2020 has been … a lot. Despite the release of some great new PC gaming hardware, no one can blame you if you want to skip a new GPU or powerful laptop this year. But that’s okay – some of the very best games released on PC this year don’t require a discrete graphics card at all, and can even be played on older or energy-efficient machines. Here are our 2020 favorites, ready to surprise you on almost any Windows machine (and for some games MacOS).
In no particular order, here are our 1
Hades got the “best game of the year” nod from many people (with or without graphics card!). Play it for a while and you’ll be able to see why. Plus, they’re furious hack-slash-dash top-down battles with roguelike “runs” that almost inevitably end in death. And the combat is great, with varied weapons and power-ups in admittedly repetitive, random levels.
But at the heart of the game are the characters, protagonist Zagreus, his gruff father Hades, and a host of gods, goddesses and hangers-on that you will learn to love. The voice acting is great (and so plentiful!), But my favorite part of the game is Supergiant’s great art direction. Hades is 3D characters over 2D levels and effects, so it will get a bit hot on older hardware – you may need to lower it to 720p to keep the battles smooth. Oh, and don’t you dare disrespect poor Dusa.
Yes, your grace
There are many games where you play a medieval fantasy hero, but the king is usually someone you have to rescue, kill, or petition. In Yes, your grace, it’s the opposite: you’re already the king, and your job is to keep this mess going. You must take care of the needs of your people by holding a royal court and answering the pleas of peasants, leading the royal family, and employing your noble personnel.
Simple pixel graphics hide a surprising number of deep systems, both dynamic and strategic, each shaped by your decisions. Compromise and some light betrayal may 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 along the lines of Binding of Isaac , but with an obsession with guns that would make a Texan blush. The sequel shifts the perspective to a side-scrolling shooter and the setup in bite-sized stages.
Your weapon shifts with each weapon, so the roguelike “runs” are more random without focusing on random loot. Really bad difficulty combines with a quick turnaround (pun absolutely intended) to create a game focused on nervous skill. It’s a bite-sized experience, which is a nice reprieve when you’re tired of losing an hour or two on a roguelike run.
Amanita Design, she’s from Machinarium and Samarost fame are back with yet another extremely atmospheric game. This one is almost entirely puzzle platforms, so it’s a bit conventional by their standards. Creaks is about descending into a strange and disturbing world, meeting unique characters (lots of bird lovers) and figuring out what the heck (?) is going on.
The art design is the big draw here, with hand-drawn and painted elements that remind me of Jheronimus Bosch if he had grown up with Sesame Street. The design is technically a platformer, but don’t worry: you don’t need any nervous skills to get past the puzzles – just your brain. It’s also pretty short when these games go, so you may want to wait for a sale.
Miss you Final Fantasy Tactics and Tactic Ogre ? Like Endlessfluff Games, the developers of Fae tactic. A JRPG-inspired story and pixelated visuals are just the sprinkling of this turn-based strategy cake. But the game doesn’t just try to recreate the bygone era of tactical RPGs, it’s also innovative with an interface that emphasizes actions above menus and works great on controllers.
There are shades of it too Pokémon in the setup, which allows you to summon creatures you’ve defeated to defeat your current enemies. The game is also surprisingly long and ensures that it will satisfy your classic tile strategy game solution for quite some time when you finally take on the final challenge.
Metroidvania games often give the player the task of killing various anonymous monsters. But what if you were the anonymous monster instead, chewing levels full of unhappy people like they were disturbingly noisy? Gushers ? Enter Ace, a side-scrolling 2D action game that flips the script and turns you into a tentacular horror.
Even in pixel art, the monster’s knockouts of humans get visceral and disturbing detail, not to mention the screams. When you get injured, you reduce your biomass, eat people and get it back and improve your skills. The ever-shrinking mechanic and the monster’s unique movement help create some innovative battles and puzzles, and pixel art fans will love the protagonist’s undulating motion and the gloomy blood of the environments.
The Solitaire Conspiracy
The name “Solitaire conspiracyIs quite interesting, right? Sounds like some kind of 007 encoded message. It’s a game about (wait for it) uncovering a conspiracy by playing Solitaire. Continuing through the surprisingly intricate variations of “Streets and Alleys”, a spy story is played, punctuated by moving video clips, character art, voice acting and some sweet spy movie melodies to enhance the experience.
At the end of the day, you’ll still be playing Solitaire with some extra bits on top, but it’s such a unique experience it’s worth checking out for any card game fan. Oh, unlike certain solitaire games we might 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 fairly simple tools available in GameMaker. The sequel takes all those original elements and builds them out with the full power of a studio at the behest of designer Derek Yu.
Spelunky 2 will feel very familiar to fans of the original randomized platformer, but the refined mechanics and massive visual facelift pair well with new treats like the animal tamer system. The characters are charming, even though they often get the mess out. The 2D platforming shouldn’t put a strain on most laptops, but areas of running water and lava can drop the frame rate as you explore mooncaves.
Streets of Rage 4
It’s rare for a game series to come back from several decades of hibernation and get it right right away. Streets of Rage 4 does, delighting fans of the original arcade beat-em-up series as well as new players who only grew up with the games that inspired the originals.
Combat is “thick” in a way that feels familiar, while still being smoother and more varied than SEGA’s older games. The anime-inspired art is absolutely fantastic – these 2D visuals would have made a king’s ransom back in arcade quarters – and the music sets the retro vibe to perfection. If possible, grab a friend (or two or three) to hit the streets in a cooperative, locally or online.
Spiritfarer is another frequent resident of “best of 2020” lists that don’t require a graphics card. It is innovative in many ways: the beautiful cartoon style, the low pressure gameplay, but most importantly the way it asks the player to think and feel in equal measure.
You’re given the task of piloting a ship of the dead – but not a bleak number like Charon takes over the Styx. No, your ferry is more like a luxury river cruise, and you meet and mingle with your attractive passengers as you take them to the great beyond and help them settle their lives. Individual moments of this game are adorable, but learning the characters can be so engaging that you’ll be really sad to see them go to the afterlife. Bonus: There is also a local co-op mode where player two becomes a cat.
Honorable Mention: Civilization VI
The latest entry in this long-running series technically came out as far back as 2016, but it is constantly updated with new content to this day. The turn-based country builder Civilization VI added new DLC this year, including the Babylonian, Byzantine and Gaul, Maya and Gran Colombian and Ethiopian factions, plus a bunch of new strategic scenarios, all in 2020.
It’s still the absolute top of its class in this niche genre, and it works 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 maybe you will after getting hooked on the base game and online cross-platform multiplayer.