20 Best CPU Intensive Games to Push Your PC To The LIMIT
A game that demands substantial CPU power is one that requires more real-time CPU processing than the average game available, or it could refer to games that depend more on CPU processing as opposed to GPU processing (such as rendering).
A more precise term for the latter case might be “CPU-bound,” which implies that a game’s performance is primarily limited by the strength of your CPU. Regardless of semantics, “CPU-intensive” is a flexible term that can carry slightly different meanings, but the overall concept remains the same: these games can put a significant strain on your CPU and can be particularly demanding on weaker or older processors.
When building or upgrading a PC with these types of games in mind, you may want to consider a more balanced CPU-GPU combination instead of the conventional wisdom of opting for a much stronger GPU than CPU. This approach makes sense since most modern games with impressive graphics rely heavily on the GPU, especially at 1440p or 4K resolutions.
In CPU-intensive games like the ones below, if you pair a decent GPU with an underpowered CPU, you might experience a CPU bottleneck (meaning your CPU is preventing your GPU from being fully utilized) depending on various factors.
Certain characteristics of a game can make it more CPU-intensive than others, including:
- Game genre (strategy, MMO, and simulation games tend to be more CPU-heavy)
- Multiplayer games can require more CPU power (more players result in increased processing and transmission of network code)
- Intricacy of gameplay mechanics, such as AI and physics (both of which always rely on the CPU)
- Size and complexity of the game’s maps
- Number of objects, units, or characters on-screen at any given time (the CPU must process AI/pathfinding and collision detection for each)
- Inadequate code optimization by the developers Below, I have compiled a list of some of the most CPU-intensive games available today, based on my research and personal experience with some of these titles. If you have an older or budget-friendly modern CPU and are not getting the desired performance in the following games, it is likely that your CPU is the issue (assuming your GPU is adequate for the game and resolution you are playing at).
CPU-intensive tasks are not limited to MMORPG games alone. For example, when playing a newly released AAA title, it is highly likely that the CPU will be pushed beyond its standard clock speed. Modern games demand more CPU cores to carry out mathematical and geometrical calculations needed for image generation.
It’s also important to note that most CPU-intensive games utilize more RAM. This is because RAM provides temporary storage, which the CPU requires to execute multiple processes simultaneously. Therefore, it’s essential to ensure that your system has enough RAM to handle any CPU-intensive game without causing freezes or lag.
If you believe a game deserves to be on this list and is missing, please let me know at the end. I hope you enjoy the article and perhaps learn something new. Keep in mind that the specific order of this list does not matter since it is impossible to directly rank the CPU intensity of one game relative to another.
Assassin’s Creed Odyssey
Assassin’s Creed Odyssey is without a doubt the biggest most insanely massive Assassin’s Creed game. It looks damn good on PC too especially if you get it running ultra-wide. Origins really kicked things off with Assassin’s Creed game and it just look out of this world.
Odyssey definitely pushes things to the limit but also down to a granular level with tons of details. Your character in particular looks incredibly detailed with of course a bunch of different modeling’s for different armor types because it’s an RPG.
Dust gets kicked up when you fight, characters get bloody, all of its convincing combined with a really good lighting engine and insane amount of variety. Tons of beautiful looking water, more tropical islands, tall mountains, fallen trees with tons of foliage, and even some snow. This game really has everything and all of it looks really really good.
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Simulation games are often considered CPU-intensive because they require extensive behind-the-scenes processing to create realistic, lifelike experiences. A prime example is the futuristic space simulation game Star Citizen, where certain areas of the game can be highly demanding on the CPU. Consequently, even with an excellent graphics card, you may encounter a CPU bottleneck.
Furthermore, the game is still under development, which means it is currently in early access and may be more resource-intensive than it will be in the future. The developers have acknowledged the need for CPU optimization and have warned that CPU bottlenecks are to be expected at this stage.
Star Citizen not only demands a powerful CPU but also requires one of the best gaming GPUs for smooth performance at 1440p or 4K resolutions. In general, few games are as demanding on hardware as Star Citizen.
Tom Clancy’s The Division 2
Another one that you wouldn’t think of at first but the Division 2 can really push some PCs to the limit and for good reason. Most notably the newest expansion Warlords of New York looks incredible, which takes things back to New York City. Lower Manhattan just really pushes things in terms of the size and scale.
The map is big plus there’s a lot of impressive verticality to it. The buildings truly look soaring and you get that sense of scale because the game can convincingly render those distances. Not only that the streets of New York and Washington DC in the base game are littered with tons and tons of details like moving paper trash in the streets, wildlife, tons of foliage, weather effects, day and night effects, really great lighting.
Even if you don’t like the Division or games as a service game, well we talk about the worlds at massive builds all the time. They look incredibly good and are worth experiencing just on that alone. Especially if you can really crank this thing up to ultra then it is damn impressive.
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ARMA 3 is an FPS, but describing it as an open-world seamless sandbox military simulation would be more accurate, as it deviates from the typical FPS experience. This unique “game” is also exceptional in terms of its demand on the CPU compared to other games.
Even with a high-end GPU, if your CPU is lacking, your system may struggle significantly, particularly during missions with extensive scripting and AI. In the more CPU-intensive scenarios within the game, even state-of-the-art CPUs can have difficulty maintaining a consistent 60FPS, not to mention 144FPS.
To fully optimize your system for ARMA 3, you need to be prepared to thoroughly adjust settings, overclock your CPU, and invest in a sizeable amount of fast, low-latency RAM (which should also be overclocked). It’s worth mentioning that the popular ARMA mod DayZ is equally CPU-intensive.
As we’re talking about games with incredibly impressive details, Metro Exodus is one hell of a good looking game and also the best-looking Metro game by far. It brings things outdoors into much larger environments and despite things opening up and embracing some kind of open level design the game doesn’t lose its identity and its detail in making everything around you feel really convincing like a ravaged wasteland.
The desert levels look pretty good with some cool sandstorm effects. There’s also end of winter like melting kind of muddy snowy areas. Then there’s more wooded areas which are first for the series and of course the destroyed city landscapes covered in snow.
When you’re down in those tunnels doing those spooky things, a lighting system is really working overtime to make it look convincing and also spook you a little bit. This game is richly detailed to the point where there’s so much going on and the fact that all can run beautifully on a great PC makes it that much better.
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Total War – Warhammer 2
During large-scale strategy games with numerous units on-screen, a vast amount of AI/pathfinding and collision/hit detection calculations must be performed in real-time. Warhammer 2, along with the entire Total War series, is notorious for straining your CPU if it isn’t powerful enough, as the battles in this game can become incredibly intense.
Over the years, this game has been widely used in CPU benchmarks, so if it’s your favorite, ensure that you have a well-balanced CPU and GPU combination, leaning more towards the former (particularly at 1080p). Upgrading from an older CPU to a faster, newer one can substantially enhance performance and eliminate stuttering or frame drops.
Forza Horizon 4
Of course we had to include car games. Forza Horizon 4 is pretty much the most modern best-looking racing game right now. There’s a lot of competition but we just personally like the way this looks for the variety, the detail, the color and also it’s just straight-up good.
Forza Horizon 4 also looks really great because it recreates an open-world English countryside for you to just drive around and explore through. There’s incredible draw distances and tons of detailed little villages that all can go by at super high speeds.
It all looks amazing when the game and your machine can keep up with the details being rendered. It’s super impressive down to the reflection on the cars themselves because of course they’re the star of the show.
The way dirt and mud gets flung up and the general variety of different vehicle types and environment types like snow and foliage and the change in time of day and the seasons. There’s so much working overtime here to really impress your eyeballs. It looks great on consoles and is definitely a showcase but on PC it looks way better.
No Man’s Sky
Large, procedurally generated worlds depend heavily on the CPU for their complex calculations. As one might anticipate, No Man’s Sky, which features an almost limitless real-time generated universe, places considerable strain on the CPU. Nonetheless, it’s essential to equip your system with a powerful GPU as well, given that the game presents multiple demanding challenges.
When experiencing No Man’s Sky in virtual reality, the hardware requirements become even more critical. To ensure smooth gameplay and avoid any performance hiccups, it is crucial to have a high-end CPU and GPU combination working in tandem.
In essence, No Man’s Sky pushes the boundaries of gaming hardware, demanding exceptional processing capabilities for an immersive and enjoyable gaming experience.
Control, a game that we still think is underrated. It was our favorite game of last year and for good reason. This third-person shooter is filled with tons of cool detail, artistic lighting and great effects. This was an early showcase for RTX and when it is switched on the subtleties that it brings, the reflections in the floor, the way glass work and everything turned up to eleven.
Even if you don’t have an RTX capable machine, this game is just mind-blowing. The amount of effects and things that moves around as Jesse blasts through the environment, papers fly up in the air, debris smashes everywhere, things shatter and the ground cracks.
All of that happening and running in real time above 60 frames per second is something that you truly need to experience. Then if you zoom in with photo mode down to a highly detailed level, you can see the detail of Jessie, her face, her clothing, the weapon she uses, even like reflections in her eyes.
Watch Dogs – Legion
To run Watch Dogs Legion smoothly at very high or ultra settings, particularly at 1440p or 4K resolutions, you will need an exceptional graphics card as well as a robust CPU, since it is one of the most CPU-bound contemporary games available. Systems with older CPU generations will likely struggle, even if they are equipped with a high-quality GPU.
To decrease CPU usage and boost FPS, prioritize reducing the “Extra Details” setting, as it is the most CPU-intensive option. It is worth noting that Watch Dogs Legion’s predecessor, Watch Dogs 2, is also known for being CPU-intensive.
Therefore, if you want to enjoy these games without performance issues, it’s essential to invest in a powerful CPU and GPU combination that can handle the demanding processing requirements.
We figured we should talked about the most recent Battlefield game because they’ve always been great showcases for graphical masterpiece. Starting from Battlefield 3 every single one has really turned it up a notch and Battlefield 5 continues it with some really dense and rich looking environments.
The more urban environments of collapse buildings, smoldering remains, sparks, and cloudy skies look damn good. It does not only needs a good PC but a good monitor too. The added level of destruction that Battlefield 5 actually brings back to the series is amazing. When an explosion shakes the snow off of a roof and seeing it realistically slide down, seeing wood splinter and shatter immerses your gaming experience.
Even if you wasn’t the biggest fan of Battlefield 5 you can’t help but point out that all these graphics working overtime with the destruction is really impressive.
Microsoft Flight Simulator
Flight simulators are typically more CPU-intensive than the average PC game, and Microsoft Flight Simulator 2020 (MSFS2020) is a prime example. This game not only pushes GPUs to their limits but also severely taxes processors that aren’t up to par.
As of 2021, it ranks among the most demanding games in terms of overall performance requirements. When using a VR headset to fully immerse yourself in the realistic cockpit experience provided by its robust VR mode, both your CPU and GPU will face even greater challenges to maintain smooth performance.
The Witcher 3 Wild Hunt
We’re talking about a game that pushes your machine to a next level. The Witcher 3 Wild Hunt is still a great example and people love showing off this game in all of its glory. The HUD turned off, settings cranked the hell up, maybe even a couple mods here and there.
I also want to point out that The Witcher 3 on PC running well still has one of the greatest video game sunsets I’ve ever seen and now the game is a couple years old and the fact that it hasn’t been topped, says a lot about it.
The environments are always filled with movement, deep vegetation, lush stuff going on, people going by, and wildlife. To have all of that going on at once and having the detail cranked up is really nice to see.
Far Cry 5
The Far Cry series has consistently been somewhat CPU-intensive, but Far Cry 5 raises the bar. Alongside New Dawn, it appears to be the most CPU-intensive installment in the franchise, as confirmed by PC Gamer:
“Far Cry 5 demonstrates a greater demand on the CPU compared to earlier entries in the series, which is likely attributed to the game’s AI continuously generating ‘excitement’ for the player.”
Call of Duty – Modern Warfare
Now we have the most recent Call of Duty game, Modern Warfare. This game looks absolutely incredible, specifically the single-player. The darker nighttime levels look amazing if you’re playing on a high-end monitor or OLED with some good deep black support. This game absolutely shows its prowess on a good monitor.
