Two weeks ago, my computer finally crashed for the last time. Being a descendent of Vikings and a lifelong gamer, I set the computer adrift on a longship, lit it aflame with a fire arrow, then bought the best gaming PC I possibly could. Finally I could take a whack at some of those sweet new gen games I’d collected through Steam sales but never got a chance to play. Surprisingly, I instead have found myself returning to the low-graphic classics. It’s not just nostalgia; over the course of owning a slower and slower-by-comparison computer I learned how to pick out excellent games that can run on older machines.
Now, I offer you that wisdom. If your machine is slow or you just want cheap PC titles, I ask you to join me in ushering my old computer to Valhalla -- where it will partake in an eternal team deathmatch -- with this list of the 5 best games you can play on an old PC.
1. FALLOUT 3 & FALLOUT: NEW VEGAS
For the record, my old machine could play Fallout 4. To do so I had to set the game in windowed mode, use Bluetooth to access the Pip boy from my phone, and stare at the ground and run away when too many people started shooting. But I still blew up Liberty Prime, darn it! Even so, I only played about an hour of Fallout 4 with the new machine before starting up New Vegas yet again. Why? New Vegas and its predecessor are just about perfect in terms of role playing games.
Don’t get me wrong; this is not an article about how the old ways are better. There’s a lot to love about Fallout 4: Lord knows building a custom gun from scratch is a treat. The excellence of the new does not take away from the achievements of the old, however, and if you’re looking to experience a rich role play experience with low graphical demands, it would be hard to get a better game than either of these Fallouts. In these games, set in a post-apocalyptic America, you have complete control over how you handle a situation.
They highlight what the appeal of a role playing game should be. You can build a talker, who charms their way through most ordeals. There’s the obvious soldier type, whose problem-solving methods are obvious. You can sneak, hack, or simply prepare your way across an intriguing story that has so many mods and expansions that I find new things after years of playing this game. Like the best of Bethesda games, you are not locked into any particular class. If you want to learn to be a great computer hacker who also happens to have a talent for explosives, nothing is stopping you.
Probably the best example of the freedom these games give you is described by YouTube user Mark Brown, here:
I’m not sure whether to call this one a casual game or an ultra-competitive game. Made by Action Button, a small team of devs in California, this game presents you with the premise of playing the world’s most popular pastime, the titular Videoball. You control a triangle, which fires smaller triangles at a ball in an attempt to get it in the other side’s goal. It’s like Pong, but after Pong’s girlfriend left him and he’s been at the gym night and day trying to turn his life around. Got off track there: the point is the game has a simple veneer that allows for a lot of skill development, and Pong is doing fine because he never loved her anyway.
Its simplicity is where it gets addictive. I find it easy to wind down at the end of the day seeing how far I can get in the arcade mode against the computer, but I also enjoy putting it on with friends while we drink and call each other foul things. It beat out WORMS for my casual game choice, so that should say volumes about its addictiveness as well as how easy it is to pick up.
Enjoy watching the folks at GiantBomb play it here:
3. TEAM FORTRESS 2
I mean, you’ve played an arena game, right? You shoot folks, you get shot, you shoot folks again. This is that, plus a healthy dose of humor. Team Fortress lets you play as several different characters, each with their own battlefield specialty. If you’re jelly of people enjoying the graphically demanding Overwatch, this can scratch that itch nicely.
The surprising thing to me is that it looks pretty sharp despite its age! There’s still an active player base, as I had no trouble finding a match with the new computer last week. Also you can’t beat the price, which is free.
As for the humor, all I can say is that if you click only one link here you should click on this one, which takes you to a short starring the heroes of Team Fortress 2:
4. REBEL GALAXY
This one is not very old, but it’s definitely cult. Made by a two man team, it is a master class in what style can do for a story. One part space trading sim, one part Firefly homage, you roam the galaxy saving people from pirates, finding alien relics, and saving up enough for sweet new ship upgrades all to the tune of dark rockabilly music that I had never heard before and never forgotten since.
What makes Rebel Galaxy stand out mechanically from other space trading sims is that it’s easy to learn. I enjoyed other space traders that work on low end computers, such as X3 and Starpoint Gemini, but I didn’t adore them like Rebel Galaxy because it took me so long to learn how to perform basic tasks that I lost immersion. If my character grew up in this setting, shouldn’t I have at least a vague idea of how all this technology works? With Rebel Galaxy’s somewhat simplistic controls- which feel more like driving a car than flying a jet- you get the sense that you are already familiar with these machines far more than any other space based games I’ve played, even including new titles like Elite: Dangerous.
Rather than supply a gameplay video let me give you the following scene: You’re flying toward the rumored location of some mineral rich asteroids. It’s not exactly legal to mine them, but your sources tell you that no one’s likely to be watching that will care if you sneak out a few tons of ore before the big corporations arrive.
Before you get there though, a distress call chirps on your computer. In the distance you see flashes of a gun battle being slowly lost by a merchant caravan against a group of pirates. Now you have a decision to make; go for the resources and let these people get dusted, or save them and risk some other scav stealing your haul.
As you drop out of faster-than-light speed into the middle of the battle, your blasters lock on the shocked pirates and this tune comes on:
5. MOUNT AND BLADE: WARBAND
The only game in 30 years to contend with The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind, for my top pick. Part strategy, part role playing, part hack’n’slash. Taking place in the fictional medieval land of Calradia, you choose your background and are dumped into the world. From there, you can aspire to be anything. Humble merchant, bandit king, loyal knight, actual king, emperor, evil landlord, tournament champion, and pretty much whatever else you can think of.
The beauty of the game is that when you enter a battle you have command of your troops, yet you can still control your own character, swinging a sword alongside the rest of your soldiers. It seems like a simple concept, and in retrospect it really is, yet I have not played any other game that implements it. The feeling of vulnerability is actually there when the battle is not going well, because if your men lose you will be one of those that are struck down by whichever enemy you either misjudged or failed to outrun.
It is important to note the mod scene for this title, which is the most robust of any other game I’ve played. This beautiful “raise army, fight with army, decide the fate of kingdoms” mechanic has, through the efforts of hundreds of mods, been applied to settings like Star Wars, Warhammer, the American old west, the Roman Empire, the Forgotten Realms, Westeros, and so many more. To further state how populated the modding scene is, here is a video talking about the best mods released this year, even though the release date of the much more graphically advanced sequel is expected any day now: