Despite deals left and right, gaming is an expensive hobby. Although chasing Steam sales has its merits, there are plenty of cheap PC games that you can pick up now, no sale required. From modern classics like Dishonored to ethereal platformers like Celeste, here are the best cheap PC games, with a strict budget of $20.
Of course, the games we’re including are less than $20 normally, so you can often find them for far less during a Steam sale. Also, we’re not including any free games. If that’s what you’re after, we have guides on everything from the best free-to-play games to the best free flight simulators.
Arkane Studios has been around for a while — since 1999, in fact — but the 2012 release of Dishonored started a second life for the development studio. This outfit has mastered a particular genre: The immersive sim. Following in the footprints left by games like System Shock and Deus Ex, Dishonored is all about player choice. Rather than providing you with a linear narrative or an open world to explore, Dishonored gives you systems and lets you choose how to engage with them.
The freedom in Dishonored is why the game is such a treat, but the art style and story are nothing short of excellent. Set in the steampunk city of Dunwall, you play as bodyguard framed for murder. Consigned to the shadows, your goal is to infiltrate the corrupt government and find out who betrayed you. You can assassinate targets head-on with a pistol or let them drink from a poisoned glass — the choice is yours, and that’s why we love Dishonored.
Read our Dishonored: Death of the Outsider review
Batman: Arkham City
All of the Arkham games are under $20, so if one piques your interest over Arkham City, it’s a fine alternative. For us and many others, though, the series hit its peak with the sophomore entry. On the surface, Arkham City is an easy sell. You’re Batman, and you’re set loose in a section of Gotham City overrun with the patients of Arkham Asylum. Under the setup, the game has a little more going on.
The Arkham series basically perfected the melee combat system that nearly all action games use today, from Assassin’s Creed Odyssey to Ghost of Tsushima. What Arkham City gets right over those games, though, is stealth. Stealth is challenging and rewarding in Arkham City, and if you’ve played any similar open-world games, you know that’s not usually the case. It’s a game that lets you play how you want to, fully assuming the role of Batman. The $20 price tag, given the amount of content and the quality of it, is a steal.
Read our Batman: Arkham City review
Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain
Metal Gear Solid V is an interesting game in the series, not only because it’s the last game Hideo Kojima worked on, but also because it serves as a prologue to original Metal Gear. It’s the first truly open-world game in the franchise, allowing you to tackle objectives in any way you want, which fits perfectly with the game’s stealth focus. Despite the tumultuous development cycle and Kojima’s troubled relationship with Konami, The Phantom Pain still has Kojima’s undeniable, uncanny touch. It’s a masterclass in stealth action and storytelling, and although The Phantom Pain may not be the best game in the series, that hardly means it’s bad. Plus, The Phantom Pain is the best way to see the proprietary Fox Engine in action (unless, of course, you’re one of the few brave souls who played Metal Gear Survive).
Read our Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain review
We’ve seen our fair share of Super Metroid clones, most of which don’t reach any heights above simply being good. Although games like Ori and the Will of the Wisps and Iconoclasts are standout hits from the reborn platforming genre, there’s no title that encapsulates this new wave of indie games quite like Hollow Knight. From humble beginnings as a Kickstarter hit, Hollow Knight has morphed into something far greater. A retrospective look at the Kickstarter pages tells the full story of a game that was announced with ambitious goals, but managed to achieve even more than the roadmap set out.
Team Cherry, the developer behind Hollow Knight, has continued to support the game with free DLC packs since launch. Although the $14.99 price tag has been a constant, Team Cherry has added hours of additional content to Hollow Knight, all without asking players for a dime. The end result is a massive game teeming with life and things to do, from endgame boss rushes to a slew of secrets and collectibles. Although recapturing the feeling of previous games is no small feat, Hollow Knight isn’t just a re-imagined Super Metroid. It’s a modern classic that deserves a spot alongside the games that countless other development studios are trying to emulate.
Celeste is about as far away from Hollow Knight as it gets. It’s a platformer, but instead of secrets and bosses, Celeste is simply about getting to the end of the level. It’s an old-school, knuckle-busting platformer where each screen presents a new challenge. Unlike a lot of previous games in the genre, though, there’s a good justification for Celeste being as difficult as it is.
You play as Madeline, a young girl with some inner demons who’s decided to take a journey up Celeste Mountain. It’s a tale of self-discovery, one that sneaks up and entangles you well before the second chapter. The gameplay is expertly crafted, with ultra-tight controls and imaginative level design. However, Celeste’s story is what will stick with you once the credits roll.
Read our Celeste review
The quintessential looter-shooter, Borderlands 2 is a must-own, even with Borderlands 3 making the rounds. The fact that Borderlands 2 still attracts thousands of players every day, despite being eight years old, should tell you everything you need to know: It’s a fantastic game. Solo or with a group of friends, Borderlands 2 is stuffed to the brim with guns, humor, and loot, perfecting a genre that Gearbox revamped after only a single release. Although we ignored sales for this list, Borderlands 2 is always one of the premiere titles in Steam sales with copies going for less than $5. At $20, the game is a no-brainer. At $5, it’s highway robbery.