The lighting is just so convincing and unlike anything I’ve seen in a lot of other games. The developers use tons of photogrammetry which is essentially the technology of scanning real-world items and placing them in a game. Not slapping them in copy and paste like an old texture but legit putting it in the game.
The developers went it so far as to go to places like where the California wildfires affected and scanned burned out cars and then put them in battlefields in the game. It goes a long way for making all the environments wherever you are in the game from the streets of London to a war-torn area of the Middle East.
All of it looks really astounding and I think it’s a combination of the lighting with the photogrammetry technology that really seals the deal plus characters also look incredibly realistic. Captain Price seems like a real man and not like a cartoon mustache. He looks like a real dude that will be out there somewhere and he is portrayed by an actor.
This game looks incredible especially because it’s got that regular Call of Duty refinement where it just runs as smooth as butter. If you got a machine and you can crank this thing up it screams for real.
Open-world games have the potential to be very demanding on computer processors, and Cyberpunk 2077 is no exception. In fact, Cyberpunk 2077 is particularly demanding on both the CPU and GPU, even for high-end systems running at high resolutions and/or high graphics settings.
Furthermore, if you enable ray-tracing, which enhances the game’s visual effects, Cyberpunk 2077 becomes a modern-day equivalent of the “but can it run Crysis?” meme. This feature also increases the CPU workload in addition to the GPU workload.
If you experience a CPU bottleneck while playing Cyberpunk 2077, a good tip to increase performance is to lower the “Crowd Density” setting in the Gameplay Settings, as explained in the best Cyberpunk settings guide.
Doom Eternal definitely more on the cartoonish side of graphics but still you get tons of effects. From the weapon itself to the environments, lasers, sparks, tons of great looking fire, explosions, enemy types that are all getting deteriorated in real time by your bullets, core blood and of course sprawling looking levels with some pretty impressive draw distances all happening at once and all happening at high frame rates and high resolutions.
Everything going on at once and you (the character) are cruising through at a thousand miles per hour killing everything. So, it’s really important that the game doesn’t collapse under the weight of its own graphics and your high-speed moving. Running smoothly makes it impressive especially considering they aren’t going for photorealism here but still such a good graphical showcase down to the model of the doom Slayer himself who looks absolutely insanely detailed.
Many strategy games tend to rely more on the CPU than the GPU because graphics are less important, and complex gameplay involving multiple units is at the heart of the experience.
The most recent entries in the Civilization series, such as Civilization VI and V, are no exception. As you progress through the game and more elements appear on-screen, even older or slower CPUs can struggle to keep up.
If you’re experiencing performance issues, try playing on smaller maps with fewer AI players. Compared to other modern games on this list, Civilization games may not be as demanding on the CPU, but their heavy reliance on the processor is still worth noting.
Red Dead Redemption
I think the wait for this game to come to PC was absolutely worth it. Especially since it’s been once again updated recently with even better textures. Red Dead Redemption looks incredible from the characters details, the way their clothing moves as they move, the way it gets dirty, the way it gets wet.
Not only you but your horse and of course the environment around you riddled with details. NPCs going about their day, carriages moving through the mud or maybe even some busy streets looks incredibly ambitious and impressively designed city that just looks so realistic especially if you catch it at night with a little fog to it.
When you see those street lights and those lamps through the fog, you can see that this game is really operating on a totally different wavelength. The game world is so big and the fact that it has all this detail is so impressive.
You can go out into the desert, into the woods riddled with tons of lush foliage and Wildlife. See your character get hot, see him get sweaty, see him almost freeze to death and see the horses balls which has definitely been talking point for a while now.
This game looked absolutely insane on consoles but now that it’s finally on PC and you can really crank everything up and get a little extra detail and get a higher resolution and just get more detailed textures; it’s just wild.
It is absolutely the thing you should experience right now especially when the kinks are finally getting worked out. Red Dead Redemption is made for a kick-ass PC and it’s worth experiencing.
World of Warcraft
Massively Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Games (MMORPGs) are another example of games that can be more CPU-intensive, and World of Warcraft (WoW) is no exception.
While it may not be the most CPU-intensive game ever made, WoW can still put a significant strain on your processor during CPU-intensive moments, such as in dungeons, major cities, raids, and PvP encounters.