We’ve been absolutely spoiled for great games in 2023. But if your computer can’t pump out the polygons, it’s unlikely that you’ve been keeping up with high-end games like Baldur’s Gate 3 or Lies of P. But that’s okay because there are more than enough great games that don’t require a high-end rig to play.
If you’re using a lower-end desktop, a laptop without a discrete graphics card, or even a Steam Deck that you want to last for more than two hours on a charge, you should check out my yearly review of low-power PC games. All are available on Windows, among other platforms, and they should work just fine on your trusty, rusty older machine. It doesn’t hurt that they’re all significantly cheaper than new AAA games, too.
Here are my picks, in no particular order. Want even more low-power games? The choices from the same roundup for 2022 and 2021 are still around and still fantastic!
Fans of those weird, ugly cartoons from the late 90s and twitchy platformers will find a unique fusion in Pizza Tower. It mixes Sonic’s breathless pace, Wario’s multiple forms, and some absolutely bangin’ tunes for a highly skill-based experience. And even though it’s using pixel art, it’s not an 8-bit affair — the game looks more like your unhinged middle school doodles brought to vibrant, animated life through MS Paint.
Note that large sections of Pizza Tower have you blasting through the levels at high speed and boss fights can become sessions of hair-pulling frustration that require mastery of the game’s movement and offensive tools. But let’s be honest, that’s what platformer fans are here for. And they can finally get it without having to wade through a sea of 2D Dark Souls interpretations.
Book lovers of TikTok, this is the game for you. In Book of Hours, you manage an occult library, restoring each room and exploring its tomes to unlock a deep mystery, all while serving the library’s strange visitors. The game mixes elements of a management sim and a crafting-focused RPG, but in the esoteric style of developer Weather Factory (Cultist Simulator), there’s no direct combat.
It’s kind of like being Belle in her library after you’ve ditched the Beast and his talking furniture for your true passion. A host of different character backgrounds and story choices mean that there’s plenty to explore after you’ve shut the cover on the story for the first time, and building up the perfect version of the library might just be worth the multiple playthroughs.
Part tower defense, part grid-based strategy, The Last Spell has you defending a city from an unending horde of undead monsters. If you can keep the mages alive long enough, they’ll use the titular spell to erase magic from existence and kill those beasties forever. Cutesy pixel art hides a shocking amount of strategic depth and variety, not to mention the usual hardcore difficulty of a roguelike setup.
The Last Spell has that ideal strategic progression, starting out simple and expanding in every direction so you can tailor each run to your comfy style or experiment with something new. If you can get past the initial difficulty curve, you’ll find a shockingly rewarding experience. That said, I wouldn’t want to play this on a Steam Deck, with all those tiny visual elements (and various grisly bits of viscera) in the pixelated art style.
Dave the Diver is a game that defies description. But this is my job, so I guess I’d better try anyway. The core gameplay loop has you exploring the depths of the ocean and bringing your catch back to the local sushi bar and serving it up. But it’s also filled with minigames and a surprisingly deep story, all of which absolutely drips personality.
Reviewers say that this game struggles with its sense of identity, but for a lot of chill players, that won’t be a problem. Its constant introductions of wacky new characters and elements can put you into a zen state, not knowing what might pop up in the next game day, either in the surprisingly treacherous sea or on the allegedly more sedate land. If you’re looking for a charming game that will surprise you around every corner, this is it.
Telling the future with tarot cards isn’t exactly a new idea, but doing it on an asteroid prison is. As young witch Fortuna, you’ll craft your own deck of mystical cards in a sort of clip art style (remember Kid Pix?), all in the service of a, well, let’s call it an “entity,” hoping to gain your freedom. The mix of atmospheric storytelling and creative drag-and-drop gameplay is utterly unique, though some might find the slow pace a little off-putting.
The Cosmic Wheel Sisterhood hides deep relationships and adult themes behind chill music and gorgeous 2D visuals, so be aware that it’s not for kids (or for those who demand the occasional explosion). But for a chill game with some huge creative potential for the player, it’s hard to beat.
