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The best games for Steam Deck

The Steam Deck is the newest handheld to hit the market and aims to compete head to head with the likes of the Nintendo Switch. Unlike the Switch, the Steam Deck isn’t meant to double as a home console but is more like the Switch Lite in that it is only usable in its handheld form. Also unlike the Switch, this little machine is a beast in terms of power. With access to your Steam library, there needs to be a lot of processing and graphical power to make these games run as well as PC gamers expect.

While not every game you have in your library is available to play via the Steam Deck, a good number are. If you have a Steam library as large as most people do, then sifting through all those titles in your backlog to see what to play on your brand-new device might take all day. Instead, we’ve gone through all the currently verified games that play on your Steam Deck and selected the best ones to try out first.

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Tetris Effect: Connected
Tetris Effect: Connected
90 %
E
Platforms PC (Microsoft Windows), PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch, Xbox Series X|S, Meta Quest, Meta Quest 2
Genre Music, Puzzle, Indie, Arcade
Developer Monstars, Resonair
Publisher Enhance
Release May 14, 2020
What better way to kick off your new handheld gaming experience than with most people’s first-ever handheld game. Whether it was for the original GameBoy or one of those early old cell phones, Tetris is the essential puzzle game to take on the go, and Tetris Effect: Connected is the latest and greatest the game has ever been. The sights and sounds of this game make it a complete sensory overload, yet that somehow never distracts you from the actual placement and strategy of lining up the pieces just right. It is a game that will grab you and bring you into that flow state so effortlessly that you’re likely to lose track of time. Tetris Effect: Connected also includes a multiplayer component. Tetris games have tried this in the past but to mixed success. In this case, the co-op and competitive modes are both smartly designed and take advantage of what people love about playing Tetris the most without complicating things. Even if you’ve played Tetris Effect: Connected on other consoles, even the Switch version, it is never a bad time to boot up this seminal puzzle title, and it being on your Steam Deck is the perfect excuse.
Tetris Effect: Connected Announce Trailer | Xbox Series X, Xbox One, Windows 10 PC
Crypt of the NecroDancer
Crypt of the NecroDancer
75 %
T
Platforms Linux, PC (Microsoft Windows), Mac, iOS, PlayStation Vita, PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch
Genre Music, Role-playing (RPG), Adventure, Indie
Developer Brace Yourself Games
Publisher Spike ChunSoft, Brace Yourself Games, Klei Entertainment
Release July 30, 2014
Indie games were most people’s idea of what the Steam Deck would be used for, and there are certainly plenty available to pick from. This won’t be the last one we choose, either, but why not kick it off with the rhythm roguelite hit Crypt of the NecroDancer? Just like Tetris Effect: Connected, Crypt of the NecroDancer relies on music and feeling the beat, but to an even greater degree. A good pair of headphones will be essential here since every move and attack you make, as well as the enemies, all need to follow the beat of the song. Crypt of the NecroDancer is also a robust roguelite adventure. Each level you travel down is randomly generated, and there are hundreds of things to discover and unlock, along with challenges to overcome. Just be warned, Crypt of the NecroDancer is a hard game. You need to be able to think and act fast but also be strategic about when you’re acting, too. It’s almost like a game of speed chess, but once you get the feel of it, it becomes incredibly rewarding. Having it on the go makes doing “just one more run” all the more tempting.
Hardcore geschafft! | Crypt of the Necrodancer / Bard Mode
The Binding of Isaac
The Binding of Isaac
83 %
Platforms PC (Microsoft Windows), Mac
Genre Shooter, Role-playing (RPG), Adventure, Indie
Developer Edmund McMillen
Publisher Edmund McMillen
Release September 28, 2011
Speaking of indie games, specifically roguelikes, there’s no way to ignore the king of the genre. The Binding of Isaac: Rebirth is unfortunately not the latest update to the game, which will hopefully be coming soon, but it is some people’s favorite. Just because it doesn’t have a few of the newest features and items, that doesn’t mean this version is not worth your time. In fact, you will need a couple of hundred hours to properly see and unlock all the content in this game. The room-based progression is also perfect for the Steam Deck’s screen, as is the cute but simple art style. The Binding of Isaac: Rebirth has a bit of crude humor and style to it, but mechanically is a marvel. You start out each run picking your character and, typically, just having your normal tears as projectile weapons. By the end of a run, though, you might be a flying cat monster shooting electric bolts with an item that summons pillars of white light that damage enemies. Somehow, each of the hundreds of items has a use, and they combine in crazy ways that might make you an overpowered, nearly unkillable monster — or kill you on the spot. Either way, you’ll love diving deeper into this strange game.
