The 10 Best Games for Steam Deck

These games are great on the go

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Valve's Steam Deck is a revolutionary gaming PC that lets you take your favorite titles wherever you like. You can throw yourself on the couch and play for hours. It can technically play any PC game if you install Windows. Still, out-of-the-box, it only plays games compatible with Valve's Linux-based operating system or through the Proton translation layer. More than 500 games are verified.

This list doesn't just pick the best-rated titles on Steam. We also considered how well a game works with a controller, how easy it is to play on a small screen, and how quickly the game might drain the battery. Here are the best games for Steam Deck.

Best Overall: Hades (PC)

Hades

Epic Games

What We Like
  • Gorgeous 2D graphics

  • Great story and voice acting

  • Excellent controls

What We Don't Like
  • Can be very difficult at times

  • Repetitive gameplay isn’t for everyone

Hades is among the best action games ever made. It combines outstanding controls and a tough yet fair difficulty curve. It's easy to dive in thinking you'll play for half an hour, only to emerge from a sweaty-palmed trance two hours later.

The game's polish enhances the excellent core gameplay. Hades is an achingly beautiful game, especially in motion, and a top-notch soundtrack supports the visuals. The story is bolstered by excellent voice acting.

It's a difficult game, though difficulty settings are available for less experienced players. It's also a bit repetitive, as the game unfolds over multiple attempts to escape Hades.

The developer, Supergiant, designed Hades for every gaming device under the sun, so it controls well on any console, including the Steam Deck. It's not a graphically demanding game, either, so it won't chew up your battery.

Publisher: Supergiant Games︱Developer: Supergiant Games︱ESRB Rating: Teen︱Install Size: 15-20GB︱Genre: Action-RPG︱Release Date: September 17, 2020

Reviewed by Lifewire

Hades is a ridiculously popular game of the roguelike, or rogue-lite, variety. The characters are well-written, with natural and nuanced dialog that always seems to suit them. The use of Greek mythology for the setting and plot make it a joy to play. Hades rewards players for stepping outside their comfort zone and experimenting with different builds each run. The element of randomness and the low cost of death keeps things fun, and the surprisingly deep story and sheer variety of gameplay mechanics make each run through the Underworld new and exciting. —  Sandra Stafford, Game Reviewer

Supergiant Games Hades

Lifewire / Sandra Stafford

Best Role-Playing Game: Bug Fables: The Everlasting Sapling

Bug Fables: The Everlasting Sapling key art

Nintendo

What We Like
  • Gorgeous old-school graphics

  • Surprisingly diverse gameplay

  • Easy to pick up and play

What We Don't Like
  • Story is good, but simple

  • Turn-based combat can be divisive

You weren’t expecting this, were you? You expected The Witcher 3: The Wild Hunt or, maybe, God of War. Those are great games, but their demanding graphics aren’t the best fit for the Deck. Bug Fables: The Everlasting Sapling is a different kind of role-playing game (RPG). It’s approachable, great for all ages, and has simple (though attractive) graphics that won’t tax the Deck’s battery life.

A love letter to Nintendo’s Paper Mario franchise, Bug Fables mashes traditional turn-based RPG combat with a variety of timing-based attacks. This keeps the deliberate pace of a turn-based RPG but adds more active, engaging combat than most games in this genre.

As its graphical style hints, Bug Fables is a family-friendly game that doesn’t delve into mature concepts. Still, it has a fun story, comical characters, charming music, and clever writing. This game has something for everyone.

Publisher: DANGEN Entertainment︱Developer: Moonsprout Games︱ESRB Rating: Everyone︱Install Size: 300MB︱Genre: Turn-based RPG︱Release Date: November 21, 2019

Best Platformer: Celeste

Celeste video game key art

Nintendo

What We Like
  • Excellent story and pacing

  • Top-notch controls

  • Lots of accessibility options

What We Don't Like
  • A bit short

  • Very difficult on default settings

Platforming is the most competitive genre on the Steam Deck at launch. There are dozens of games to choose from, but Celeste rises to the top of this hotly contested slot. It's an outrageously fun, tight, and smooth platformer. The controls are excellent, and the gameplay is so slick it feels wired to your brain. The game has a Linux native version, too.