Modern city-builders seem to strive for unbelievable levels of real-world accuracy. Cardboard Town is a deliberate and literal deconstruction of that idea. The game simplifies the familiar resource management and spatial planning elements with a card-based interface that makes your city a little more organic and less perfectly planned. At times, it can feel more like a puzzle game than an old-fashioned city-builder.
I really dig the craft store visuals (technically 3D, but simple enough to run on integrated graphics) and soothing music. The way each building unfolds as it’s placed is weirdly satisfying, like watching someone who’s really good at papercraft. A recent update added a POV mode so you can explore your town from the perspective of one of your tiny cardboard denizens, and it doubles as a neat screen saver.
As PCWorld’s resident keyboard nut, you know I’ll be all over any game that can make typing fun and finally banish the specter of Mavis Beacon. Typecast mixes the never-ending 2D combat of twin-stick shooters (one stick is your mouse, the other your hand on the keyboard) with the fast-paced twitchy typing of Typing of the Dead, creating a fusion of combat and secretarial skills.
Sessions are fast and frantic in arcade style, but filled with enough weapons and power-ups that no two runs will be the same. You might find yourself frustrated if you’re not a fan of the tight, twitchy gameplay of bullet hell shooters, at least until you get a handle on some of the game’s more powerful tools. But stick to it and you’ll either reach the top of the online leaderboards…or get a hefty doctor’s bill for carpal tunnel syndrome.
There’s no shortage of new 2D RPGs that harken back to the Super Nintendo days, but Sea of Stars is easily the top of this year’s crop. The turn-based setup with a focus on combo attacks will be familiar to anyone who’s enjoyed Chrono Trigger, with a bit of timer-based bonus damage to keep you on your toes. The game also does away with some of the genre’s more antiquated elements like random encounters and grinding.
The story is a bit rote in the anime tradition, but the game’s incredible 2D visuals and hearty collection of minigames will keep you constantly finding new things to do. Orchestral music from Yasunori Mitsuda (a legend of the Chrono Trigger, Mana, and Xenogears series, among others) is a particular highlight.
Name two things more 90s than Pokemon and the Sony Walkman. You can’t, which is probably why the developers mixed ’em up to create Cassette Beasts. In this monster-fighting RPG, you’ll travel the world with a magic cassette player, powering up musical monsters, collecting new ones, to take down bosses and open up new areas.
But this isn’t just a remix of old ideas. You can only unlock your monster’s most powerful attacks by fusing with your partner, who can either be controlled by an interesting cavalcade of AI characters or by a human Player 2. Visuals are a retro mix of 2D and 3D, but should be fine for integrated graphics, especially with the turn-based monster combat.
Neither the Soviet space dog nor the stop-motion animation studio, Laika styles itself as a “Motorvania.” What does that mean? Imagine the physics-based motorcycle motion of Trials combined with My Friend Pedro‘s 2D shooting action, and you’ll get something similar. It all plays out in the backdrop of a furry version of Mad Max.
Managing your motorcycle’s speed and momentum while also flipping upside down in slow motion to shoot waves of baddies takes some getting used to, but it’s the emotional heart of this game that comes as a real surprise. The story plays out between the levels with shocking sincerity, and a few gorgeous bits of 2D scenery. The cutesy character designs contrast with the post-apocalyptic world and shocking violence, so don’t let the kids in the room while you’re playing it.
Fans of the original Ultima simply must check out Moonring. This 2D, top-down dungeon crawler is a frantic mix of old and new ideas, with combat that’s technically turn-based but doesn’t limit your speed in any way. It makes for a frantic pace that nonetheless allows you to stop and plan out your immediate actions when you need to.
Deep RPG systems mix with some roguelike randomness and difficulty, making each run unique. There are also surprisingly nuanced variations on the core combat that you might not expect from the neon-on-black visuals. Oh and did I mention that it’s completely, absolutely free? Yeah, you have no reason not to play it at least once.