrades are incredibly zany. Throw in some shopkeepers, boss battles, and permanent death (you always start from scratch at the beginning), and you’ve got yourself an addictive retro-style romp.
Spelunky is a side-scrolling platformer made up of randomly generated levels, which means no two play-throughs are exactly the same. But unlike a Mario game, when you die, you lose all progress and have to restart from the very beginning. That makes it tough, but you also learn a lot with every play-through. Most people who see Spelunky through to the end spend weeks or months playing before they have a chance to fight the final boss. But by the time you do, no one can say you haven’t earned it.
8. Rogue Legacy
Rogue Legacy is an indie platformer with a goofy sense of humor. Like Spelunky, much of the game is randomized, from the quirks of the characters you control to the design of the dungeon, meaning no two run-throughs are the same. The goal is to make your way through the ever-changing dungeon, defeat four bosses, and then conquer the final boss. The game is really, really hard, but every time you die, you get to spend the gold you collected to increase your stats. This means the more you play, the more powerful your characters become.
9. Five Nights at Freddy’s
Most Five Nights at Freddy’s games — which seem to come out every few months — put you in the shoes of a night security guard doomed to watch security camera feeds in a dark, creepy building. As you cycle through the feeds, murderous animatronic creatures inch closer when you’re not looking. As an added source of stress, you have a limited amount of battery power to view the feeds and close the doors. The games create an enormous amount of dread using simple graphics, so just about any PC should be able to run it.
10. Steamworld Heist
In SteamWorld Heist, you play as Captain Piper, a man tasked with using a team of robots to scavenge a ruined world. If you’ve played other turn-based strategy games like XCOM or Fire Emblem, you’ll have a good idea of what to expect here. You move your team through the world, wiping out enemies, and using points you earn to improve your troops between battles. The only difference is that SteamWorld Heist takes place from a side-scrolling perspective and won’t tax your underpowered non-gaming PC.
Stellaris takes place in the technological future, after humans have cracked faster-than-light travel and taken to the stars. Naturally, we start colonizing other planets immediately. Your job is to find new worlds, contact alien species and civilizations, and either work with them or against them to expand your territory. Meanwhile, you’ll discover new war technology and bulk up your army — all the better to conquer bigger chunks of the universe.
12. Pillars of Eternity
Fans of classic computer role-playing games like Baldur’s Gate and Planescape: Torment will want to check out Pillars of Eternity. It’s from Obsidian Entertainment, the makers of excellent titles like South Park: The Stick of Truth and Fallout: New Vegas, and Neverwinter Nights 2. Apparently lots of people long for the bygone days of classic dungeon crawlers, because the developers raised more than $4 million through crowdfunding to make Pillars of Eternity, a game that’s modeled after the classics. That’s why it’s so good, and why it should run great on your non-gaming PC.
13. Axiom Verge
Nintendo has ignored the Metroid series for several years now, so Tom Happ, the sole developer of Axiom Verge, has stepped up to deliver what fans want. You play as a scientist who wakes up in a strange world full of sprawling environments, strange enemies, and useful items scattered around. Mr. Happ did the art, programming, and music all by himself, which is almost unheard of in games these days.
14. Shovel Knight
This retro-inspired action platformer is like a mash-up of the glory days of the NES. With obvious inspiration from games like Super Mario Bros. 3 and Duck Tales, Shovel Knight has you hack, slash, and shovel-jump your way through a series of gorgeously pixelated levels, fighting innovative enemies and massive bosses along the way.
But don’t mistake this game for a thoughtless rehash of the classic games of yore. It throws in enough new ideas and gameplay mechanics (like checkpoints and a risk-reward system for collecting coins) to keep any modern gamer happy.
Undertale might not look like much at a glance, but it’s very special indeed. It’s a wholly unique role-playing game that constantly stays several steps ahead of players, offering surprises and unexpected new gameplay mechanics at every turn. To say too much about it would spoil the fun of finding it out for yourself. So regardless of how powerful your PC is, do yourself a favor and give Undertale a shot.
16. Portal 2
In the original Portal, you could shoot a pair of portals onto walls, ceilings, and floors, and then walk through one to come out the other. This smart gameplay mechanic made for some seriously creative puzzles. Portal 2 adds all kinds of twists, like speed gel you can spray on the floor that makes you run at superhuman speed, and bounce gel that lets you leap incredibly high. It also has an engrossing story and a sidekick orb voiced by the exuberant Stephen Merchant. If you haven’t played it, this game’s a no-brainer, especially since you don’t need a high-powered gaming rig to play it.
17. Papers, Please
In Papers, Please you take on the role of a border guard tasked with deciding who does and doesn’t get admitted to the fictional country of Arstotzka. To do so, you check the papers of everyone waiting in line at Customs and listen to their stories.
While that might sound like a snooze-worthy game, it’s actually a complex simulation filled with subtle challenges and a dash of political intrigue. This is your character’s job, so you have to work fast to provide for yourself and family, but there are penalties and dangers in being too hasty, missing details, and admitting people who shouldn’t be allowed. And thanks to the game’s simple graphics, it’s more taxing on your brain than it is on your non-gaming PC.