Although Doom Eternal improves on the 2016 entry in almost every way, the original reboot is nothing short of incredible. Fast, brutal, and unrelenting, Doom is about killing demons and nothing else. Rather than move the franchise in a narrative-focused direction like Doom 3, the 2016 reboot is all about getting back to basics, and it does an excellent job at that. You play as the Doom Slayer, an entity not sent to kill demons, but to terrorize them. Doom is a power trip through hell, one where you’re constantly reminded that the end of your barrel calls the shots.
It’s not a particularly short game, either, which is great for a single-player-focused shooter. You’ll get around 15 hours out of the main story, with another five or so if you’re interested in collectibles. Between SnapMap and Arcade Mode, though, Doom has a ton of content, offering dozens of hours of gameplay for under $20.
Read our Doom review
The Elder Scrolls Online
The Elder Scrolls Online is a massive game. Frankly, looking at the map once you’re set loose in the world is a little overwhelming. True to form, The Elder Scrolls Online has some of the deepest lore out of the popular MMORPGs, and that leads to some of the most engaging quests and events that the genre has seen. From assassination contracts with the Dark Brotherhood to epic 50-player dragon battles, The Elder Scrolls Online has a bit of everything. Even better, there isn’t a subscription fee.
Read our The Elder Scrolls Online review
Supergiant Games is a hell of a developer, so it doesn’t matter if you pick up Bastion or Hades; you’re going to have a good time. For us, Supergiant’s magnum opus is Transistor. This noir sci-fi love story combines so many elements from other games that it feels wholly unique. The combat system, in particular, is incredible. A calling card for Supergiant, Transistor is an action RPG, but it goes beyond hacking and slashing.
Combat is a mix of real-time and turn-based actions. You can run around swinging your Transistor — the “sword” in the game — but it’s much more satisfying to stop time and plan your actions. Elements from Final Fantasy IV to Diablo II show through Transistor‘s combat system, combining to create a gameplay experience that’s greater than the sum of its parts. The combat alone is enough for a recommendation, but Transistor‘s engrossing love story makes the game all the better.
Age of Empires II: Definitive Edition
The amount of support various developers have given Age of Empires II over the years is staggering. The original game released 1999, and players are still booting it up to this day. Now, with the Definitive Edition, you can play the classic real-time strategy game with 4K visuals, a remastered soundtrack, and three new campaigns. The fact that Age of Empires II has seen two well-received remasters in its 21-year lifespan should tell you all you need to know. It’s one of the best games of all time.
Although far from the first RTS, Age of Empires, and to a greater degree Age of Empires II, slowed the frantic pace of previous RTS games to deliver a real-time experience with elements from games like Civilization. What results is an incredibly deep and rewarding game that keeps players engaged in the moment-to-moment gameplay. One criticism of turn-based strategy games is that you often spend many early turns not doing much. With Age of Empires II, you’re engaged from the start, all without sacrificing the depth of its turn-based counterparts.
Into the Breach
From FTL developer Subset Games, Into the Breach is a pure tactics game. Contrasted with the scale of Age of Empires II, Into the Breach gives you only a few units on a deceptively small map and tasks you with figuring out how to manage those few resources. You play as the commander of a small group of mechs sent to fight off alien creatures that are breeding underground on Earth. Unlike a lot of turn-based games, the enemies in Into the Breach telegraph their attacks each turn, shifting the focus from anticipating how the enemy turn will play out to how you can best prepare for it.
Prepare is the most you can hope for, too. Into the Breach isn’t a game about defeating your enemies. Rather, it’s about defending the few remnants of human civilization. Each mission is on a turn clock, and if you reach the end, you win. Although a small difference, the change in focus allows Subset to ramp up the difficulty, leading to a game where one wrong move can cost you the entire mission.
Read our Into the Breach review
This entry serves as a shout-out to Devolver Digital in general. We’re recommending Gris because it’s our favorite, but with games like The Messenger, Minit, My Friend Pedro, and Downwell, there’s no shortage of Devolver-published games shy of $20. Gris is a platformer, technically, but it never lets gameplay get in the way of the thematic content. It’s an ethereal adventure through the mind of a young girl named Gris, featuring beautiful environments that look like they were painted directly on the screen.
Short of the secret true ending, Gris doesn’t force its narrative on you. Although it’s a game with clear themes, it’s comfortable letting you tell your own story, and with beautiful music and second-to-none world design, that’s easy to do. It’s a short game — even when going for all of the collectibles, Gris won’t take you more than a few hours — but the runtime is filled with so much detail and care that it hardly matters. It’s a game of quality over quantity, and in a market where most games are concerned with the latter, Gris is a nice change of pace.
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