Celeste is a challenging game, but the game’s rapid pace makes each death feel less punishing. Don’t want the grind? You can dig into the game’s accessibility options and tune it to your preference.

The game’s graphics may seem basic, but the story is deep, personal, and more impactful than most games several times its length. Indeed, length is the game’s only downside. You’ll be craving more when it’s over. 

Publisher: Extremely OK Games, Ltd︱Developer: Matt Makes Games, Inc︱ESRB Rating: Everyone 10︱Install Size: 1.2GB︱Genre: Platformer, Adventure︱Release Date: January 25, 2018

"Celeste's controls are among the best of any platformer on the PC. Every death—and you’ll die often—feels like an opportunity to improve your skills." — Matthew S. Smith, Tech Writer

Best Strategy Game: Sid Meier's Civilization VI

Sid Meier's Civilization VI

Steam

What We Like
  • Extremely deep gameplay 

  • Many ways to play

  • Turn-based pace is great for mobile

What We Don't Like
  • Can be a time sink

  • Small text may be hard to read

The Civilization franchise is a decades-old mainstay of PC gaming, so it’s fitting that the latest title, Civilization VI, is great on the Steam Deck. This complex turn-based strategy game lets you create an alternative history of the world with dozens of civilizations and an endless array of randomly generated maps.

Civilization VI has received numerous updates, and two big expansion packs, since its release in 2016. It’s packed with features, improvements, and balance changes that refine the experience. New players can turn down the difficulty and have fun, but veterans can spend hours fretting over the precise placement of cities and improvements.

In partnership with Aspyr, Firaxis Games has made Civilization VI a Linux native game, and the turn-based pace makes it easy to play on the go. You can put the game down at any time and fire it back up at a moment’s notice.

Publisher: Aspyr︱Developer: Firaxis Games︱ESRB Rating: Everyone 10+︱Install Size: 15GB︱Genre: Turn-based strategy︱Release Date: October 20, 2016

"Civilization VI is a game I've played for hundreds of hours yet, somehow, it's also a great game to play when you have just 15 minutes to play a few turns." — Matthew S. Smith, Tech Writer

Best First-Person Shooter: SUPERHOT

SUPERHOT video game key art

Nintendo

What We Like
  • Unique bullet time gameplay

  • Excellent controls

  • Great for short sessions

What We Don't Like
  • Very short campaign

  • No multiplayer

SUPERHOT is a game that never feels dated. It upsets expectations for a first-person shooter with a unique hook: Your foes move when you move. The result is a strange, exhilarating first-person dance that recalls the bullet-time effects made famous by The Matrix.

This game is another Linux native title, which means it will play with zero issues on Steam Deck. The stylized 3D graphics aren’t demanding, either, so the title is fairly light on battery use and feels smooth. 

Unfortunately, SUPERHOT’s campaign is rather short, lasting just three hours for most players. Extra modes add variety and challenge for those who find the gameplay addictive. Players who want more can check out the sequel, SUPERHOT: Mind Control Delete, which is also a Linux native title.

Publisher: SUPERHOT Team︱Developer: SUPERHOT Team︱ESRB Rating: Teen︱Install Size: 4GB︱Genre: First-person shooter︱Release Date: February 25, 2016

"SUPERHOT is the ultimate portable shooter. It's easy to jump into, not too demanding on hardware, and it packs more action into a few minutes than shooters pack into a few hours." — Matthew S. Smith, Tech Writer

Best Casual Game: Stardew Valley

Stardew Valley video game key art

Nintendo

What We Like
  • Relaxing, yet offers plenty of depth

  • Numerous ways to play

  • Charming graphics and excellent music

What We Don't Like
  • Lack of challenge will turn off some

  • Controls are merely decent

Want a game that lets you sit back, relax, and play at your own pace? Stardew Valley remains undefeated. This famous indie game puts you in charge of your own farm and then sets you off to harvest crops, befriend neighbors, and explore mines at your own pace.

The game's relaxing pace doesn't mean it lacks depth. Stardew Valley takes at least 50 hours to reach the "ending," but for many, this is just one step in their journey. Dedicated players can spend over a hundred hours collecting every item and befriending every non-player character (NPC).

Stardew Valley's controls can take some getting used to, especially in gamepad mode (which you'll likely use on the Steam Deck). Still, its charming graphics and excellent music help set it apart from other chill games. It's Linux native, too, ensuring smooth and bug-free gameplay. 

