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Great games for your nongaming laptop

Want to sneak in a little PC gaming on the side? Here's how to find the best games for almost any school or office laptop.

Josh Miller/CNET

There's no doubt that we're living in a golden age of PC gaming. The 4K, HDR graphics on games like Metro: Exodus and The Division 2 put their console counterparts to shame, and amazing new hardware from Nvidia and AMD, led right now by Nvidia's RTX graphics cards, and even new RTX "Super" GPUs, are blowing away previous performance benchmarks.

But most of us are stuck with basic integrated Intel graphics. That's what's found on most laptops without a dedicated GPU, which is pretty much any work laptop. If that's your scenario, the options narrow considerably. Trying to run a high-end game on a pedestrian laptop is like watching Doom played via PowerPoint.

Read: Best cheap gaming mouse

Fortunately, there is hope. Many recent games, especially creative, critically hailed indie games, play just fine on your work laptop, and we've collected some of the best here. Below are five of our current favorites, plus a link to a further list of 25 more

Mixing elements of Lovecraft and D&D, this 2D dungeon-crawling RPG is more about keeping your team safe and sane than it is about fighting monsters (although it's about that, too). Think of it as a chance to put all your team-building and project management skills to good use. 

The perfect laptop game, Steamworld Heist is a lightweight, turn-based shooter that's sort of like Firefly. With robots. And hats. And a game mechanic that let you bounce bullets (or whatever the current projectile is) off surfaces like you're playing pool. It takes up minimal space on your drive -- only 200MB -- comes in versions for Mac and Linux as well as Windows, and runs well on even the pokiest of slowpoke systems. If you're on the road, you can pop off a quick mission between meetings, too.

Imagine if the web had never outgrown the lo-fi, low-rent adolescence of the 1990s, but had advanced to the point where you could jack in to that booping, beeping pixel hell while you slept. You play an employee of the Facebookish company that owns the Geocities-like online community, tasked with sleuthing your way around to police the neighborhood. It's a relatively small download -- only 500MB -- and runs on Mac and Linux systems as well as Windows. Be warned, though: a little of that 8-bit music goes a long way.

A throwback 2D mystery/adventure, think of Thimbleweed Park as a Twin Peaks episode set in a county fair. If you get hit with some deja vu for lost LucasArts classics like Monkey Island and Maniac Mansion, that's because some of the same team worked on this.

Asmodee Digital

One of the best tabletop games of the current board game revival has an excellent digital version as well. Scythe is a deep game of resource management and conquest set in a sci-fi-tinged, alternate history 1920s. Other key tabletop games, like Pandemic and Ticket to Ride, now have PC game versions as well.

Subset Games

In our previous roundup, FTL, or Faster Than Light, was our pick for a simple, easy-to-run game that even serious PC gamers could get into. The developers have made an entirely different, but still familiar-feeling game in Into the Breach, which trades the engineering diagram of a spaceship in trouble for an isometric view of a city under alien siege.

A game that earned a huge fan base long before it was released, Cuphead is notable for having an incredible hand-drawn art style, and for being insanely difficult. Originally found only on the Xbox One, the PC version has the added benefit of being very forgiving of low-end PC hardware. It's still not any easier, though. 

Devolver Digital

Nominated by my colleague Lori Grunin, Gris is a side-scrolling adventure from the Limbo school of moody, evocative design. Instead of Limbo's monochromatic shadow world, Gris is painted with muted pastels, but that doesn't mean it's any more cheerful in the end.  

Bonus: Fortnite (Obviously)

Why is Fortnite so incredibly popular? Probably because you can play it on anything this side of a scientific calculator. Besides Xbox, PlayStation and Nintendo Switch consoles, iOS and Android devices, and the all-important Monopoly platform, Fortnite is also extremely forgiving of your low-end laptop, as pointed out in our original games for nongaming laptops feature. That means it's probably playable on your work PC, but keep in mind your screen refresh rate and frames per second aren't going to be much help against serious competition. But at least you'll have an excuse as to why you suck. 

If sneaking a few games onto your work or school laptop isn't enough, then check out our ranking of the most powerful gaming laptops today. Or, for about two dozen more great games for nongaming laptops, see our entire collection in the gallery below