The Best PC Games of 2018 (That Don’t Need a Graphics Card)

collage of GPU-friendly video games

So you’d like to play some awesome PC games, but you’re stuck on your dusty laptop with integrated graphics. It just can’t handle the latest GPU-melting AAA masterpieces, but that’s no problem—we have you covered.

Rather than just tell you to play older (but good games) like, say, Torchlight we’ve selected the best PC games from 2018 that can run on pretty much any machine from the last five years, even (and especially) on the kind of integrated graphics that are common in ultraportable and budget computers. These are fresh (but not GPU-melting) games that are contemporary and laptop friendly. The list is mostly 2D titles, which will indeed run on almost anything, but a few 3D games have also been made specifically with integrated graphics in mind.

You ‘ll find at least something to pique your interest in the list below, and all of them should be playable on any Windows-powered machine you might find in Best Buy. Oh, and it doesn’t hurt almost all of the games below are under $25 at the time of writing. Here are our picks, in no particular order.

Dead Cells

Cribbing unashamedly from classics of 2D platforming like Metroid and Castlevania, with the grim storytelling and “prepare to die” ethos of Dark Souls, Dead Cells is the kind of pain you learn to love. Its procedurally-generated levels shift with each play, but new weapons and abilities unlock as you go through repeated lives.

The combat is brutal, but with super-tight controls and a wide variety of approaches, the game doesn’t feel hard in the cheap way that some “Souls-like” titles do. While only a handful of level designs mean the game is short in a technical sense, it will probably take you weeks of play to master the tougher enemies and bosses.

Into the Breach

Into the Breach is chess, but with giant robots and aliens. You control three pixelated mechs on a small grid, taking turns to punch, zap, and shoot invading bugs. The game has the wonderful quality of a simple setup that feels like it unlocks infinite combinations.

Though you’re invariably outnumbered, you’ll develop strategies to use the environments and your enemy’s own weapons against them. Make sure to keep your best pilots alive: pass or fail, they’re the only things that you can bring with you when you start your next run.

Subnautica

Survival and crafting games are all the rage now, which means the Steam lists are filled with mediocre (at best) attempts to take on Minecraft and ARK. Subnautica takes a different approach, with a unique setting of an alien ocean and an intentionally isolating atmosphere (or rather, lack thereof).

You’ll scavenge the ocean to resources to upgrade your base and repair your ship so you can leave this planet full of weird fish that want to eat you. Subnautica is a 3D game with first-person play, but it’s made with integrated graphics in mind and runs surprisingly well even on low-power hardware.

Donut County

In Donut County you are a hole that eats things and then gets bigger, allowing you to eat more things. The Katamari Damacy inspiration is clear, but the levels are much smaller and easier to manage: the challenge is in finding the correct combination and order of stuff to engulf.

There’s a surprisingly endearing story behind it all, too: exactly what’s going on in the titular County and why plays out in adorable cartoon fashion. Replay value is limited, but it’s a lot of fun for a game that perfectly executes a single concept.

Return of the Obra Dinn

In the style of the Mary Celeste, the passengers and crew of the sailing ship Obra Dinn have all either vanished or been murdered. You’re an insurance adjuster, tasked with boarding the ship and finding out how and why everyone died. You do this with the aid of a magic watch that lets you re-live the last few seconds of every crew member’s life.

The visual style is minimal and monochromatic (part of why it’s on this list), but its unique hook of practical puzzle solving has won Return of the Obra Dinn almost universal praise since the game’s debut. It’s entirely unlike anything else released this year.

Star Control: Origins

Ostensibly a prequel to the popular Star Control series, Origins brings the original gameplay into a new era and smooths out most of the rough patches. Players explore a huge universe, bouncing between roving over planetary surfaces in a space Jeep, managing the resources collected, and 2D space battles.

It’s friendly to low-power machines thanks to relatively simple 3D planets and battles that have more in common with Asteroids than Wing Commander. The highlight of the game is the endearing and often hilarious dialogue with the various aliens.

Totally Accurate Battlegrounds

Fortnite: Battle Royale and Player Unknown’s Battlegrounds are all the rage at the moment, but if you try to play them on a slow PC you’ll be at a distinct disadvantage. Why not try Totally Accurate Battlegrounds instead?

The title is ironic, as the gameplay and 1 vs 100 setup are anything but accurate. But the simple mechanics and wacky physics make for an engaging and competitive multiplayer game… and even better, it’s one where most of said players don’t take the competition too seriously. 3D graphics are simple enough to run on anything, and using low settings won’t mean you’re getting a different experience than all of the people you’re hunting and/or running from.

CrossCode

CrossCode is an SNES-style action RPG clearly aiming to replicate the feel of classics like Chrono Trigger and Secret of Mana. The story and world feel a lot like Phantasy Star, and while it’s played straight, there’s still plenty of humor in the world and characters—protagonist Lea is a particular high note.

The wide-open levels and clever puzzles will keep you engaged, with top-down combat that requires both skill and strategy to get a handle on. Note that, while it should run great on any machine, you’ll want a controller to handle the real-time combat.

Celeste

If you prefer your platformers to be more straightforward than combat-oriented like Dead Cells, Celeste is the game you should check out. It’s all about precisely making your way through the mountain-themed levels, clinging to walls and zipping along platforms thanks to tight controls (this is another one that demands a controller instead of mouse and keyboard).

If you die—and you will die, a lot—you instantly respawn a la Hotline Miami. If you get frustrated, a handy assistant will show you the ideal path through the level without doing it for you. The graphics and music are simple, hiding a weirdly deep story about a young girl getting over her psychological problems as she reaches a literal summit.

DUSK

Fans of early 3D shooters like DOOM and Quake will find a lot to love in DUSK. It pairs hyper-fast motion and hordes of enemies with simple 3D models, few effects, and low-resolution textures, so you can hit 60 frames per second on an overclocked toaster.

There isn’t much of a story—not that there ever was in these games—and the over-the-top gore and death metal soundtrack might be a bit too much for younger players. But those who long for the days before auto-regenerating health and ray-traced sniper rifles will find themselves in heaven as they mow down hellish enemies. A standard single-player campaign is the meat of the game, but online multiplayer is also included.

Michael Crider Michael Crider
Michael Crider has been writing about computers, phones, video games, and general nerdy things on the internet for ten years. He’s never happier than when he’s tinkering with his home-built desktop or soldering a new keyboard. Read Full Bio »

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