Publisher: ConcernedApe︱Developer: ConcernedApe︱ESRB Rating: Everyone 10+︱Install Size: 500MB︱Genre: Farming simulator︱Release Date: February 26, 2016

"After dozens of hours, Stardew Valley still finds ways to surprise me. And the music is worth the price of admission by itself." — Matthew S. Smith, Tech Writer

Best Puzzle Game: Baba Is You

Baba Is You video game key art

Nintendo

What We Like
  • Inventive gameplay

  • Simple yet alluring graphics

  • Very easy on the hardware

What We Don't Like
  • Can leave you stumped for hours

  • Light on story

Baba Is You is a baffling puzzle game. It's bafflingly difficult, bafflingly brilliant, and bafflingly unique. The game's core hook is the use of simple sentences formed by pushing word blocks around the screen. They change the rules of the level, making it possible to accomplish what at first seems impossible. This hook starts clever, letting you warp through walls or flip characters, and ends with the player creating mini-games and bending the laws of physics.

Indeed, the game's baffling concept is its only real downside. The puzzles are hard, and it's hard to resist the temptation to look up the solutions. The game isn't hard on the Steam Deck, though. It's a Linux native game, and the simple 2D graphics will conserve battery life. 

Publisher: Hempuli Oy︱Developer: Hempuli Oy︱ESRB Rating: Everyone︱Install Size: 200MB︱Genre: Puzzle︱Release Date: March 13, 2019

"Baba Is You will turn your brain into a pretzel. In a good way." — Matthew S. Smith, Tech Writer

Best Horror Game: Inside

Inside video game key art

Steam

What We Like
  • Outrageously creepy

  • Excellent art style and music

  • Simple, effective controls

What We Don't Like
  • Story is bare-bones

  • Might be too much for some

Inside doesn't look that frightening at a glance. The game's 2D platforming action and dark graphics appear foreboding but seem to fall short of terror. Then you play the game.

What makes Inside a horror masterpiece is its use of suspense to drive the game forward. It's not a difficult game, but the sense of dread can make it feel more tasking than it is. You spend most of the game defenseless with no option but to escape.

Inside isn't demanding on the Steam Deck's hardware, so it will run smoothly and help squeeze decent life from the battery. The game isn't fast-paced, but it controls well and is easy to learn. It's also a short game, lasting four hours at most, and the story leaves much to your imagination. The game's predecessor, Limbo, offers a similar experience if you want more.

Publisher: Playdead︱Developer: Playdead︱ESRB Rating: Mature 17+︱Install Size: 3GB︱Genre: Platformer, Adventure︱Release Date: July 7, 2016

"Many horror games try to trick you with jump scares, but Inside gets under your skin, and stays there. Expect to have a few nightmares." — Matthew S. Smith, Tech Writer

Best Racing Game: Art of Rally

Art of Rally video game key art

Funselektor Labs

What We Like
  • Top-notch visuals

  • Intuitive and fast-paced racing

  • Easy to pick up, yet challenging

What We Don't Like
  • Not much variety

  • Arcade style isn't for everyone

Racing fans aren’t spoiled for choice, as most popular racing games aren’t Steam Deck verified at launch. Art of Rally fills this gap with a fun, approachable, yet challenging arcade-style rally experience.

First things first: this game looks great. It’s not realistic, obviously, but the punchy visuals stand out. They make the game easy to play on a small screen. Art of Rally is a Linux native title, too, so it should be a smooth and bug-free experience.

The arcade-style structure is easy for new players to dig into, but the game can prove challenging as the levels progress. Rally racing requires split-second decisions, and this game is no different. Like other rally games, Art of Rally is hampered only by focusing on its subject. There are no big races, no head-to-head battles, no destruction derby. It’s all rally, all the time.

Publisher: Funselektor Labs︱Developer: Funselektor Labs︱ESRB Rating: Everyone︱Install Size: 6GB︱Genre: Racing︱Release Date: September 23, 2020

"Want to rally? Art of Rally serves up a heaping helping of rally action with a visual style no other racing game can match." — Matthew S. Smith, Tech Writer

Best Multiplayer Game: Payday 2

Payday 2 video game key art

Nintendo

What We Like
  • Unique heist gameplay

  • Lots of missions and modes

  • Easy on the hardware

What We Don't Like
  • No single-player mode

  • No competitive mode

The Steam Deck’s selection of verified multiplayer games is rather slim at launch. Many popular games are unsupported. Enter Payday 2, a four-player co-op heist game that is Steam Deck verified and has a Linux native client.

