10 Best Games to Play On the Steam Deck When You Can Get One

10 Best Games to Play On the Steam Deck When You Can Get One
Photo: Phillip Tracy/Gizmodo

The Steam Deck is now shipping to customers, which means those who pre-ordered the handheld console should be receiving it…eventually. I’m afraid there is not much Gizmodo can do about shipping delays. What we can do is provide the tools you need to get the most out of the console once it arrives. We’ve already shown you some essential Steam Deck tips and tricks to learn more about the system’s quirky features. But now, we need to chat games.

You should know beforehand that not every PC game will run on the Steam Deck. Actually, most won’t (unless you use a workaround). They first need to be tested, and so far, a few hundred games — from major triple-A titles to smaller indies — are verified to “run great” on the console. Others run fine but not perfectly, some haven’t been tested (and likely don’t run), and then a small batch just won’t run at all.

In this article, I’ve listed the current best games that are verified by Steam, meaning those that run just as they would on a gaming PC. Keep in mind that Valve is verifying games at a rapid pace, and as such, we’ll be frequently updating this article with games that are worthy of a spot on this list. If you’ve already played through these titles, check out the Steam Deck website for a full list of verified games.

Portal 2

Image: ValveImage: Valve

One of the greatest games of all time is playable on the Steam Deck. This should come as no surprise considering Valve made the Steam Deck and is also the developer behind Portal 2. A sequel to the groundbreaking original entry, Portal 2 is the ultimate puzzle-platform strategy game for its blend of challenging problems, devilish sarcasm, and an infamous setting.

If you haven’t played either game, start with the original Portal, which is also verified for Steam Deck. Portal takes only about 3 hours to complete, enough time to introduce you to GLaDOS, a watchful artificial intelligence that is as maniacal as it is hilarious. You will also learn about the Aperture Science Lab, a mysterious research facility where the portal gun was created.

Portal 2 sees your return to a dilapidated Aperture Science facility and adds some welcome mechanics and a co-op mode. The goal remains the same: to make your way through each test room using a portal gun that creates two openings that objects can pass through. It’s not as easy as it sounds, but finishing a tricky level is hugely rewarding.

Cuphead

Photo: Phillip Tracy/GizmodoPhoto: Phillip Tracy/Gizmodo

Brutally difficult and stylistically enchanting, Cuphead was a surprise hit when it launched in 2017 on Xbox One and Windows. What looks like a kid’s game is actually one of the most difficult games on this list. A run-and-gun indie, Cuphead is a marvellous return to the days of 2D platformers, and its 1930s cartoon-inspired art style is visually striking. As hard as it is, Cuphead is mechanically simple, requiring players to do the basics: run, jump, shoot, and parry. It’s a game you can quickly pick up and set down just as easily as you can lose track of time spending hours attempting to defeat a boss.

The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt

Image: CD Projekt RedImage: CD Projekt Red

Yes, you can play The Witcher on the Steam Deck, and it runs great. Released in 2015 by Polish developer CD Projekt Red, The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt is an open-world action role-playing game set in a fantasy world based on Slavic myth. The game is massive in scale, immersing you in a gorgeous world that will take countless hours to explore. Each region has its own quests to complete, of which dozens belong to the main storyline. All told, The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt will take you around 50 hours to complete or more than 100 if you’re soaking it all in.

The Witcher 3 won Game of the Year at the Golden Joystick Awards and The Game Awards 2015. So yeah, it’s worth checking out.

Tetris Effect: Connected

Image: ValveImage: Valve

Wait. Before you say it. Tetris Effect isn’t just Tetris. I mean, sure, the game consists of variations of the retro puzzle game, but it combines those with an ethereal soundtrack and breathtaking visuals. Tetris Effect offers the standard version of the tile-matching classic along with more modern takes, including one with a time-stopping zone mechanic, a three-player mode against a boss, and a chilled-out “Relax” mode. Tetris Effect is an addicting puzzler if you can handle the occasional visceral overload.

Elden Ring

Image: ValveImage: Valve

Fresh out of the oven, Elden Ring has already been verified for the Steam Deck. I personally haven’t played the game, but early reception from critics and gamers alike has been universally positive. This RPG is already set to clean-sweep award season later this year thanks to its massive and detailed open world. In typical FromSoftware fashion, Elden Ring can be punishingly difficult, but most gamers agree that the satisfaction of finishing off a boss with a clever series of jumps, rolls, and slashes, is worth the stress.

Despite my lack of experience with it, it just feels wrong to leave this game on the list.

Apex Legends

Image: SteamImage: Steam

Fortnite doesn’t appear to be coming to the Steam Deck, but you can play Apex Legends, another immensely popular free-to-play battle royale. In Apex, you choose a hero and are then placed in a three-player squad. The goal of each match is simple: survive. You arrive on the battlefield with nothing and have to scavenge for weapons and equipment. And if you die just once, the game is over unless your teammates can resurrect you.

Apex Legends has some of the best compact mechanics of any battle royale, and the heroes add another layer of complexity not found in most of its competitors. Apex Legends is also responsible for debuting features that were shamelessly cloned in other battle royale games, like a ping system, reboot fans, and hot drops.

God of War

Image: SonyImage: Sony

God of War was originally a PS4 exclusive until it found its way to PC, and now, the Steam Deck. This gorgeous action-adventure game has you playing as an ageing Kratos who, with his son, will do anything to honour his late wife’s wishes by scattering her ashes at the highest peak in the nine realms. The story is a standout, with the interactions between Kratos and Atreus revealing a side of the protagonist previous entries in the franchise hadn’t explored. It’s not all plot, though. The combat system is generally excellent and the visuals — even on the Steam Deck — will pull you into the world.

Hades

Image: SteamImage: Steam

This roguelike action dungeon crawler published by Supergiant Games is widely considered one of the best console games of 2020 due to its precise combat, interesting characters, and satisfying gameplay loop. In Hades, you are the son of the titular character attempting to escape the Greek underworld. The journey is enhanced by frenetic hack-and-slash combat, a comprehensive looting system, and outstanding voice acting and art design.

Horizon Zero Dawn

Image: SonyImage: Sony

If you like open-world action RPGs and have dozens of hours to sink into a new title, Horizon Zero Dawn should be near the top of your list. Set in the post-apocalyptic United States, Horizon Zero Dawn sees you play as the protagonist Aloy, an outcast living in a tribal hunter-gatherer society without modern technology. Aloy stumbled across a Focus, an augmented reality device that gives her special abilities. With it, she must defeat her enemies and slay possessed robot animal machines while solving the mysteries of the world. When you’ve finished Horizon Zero Dawn, its sequel, Horizon Forbidden West is similarly excellent.

Stardew Valley

Image: ValveImage: Valve

Don’t let the retro game design fool you, Stardew Valley is a modern game filled with things to do. The plot revolves around a character who inherited their grandfather’s old farm plot in a land called Stardew Valley. You don’t have much money so you need to rely on old tools and farming skills to rejuvenate Stardew Valley. It’s not just about framing though; you’ll need to level up your mining, combat, fishing, and foraging for any chance of success.