Let's face it: Gaming is an expensive hobby, especially if you're a PC gamer. Want stable frame rates? You'd better invest in a dependable graphics card. Liquid cooling is cool and all (ha), but it's also not exactly free. And unless you're particularly patient, you can also expect to drop at least $60 on most new AAA titles—before micro-transactions.
Gaming can be expensive, yeah, but it doesn't have to be. There are plenty of great games out there that won't leave your wallet feeling like it's Game Over. Here, I've highlighted some personal favorites—meaty, high-quality titles that stand out amongst the droves of mediocre games infesting Steam. And the best part? They're all less than $20.
Undertale is an RPG that uses a mix of side-scrolling and top-down perspectives, which gives it a retro feel. The story focuses on the existential divide between humans and monsters and a child's quest to restore harmony between them.
What's unique about this game is that you can befriend the monsters you encounter—instead of the usual task of depleting their hit points to 0 in a flurry of swords and spells.
As most of you know, non-violent options aren't very common in games, so if you're looking for a new perspective, this might be the game for you.
2. Stardew Valley
In Stardew Valley—one of the most wholesome games I've ever played—you play as a character who leaves their hum-drum office job for a simpler life in the country.
In addition to planting crops and milking goats, you can try your hand at romancing almost any of the other townsfolk. It's definitely a slower-paced game, but relaxing with your chickens and cows is kind of the point.
At the end of the day, Stardew Valley is more than just a farming sim—it's a way of life. Oh, and did I mention it's multiplayer now, too?
3. Risk of Rain
If you like online or couch co-op, Risk of Rain is a great option. You and a friend will have to fight your way through enemy hordes to find the teleporter.
The basic concept is straightforward enough, but with over one-hundred unique items at your disposal, you can get really creative with how you go about achieving victory.
The other standout thing about this game is its "permadeath" feature. That means that when a character dies, that's it. And you thought Stardew Valley was about raising steaks.
If you like Minecraft, we'd recommend giving Starbound a try. Made by the same company that created Stardew Valley, Starbound is (at a glance) a pretty straightforward exploration/survival game.
The unique aspect is that it's set in space, so you'll be running into alien species, going on quests full of space age jargon, and exploring story-driven narratives that sci-fi fans will love.
You can also gather materials from various planets to craft weapons, furniture, and so on. It's a big, open-ended take on space exploration where you essentially write your own story—what's not to love?
5. Hyper Light Drifter
For those who like a challenge, Hyper Light Drifter is probably the most challenging game on this list. Just thinking about the split-second input requirements is making me nervous.
But in addition to the demanding gameplay, the game's visuals are absolutely stunning, and the story here is as compelling as it is mysterious.
You play as a character—a drifter, if you will—who not only possesses powerful ancient technology, he's also slowly dying of an unspecified illness. If you're dying to sink your teeth into a good adventure, I can't recommend this game enough.
6. Life is Strange Episode 1
The only way I can describe Life is Strange is that it's like a playable indie movie. You play as Max Caulfield, a teenager with mysterious time-meddling powers.
That means you can rewind and try again (or pick a different choice). The premise sounds weird, but it's actually one of my favorite games. The characters really suck you in—some of them even reminded me of my own adolescent years.
For those who love stories with lots of teen angst that are more focused on character development and excellent voice acting than high scores, this is the game for you.
7. Portal 2
Portal 2 is a first-person perspective puzzle game where a deranged AI subjects you to various physical/mental tests. You solve these puzzles with nothing but your wits and a portal gun. It's pretty rad!
There's even a cooperative mode where you and another player have to work together to overcome different obstacles. Plus, the AI's commentary is hilarious.
Whether you're looking for a good co-op experience or a challenging single-player puzzler, Portal 2 definitely delivers—and it may charm the heck out of you while it's at it.