Sometimes you’ll find yourself out of the house, with nothing but a laptop and a whole lot of time. And while laptops are getting more and more powerful, most are still low-spec machines when it comes to gaming.
But just because you’re living out of home with an integrated GPU doesn’t mean you have to be bored. Here’s 13 games you can play on the potato-powered productivity device that is your laptop.
Part of the problem with gaming on the laptop, however, is that sometimes that’s all you have. No mouse, no separate controller, and sometimes no room for either anyway.
Risk of Rain is perfect in those scenarios, since it’s purely a keyboard-only game. An action platformer that gets harder every 5 minutes, Risk of Rain is all about balancing the risk/reward mechanic of hanging around a level long enough to gain XP and money before the crazier enemies show up. The 8-bit graphics are designed to run on just about anything too, so you won’t feel handicapped by your choice of hardware.
As long as you have an Intel Core i3 or better CPU, you’ll have enough grunt in your low-end laptop to run Civilization 5. And if you’re looking for a game that you can carry on your hard drive until the day it dies, it’s hard to ignore Civ 5.
There’s plenty of depth with the expansions and the mods available in the Steam Workshop, although chances are the Complete Edition will have enough content to keep you going through those lonely nights in hotels. It also plays just fine with the touchpad, which can be a lifesaver sometimes if you don’t have a spare mouse around.
But if you’re after something a little more vibrant, a little faster and something a tad fresher, the side-scrolling platformer Owlboy will be right up your alley. Apart from the fact that Nathan found it was a surprisingly clever and quite modern despite the look, the game will basically run on anything. There’s no requirement for a discrete GPU and you only need 600MB of space, which is always a plus if you’re gaming on your work laptop.
But sometimes you just want to open up your laptop for a bit of virtual catharsis. So for that moment, I give you the best Ork Slaying Simulator around: Relic’s Warhammer 40,000 Space Marine.
It gets repetitive at points, but Space Marine is basically an unhinged, non-stop slaughter of Orks from start to finish. It’s also quite an old game by today’s standards, and should have no trouble maintaining a perfectly playable framerate on laptops with the 6th or 7th generation Intel CPUs. (Here’s how the game runs on an Intel HD Graphics 4600 if you want a reference.)
Unsurprisingly, if you were busy farming up a storm at home you can do it on the road as well. Stardew Valley has bugger all hardware requirements save for 2GB of RAM and a GPU with 256mb of video memory, which pretty much any laptop from the last few years will be able to manage with no problems at all. You can also play quite happily using the keyboard, although taking a controller with you isn’t a bad idea.
Another game that runs on a potato, The Binding of Isaac deserves a special mention here because it’s perfectly playable with keyboard controls. The arrow keys determine the direction you shoot and you just rely on SPACE for items, WASD for movement and SHIFT (or E) to place bombs. Easy.
Oh and there’s the small part that The Binding of Isaac is an excellent game with loads of depth. There’s a reason it has a competitive scene.
If you like the idea of playing a thoughtful 4X on the go, but want more of a fantasy bent to the experience, Amplitude’s Endless Legend is an excellent alternative. You’ll want to turn the graphics down all the way, but the game will run. Which is nice, since it gives you a reason to discover why this game gives Civ a run for its money.
But if you need some strategy with a sick sense of humour to keep you distracted while you’re away from home, there’s perhaps nothing better than Bullfrog’s bizarre classic, Dungeon Keeper 2. The original is arguably a purer experience - well, as pure as commanding a bunch of minions from Hell trying to belt the snot out of wandering adventurers - but the sequel stands up a lot better in this day and age.
It’s something I would recommend having a separate mouse for, however, although you can control the first-person elements with the keyboard easily enough. And don’t worry about the system requirements - DK2 released in 1999, although the Good Old Games version plays nicely with Windows 7, Windows 8.1 and Windows 10.
Released in 2012 and one of the most successful early uses of the Kickstarter platform, Faster Than Light should be on most people’s PCs already (if not their tablets). There’s plenty of content and difficulty thanks to the expansion and the modding scene, and FTL also has a small footprint on your hard drive (which is a lifesaver if you’re running off a 128GB SSD).
Another recent game with minimal hardware requirements is the grim world of Darkest Dungeon. A RPG with roguelike elements, Darkest Dungeon needs nothing more than a few GBs of RAM and an OpenGL 3.2+ compliant GPU - which is basically everything from the last five years.
On the practical side of things, the game’s turn-based nature means you won’t have any issues just playing it with the trackpad if that’s the only option available to you. The developers do recommend having a 1080p screen as a minimum, but with 1440p and even 4K laptop screens increasingly becoming standard that shouldn’t be much of a stumbling block.
Oh and just in case you needed it: Darkest Dungeon is pretty damn good, if a tad punishing.
Sometimes you just want to lose yourself in an open world. And what better world to explore than the brutal streets of Hong Kong. Sleeping Dogs was already incredibly well optimised on PC, but it runs just fine on laptops as well. I’d recommend packing a controller in your travel case for this, and it’s not the kind of game you want to download on airport Wi-Fi.
But any integrated graphics from the HD 2500 series and up can run Sleeping Dogs, albeit at reduced settings. And besides, sometimes when you’re miles away from home it’s just good to grab a bike and punch a few blokes in the face. (The story is also uncannily good, if you like the undercover cop shtick.)
You might miss having your full trucking rig from home, but any laptop with an Intel HD 4000 or better GPU will be able to run SLS’s cathartic trucking simulation. Euro Truck Simulator 2's relaxing nature already makes it a strong candidate for being on your laptop, but the added benefit is that the game has a full suite of keyboard controls. You’ll still have to use the trackpad to turn the game’s camera around, but since left and right is mapped to A/D you can manage that on a laptop pretty easily.
Rounding out this list is Duelyst, the free-to-play collectable card game that draws from the world of JRPGs as much as it does Hearthstone. Everyone also knows by this stage that you can play Hearthstone on anything, phones included, so why not go for something a bit different?
The fun of Duelyst is in the positioning. Matches take place on a battle grid where each player is responsible for the deployment and movement of their units, which are drawn from a deck of cards. Fans of Hearthstone will recognise most of the mechanics, but the pixel art and the added tactical layer are a huge bonus. And another plus is the fact that Duelyst doesn’t need to run through Steam or another third-party service, which is a huge help if your only available internet is blocking connections to Steam/Battle.net.
This story originally appeared on Kotaku Australia, where Alex Walker is the EIC.