The Binding of Isaac: Trailer
Cuphead
Cuphead
86 %
E10
Platforms PC (Microsoft Windows), Mac, PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch
Genre Shooter, Platform, Indie
Developer Studio MDHR
Publisher Studio MDHR
Release September 29, 2017
Not all games need to be easy to be a good fit for a handheld. That’s not to say we haven’t listed some tougher games before this, but Cuphead is notorious for its difficulty just as much as it is for its unique art style. Based on the old cartoons of the 1930s, Cuphead is such a treat to look at that just being able to bring it with you on the go is almost enough to recommend it for your Steam Deck for that reason alone. The fact that it’s also one of the most satisfying and challenging 2D platformers, on the other hand, will either turn you off completely or be the reason you finally overcome that tough boss. Cuphead, for as hard as it is, doesn’t have an overly complex control scheme to worry about. You are essentially just running, shooting, jumping, and parrying for the most part. The Steam Deck’s control options work wonderfully here and might even feel better than a traditional controller. It is also a game you can play in quick bursts or long stretches depending on the situation since bosses, which will be the majority of the experience, are over fast. Either they wipe the floor with you in a couple of seconds, or you best them in a handful of minutes. Cuphead is certainly one worth showing off on the go.
Cuphead E3 2014 Trailer
The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt
The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt
95 %
4/5
M
Platforms PC (Microsoft Windows), PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch
Genre Role-playing (RPG), Adventure
Developer CD Projekt RED
Publisher WB Games, Bandai Namco Entertainment, cdp.pl, Spike ChunSoft
Release May 19, 2015
The promise of the platform was that even big-budget, high-graphic, hours-long adventures could come with you via the Steam Deck. That is true right out of the gate with several titles, but by far, the best has to be The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt. This game was one many people were curious about seeing on the Steam Deck ever since they managed to port it to the far-less-powerful Switch. This version, though, will look and play far better than that and also have the benefit of easily transferring progress between your PC and Steam Deck. There’s also not a lot in the game that requires extreme precision or spotting tiny details that might be harder on a small screen. Being a potentially hundreds-of-hours-long RPG, the option to take bites out of The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt while on the go — or even just take it with you to bed — might finally make it conceivable to finish this massive game. Even if you would rather keep the story and action side of the game for the big screen, there are tons of other activities you can do that would be perfect in handheld. Gwent, for example, seems like it was made for the Steam Deck.
The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt - The Beginning trailer
Hollow Knight
Hollow Knight
92 %
E10
Platforms Linux, PC (Microsoft Windows), Mac, PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch
Genre Platform, Adventure, Indie
Developer Team Cherry
Publisher Team Cherry
Release February 24, 2017
What left is there to say about Hollow Knight at this point? If you somehow haven’t heard of this beautiful, haunting, and tough-as-nails (slight pun there) Metroidvania, there are no more excuses not to play it. Hollow Knight was perfect for the Nintendo Switch, not to say it isn’t just as good on a TV or monitor, but it feels so much more at home on a portable machine. Now that we can run it on the Steam Deck, you can explore the creepy, moist, and deadly world of Hallownest wherever you like. Being a Metroidvania, Hollow Knight is all about exploration. Team Cherry went above and beyond when designing the map of this game. It is so vast and varied yet organic and never feels too difficult or tedious to get where you need to go. The platforming feels tight and precise, as does the simple combat mechanics. Bosses will put you to the test just like a Souls boss, but all have tells and weaknesses that make them fair once you recognize how to respond to each of their actions. Hollow Knight is the shining example of a modern Metroidvania that begs to be played on the go.
Hollow Knight Trailer
Celeste
Celeste
88 %
E10
Platforms Linux, PC (Microsoft Windows), Mac, PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch, Google Stadia
Genre Platform, Adventure, Indie
Developer Extremely OK Games
Publisher Extremely OK Games
Release January 25, 2018
The Steam Deck doesn’t have Mario, but you almost don’t need him when you have a game like Celeste. This pixel platformer has a simple look but is one of the most highly regarded games of the genre for both its mechanics and story. That being said, just because the art style is old-school doesn’t mean it isn’t a beautiful game. Each screen is lovingly crafted, and the animations are fluid and appealing. It will not be impacted in the slightest by being put on a smaller screen and may even benefit in some ways. On the gameplay front, this is another 2D game that will easily translate control-wise onto the Steam Deck. While Celeste is known to be a pretty hard game, it is also one of the most accessible. There shouldn’t be a reason you couldn’t effectively play it on the Steam Deck as intended, but all the ways you can modify difficulty will still be there if needed. The Assist Mode options can let you tweak the game speed, how much stamina you have for climbing, the number of dashes, and invincibility, and you can even completely skip chapters. Celeste gives you all the tools you need to enjoy the story, and the screen-based challenges will be a blast to play on a handheld.
Exclusive: 10 Minutes of CELESTE Gameplay — TOWERFALL Creators' Next Game!
