2020 has been … a lot. Despite the release of some fantastic new PC gaming hardware, no one could blame you if you want to skip a new GPU or high-powered laptop this year. But that’s okay: Some of the very best games released on the PC this year don’t need any discrete graphics card at all, and they’re playable even on older or low-power machines. Here are our favorites from 2020, ready to delight you on almost any Windows (and for some games, MacOS) machine.
In no particular order, here are our 10 picks for the best of the year that can be played on low-power budget PCs and laptops. If you want even more options, check out our picks for 2018 and 2019, too.
Hades got the “best game of the year” nod (with or without a graphics card!) from a lot of people. Play it for a while, and you’ll be able to see why. On top it’s furious hack-slash-dash top-down combat with roguelike “runs” that almost inevitably end in death. And the combat is amazing, with varied weapons and powerups in admittedly repetitive randomized levels.
But the heart of the game is the characters, protagonist Zagreus, his surly dad Hades, and a host of gods, goddesses, and hangers-on that you’ll learn to love. The voice acting is amazing (and so plentiful!), but my favorite part of the game is Supergiant’s amazing art direction. Hades is 3D characters over 2D levels and effects, so it will run a little hot on older hardware—you might need to bump it down to 720p to keep combat smooth. Oh, and don’t you dare disrespect poor Dusa.
Yes, Your Grace
There are a lot of games in which you play a medieval fantasy hero, but the king is usually someone you have to save, kill, or petition. In Yes, Your Grace, it’s the opposite: You’re already the king, and it’s your job to keep this mess running. You’ll need to see to your people’s needs by holding royal court and answering the pleas of peasants, managing the royal family, and hiring your noble staff.
Simple pixelated graphics hide a surprising amount of deep systems, both dynamic and strategic, that are each shaped by your decisions. Compromise, and some light treachery, might be necessary to keep things in order. If you’ve ever wondered what happens after you win the game of thrones, this is the game for you.
Exit the Gungeon
Enter the Gungeon was a beloved top-down roguelike in the vein of Binding of Isaac , but with an obsession for guns that would make a Texan blush. The sequel shifts the perspective to a side-scrolling shooter, and the setup into bite-sized stages.
Your weapon will shift with each one, so the roguelike “runs” are more random without being focused on randomized loot. Truly wicked difficulty combines with rapid-fire (pun absolutely intended) turnaround to create a game focused on twitchy skill. It’s a bite-sized experience, which is a nice reprieve if you’re tired of losing an hour or two to a roguelike run.
Amanita Design, they of Machinarium and Samarost fame, are back with another extremely atmospheric game. This one’s almost entirely puzzle-platforming, so it’s a little conventional by their standards. Creaks is about descending into a strange and disturbing world, meeting unique characters (lots of bird people), and figuring out what in the hell(?) is going on.
The art design is the big draw here, showing off hand-drawn and -painted elements that remind me of Hieronymus Bosch if he had grown up on Sesame Street. The design is technically a platformer, but don’t worry: you won’t need twitchy skills to get past the puzzles—just your brain. It’s also pretty short as these games go, so you may want to wait for a sale.
Do you miss Final Fantasy Tactics and Tactics Ogre ? So do Endlessfluff Games, the developers of Fae Tactics. A JRPG-inspired story and pixelated visuals are just the sprinkling on this turn-based strategy cake. But the game isn’t just trying to recreate the bygone era of tactical RPGs, it’s also innovating with an interface that emphasizes actions over menus and works great on controllers.
There are also shades of Pokémon in the setup, enabling you to summon creatures that you’ve defeated to beat up your current enemies. The game is also surprisingly long, ensuring that it’ll satisfy your fix for classic tile strategy games for quite a while once you finally take down the final challenge.
Metroidvania games often task the player with killing various faceless monstrosities. But what if you were the faceless monstrosity instead, chomping down on levels full of hapless humans like they were disturbingly noisy Gushers ? Enter Carrion, a side-scrolling 2D action game that flips the script and makes you a tentacular horror.
Even in pixel art, the monster’s takedowns of humans are given visceral and disturbing detail, to say nothing of the screams. Get hurt and you’ll shrink your biomass, eat humans and you’ll gain it back and level up your abilities. The shrinking-growing mechanic and the monster’s unique movement help create some innovative fights and puzzles, and pixel art fans will love the undulating motion of the protagonist and the gloomy gore of the environments.
The Solitaire Conspiracy
The name “Solitaire Conspiracy” is already pretty interesting, right? Sounds like some kind of 007 coded message. It’s a game about (wait for it) uncovering a conspiracy by playing Solitaire. Playing through the surprisingly intricate variations on “Streets and Alleys” lets an espionage story play out, punctuated by full-motion video clips, character art, voice acting, and some sweet spy movie tunes to heighten the experience.
At the end of the day, you’re still playing Solitaire with some extra bits on top, but it’s such a unique experience that it’s worth checking out for any fan of card games. Oh, unlike certain solitaire games we could mention, this one doesn’t come with a monthly subscription.
The original Spelunky was iconic, and it helped define the emerging roguelike genre, even using the rather simple tools available in GameMaker. The sequel takes all of those original elements and builds them out with the full power of a studio at designer Derek Yu’s command.
Spelunky 2 will feel very familiar to fans of the original randomized platformer, but its refined mechanics and huge visual facelift combine well with new treats, like the animal taming system. The characters are charming, even as they’re often getting the crap kicked out of them. The 2D platforming shouldn’t tax most laptops, but areas with flowing water and lava might make the framerate drop while you explore moon caverns.
Streets of Rage 4
It’s rare that a game series can come back from multiple decades in hibernation and nail it right off the bat. Streets of Rage 4 does, delighting both fans of the original arcade beat-em-up series and new players who only grew up on the games that the originals inspired.
Combat is “chunky” in a way that feels familiar, while still being more smooth and varied than SEGA’s older games. The anime-inspired art is absolutely fabulous—these 2D visuals would have earned a king’s ransom in quarters in the arcade back in the day—and the music sets the retro vibe perfectly. If at all possible, grab a friend (or two or three) to take on the streets in a co-op, local, or online.
Spiritfarer is another frequent inhabitant of “best of 2020” lists that doesn’t need a graphics card. It’s innovative in a lot of ways: the lovely cartoon art style, the low-pressure gameplay, but mostly the way it asks the player to think and feel in equal measure.
You’ve been tasked with managing a barge of the dead—but not a dreary number like Charon takes across the Styx. Nope, your ferry is more like a luxury river cruise, and you get to meet and mingle with your appealing passengers as you take them to the great beyond, helping them come to terms with their life. Individual moments of this game are adorable, but learning about the characters can be so engaging that you’ll be genuinely sad to see them go on to the afterlife. Bonus: There’s also a local co-op mode where player two gets to be a cat.
Honorable Mention: Civilization VI
The latest entry in this long-running series technically came out way back in 2016, but it’s continually being updated with new content to this day. The turn-based country-builder Civilization VI added new DLC this year, including the Babylonian, Byzantium and Gaul, Maya and Gran Colombian, and Ethiopian factions, plus a ton of new strategic scenarios, all during 2020.
It’s continued to be the absolute top of its class in this niche genre, and it runs great on older hardware even with a full 3D map and faction leaders. Be prepared to pay quite a bit if you want all the content … and you just might, after getting hooked on the base game and its online cross-platform multiplayer.
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The Article Was Written/Published By: Michael Crider