First released in 2013, Payday 2 has matured from a tight co-op game into a sprawling entity with tons of maps and modes. At its core, however, it remains unique. As a heist game, you need careful coordination and a hint of stealth to get away with the goods. The game is so focused on heists that it may turn off some players. There’s no single-player campaign and no competitive mode.

Payday 2 is not a graphically demanding game, which is good news for the Steam Deck. Players who cap the framerate may see decent battery life. Heists are short, too, making the game ideal for quick sessions. 

Publisher: Starbreeze Publishing AB︱Developer: Overkill︱ESRB Rating: Mature︱Install Size: 83GB︱Genre: Multiplayer, Action︱Release Date: August 13, 2013

Final Verdict

Hades (view at Steam) is an excellent go-to choice for the Steam Deck. It's approachable enough to snag less experienced players yet hard enough to challenge veterans craving a tough challenge. The game performs well on the Steam Deck, and the controls feel great.

What to Look for in a Steam Deck Game

System Requirements

The Steam Deck is a portable gaming PC, and all PC games have minimum and recommended system requirements. If the Steam Deck doesn't meet these requirements, your play experience will be terrible (if the game runs at all). Right now, the best way to tell if a game is good on Steam Deck is Valve's Deck Verified system. Valve is reviewing its entire Steam catalog and checking it for Steam Deck compatibility. Games that run great on the handheld have a Verified label. Games labeled Playable require some settings tweaks to play, while Unsupported games won't work at all. Titles labeled Unknown are ones Valve hasn't tested yet.

Length

While a video game's length (or lack of length) isn't indicative of its quality, how much time you're willing to spend with it is important. Are you the type of person who loves to get lost in a game world for dozens of hours? Or are you in the mood for a bite-sized experience you can finish in a single evening? Maybe you're a completionist who likes to find every collectible and complete every side quest before moving on to the next adventure. No matter what type of gamer you are, it helps to know what kind of time commitment a game requires before buying it.

Install Size

The Steam Deck portable gaming console has limited hard drive space; its three models have either 64GB, 256GB, or 512GB solid state drives. Games are getting larger and larger all the time. Bungie's MMO Destiny 2 requires over 100GB, for example. So keep install sizes and your limited storage in mind when buying a new Steam title. Also, consider expanding the Steam Deck's storage by adding a high-speed microSD card. That way, you'll have no problems downloading all the games you want to play.

FAQ
  • What are the Steam Deck’s specs?

    The Steam Deck has an AMD APU with four processor cores, eight GPU compute units, and 16GB of DDR5 RAM. Storage starts at 64GB in the basic model and runs up to 512GB in the top-tier Deck. The 7-inch touchscreen has a resolution of 1280x800 pixels and a 60Hz refresh rate. This device also has Wi-Fi 6, Bluetooth 5, and a USB-C port that provides wired connectivity.

  • What’s the difference between the Steam Deck and the Nintendo Switch?

    The Nintendo Switch is the smaller of the two and has detachable controllers that you can use to play games while connected to a television through the dock. Its hardware is significantly less capable than the Steam Deck, so games generally run at lower framerates and a lower resolution. Each device supports a different library of games. The Switch only runs titles sold for the Switch, while Valve's Steam Deck can, in theory, run any Windows or Linux compatible game. However, the Steam Deck doesn't come with Windows installed by default.

  • Which Steam Deck should I get?

    The Steam Deck comes in three models that differ in storage and price. The mid-priced model with a 256GB NVMe drive is our recommendation. That might not sound like a lot of storage, but keep in mind the Steam Deck does have expandable storage, and most games that work well on it have an install size below 10 gigabytes.

About Our Trusted Experts

Matthew S. Smith is a technology and game journalist with 15 years of experience reviewing PC and console hardware. His work can be found on PC World, Kotaku, IGN, Wired, and IEEE Spectrum, among others. Matthew was the Computing Editor at Digital Trends from 2014 to 2020.

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