Persona 4 Golden
Persona 4 Golden
96 %
M
Platforms PC (Microsoft Windows), PlayStation Vita, PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch, Xbox Series X|S
Genre Role-playing (RPG), Simulator, Adventure, Visual Novel
Developer Atlus
Publisher NIS America, Atlus, Atlus USA
Release June 15, 2012
It all comes full circle here. Persona 4 originally hit the PS2 exclusively, with the expanded version, Persona 4 Golden, only launching on the PS Vita. Over a decade later, it finally came to Steam so PC players could enjoy one of the best JRPGs ever made. Thanks to the Steam Deck, this once handheld exclusive can once again be played on the go. Even though Persona 4 Golden is the only game in the series to be fully portable, the format and pacing of the games all feel tailor-made for being played on the go. It might not be the latest and greatest Persona game, but the characters, story, and gameplay are still some of the best in the genre. The format of a modern Persona game is split between daily life and social simulation and combat dungeons. Persona 4 Golden runs on a calendar system where you have a set amount of time each day to do different things and a set amount of days to accomplish each main mission. Each day is bite-sized, where you can choose to hang out with a friend, go to work, study, and complete other tasks to improve your character in different ways. Or you can go into the dungeon and start working your way toward the boss, fighting and capturing new Personas on the way. Combat is turn-based and completely tactical, so you won’t have to worry about getting distracted or having to suddenly stop while playing out and about.
Persona 4 Golden: E3 Trailer
Into the Breach
Into the Breach
83 %
E10
Platforms Linux, PC (Microsoft Windows), Mac, Android, iOS, Nintendo Switch, Google Stadia
Genre Puzzle, Role-playing (RPG), Simulator, Strategy, Turn-based strategy (TBS), Indie, Card & Board Game
Developer Subset Games
Publisher Subset Games
Release February 27, 2018
From the makers of FTL, Into the Breach is a dangerously addictive tactical roguelite. Even when the game first came out for PC, people immediately asked when it would be available on mobile devices, and while it eventually did come to Switch, the new Steam Deck version will be the definitive way to play it. The game is focused around a time loop, as many roguelites are, where you play as a team of soldiers piloting various mechs that need to protect humanity from an invasion of alien bug creatures called Vek. If, or rather when, you lose, your main pilot travels back in time to try again. Similar again to Persona 4 Golden, Into the Breach’s structure is absolutely perfect for the Steam Deck. Combat is completely turn-based, but more than that, you also get to see what the enemy will do next turn. This information makes it possible, if you’re clever enough, to move, attack, and reposition the enemy during your turn so that the enemy’s turn doesn’t deal any damage to you or the civilian buildings you need to protect. Between missions, you will need to select what missions you want to do from the map, upgrade your mechs with the limited resources you get, try and make it through each of the game’s islands, and defeat the Vek once and for all. Unlocking new mech teams with new powers changes up your strategy on a fundamental level, so there’s a lot to ponder when diving Into the Breach.
Into the Breach - Launch Trailer
Slay the Spire
Slay the Spire
86 %
E10
Platforms Linux, PC (Microsoft Windows), Mac, Android, iOS, PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch
Genre Role-playing (RPG), Strategy, Turn-based strategy (TBS), Adventure, Indie, Card & Board Game
Developer Mega Crit Games
Publisher Humble Games
Release January 23, 2019
We mentioned Gwent when talking about The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt, but for a full-on card-based experience that has already proven to be perfect for handheld gaming, Slay the Spire might just be the best ever made. Card games are a natural fit for shorter playtimes or times when you might get distracted periodically, thanks to their turn-based nature. That’s all true for Slay the Spire, but the additional rougelite elements keep every run unique and genuinely addicting. The controls and UI are simple, especially once you get a feel for them, so it will only be a matter of time before you can fly through commands, play cards, use items, and slay enemies on the Steam Deck controls. Like Into the Breach, Slay the Spire shows you exactly what each enemy you’re facing intends to do before they do it. Which cards you get is random, though you can build and cut your deck as you go to improve it, so there is a major element of adaptability. You will also need to plan your route through each act, deciding how many enemies you want to risk fighting, campfires you want to rest at, and shops to visit. There are unlockables galore, including characters that all play so differently they might as well be bespoke card games at that point. If you haven’t already lost dozens of hours to Slay the Spire, you certainly will once you can bring it anywhere with the Steam Deck.
Slay the Spire - Official Launch Trailer
Elden Ring
Elden Ring
97 %
4/5
M
Platforms PC (Microsoft Windows), PlayStation 4, Xbox One, PlayStation 5, Xbox Series X|S
Genre Role-playing (RPG)
Developer FromSoftware
Publisher Bandai Namco Entertainment, FromSoftware
Release February 25, 2022
Finally, there are the Souls games. Of the ones available to start, Elden Ring is the best fit. The open-world structure and sheer size of it mean that taking it on the go can help you power through this massive experience. Thanks to the many, many smaller activities and dungeons you can take on, the portable nature fits very well. You may not want to pull it out for a major boss encounter, although there’s nothing stopping you, but it’s all the time between where the Steam Deck really shines with this title. If you’ve got a long trip, this one game can easily occupy your time for the duration, and it runs about as well as you could hope on the portable system.
Read our full Elden Ring review
ELDEN RING - E3 Announcement Trailer

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