My Favorite Games to Play on the Steam Deck


Steam Deck

By: Jason Siu


8 min read

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My Favorite Games to Play on the Steam Deck

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The Steam Deck, including its OLED version (first impressions), has quickly become exceptional handheld gaming devices. Owning one opens up access to Steam’s extensive library of over 50,000 games. However, out of these, only about 13,000 are categorized as Steam Deck Playable or Steam Deck Verified, according to SteamDB. Regardless, it can be overwhelming to figure out how to start building your Steam library if you’re a new Steam Deck owner.

At the time of original publishing, the 2023 Steam Winter Sale is around the corner, which is a great time to save on games. Before I share my recommendations, it’s important to note how I use my Steam Deck. Unlike some who may use it as their primary gaming device, I primarily play on PC, opting for the Steam Deck for more casual or controller-friendly games. This is the main reason why titles like God of War or The Witcher 3 are missing from my list. I prefer enjoying those on my PC or a console in front of my TV.

15. Celeste

My Favorite Games to Play on the Steam Deck - Celeste

Celeste is a memorable game that I highly recommend to anyone who enjoys platformers. Developed by Maddy Makes Games, the creators of TowerFall, it tells the story of Madeline and her journey to climb Celeste Mountain. While primarily a platforming adventure game, it does get more difficult as you ascend Celeste Mountain and you’ll have to learn to precisely jump, dash, and climb through the levels. I must also praise the soundtrack from Lena Raine—it fits the atmosphere of the game perfectly.

14. Brotato

My Favorite Games to Play on the Steam Deck - Brotato

Brotato is the first of several “survivors-like” games on my list. To me, the Steam Deck (or any handheld device) is an ideal platform for these types of games. They often don’t have complex controls or require top-end hardware to perform well. Brotato is a fun and light take on the growing genre, with players taking control of a potato who has been stranded on an alien planet. Like Vampire Survivors, each run is different than the last as players choose from a wide range of weapons and items to survive wave after wave.

13. Sea of Stars

My Favorite Games to Play on the Steam Deck - Sea of Stars

For those seeking a more classic RPG experience that draws inspiration from games like Super Mario RPG and Chrono Trigger, I highly recommend Sea of Stars (review). I experienced the adventure earlier this year when it released on PC and spent much of my time enjoying it on the Steam Deck. The story isn’t particularly deep, but it does feature a few memorable characters and a wonderful soundtrack. In my review, I said Sea of Stars “offers a contemporary twist on a classic formula, potentially convincing gamers to explore the games that inspired it.”

12. Outer Wilds

My Favorite Games to Play on the Steam Deck - Outer Wilds

It’s difficult to talk about Outer Wilds without spoiling any of the mechanics that make the game so special. So instead, I’ll just give you a brief overview of what it’s about and who would enjoy it. Outer Wilds is an open-world, exploration adventure game that really focuses on a unique narrative structure. In the game, players take on the role of an astronaut who sets off to explore the solar system. There’s a catch to all this though, but if you’re a fan of non-linear games that don’t hold your hand so you can explore freely, Outer Wilds belongs in your library.

11. Return of the Obra Dinn

My Favorite Games to Play on the Steam Deck - Return of the Obra Dinn

Upon finishing Return of the Obra Dinn, one word came to mind: brilliant. It’s so different and unique compared to all the other games out there, that I find it a real shame some will skip it merely based on its monochromatic art style. This puzzle adventure game comes from Lucas Pope, the same person who created Papers, Please. The game tells the story of a mysterious ghost ship, the Obra Dinn, which had gone missing at sea and mysteriously drifted back to shore with no one alive on board. Players take on the role of an insurance investigator and must uncover what happened to the ship, its crew, and its cargo through unique gameplay mechanics. If you’re looking for something different to play on your Steam Deck, pick up Return of the Obra Dinn.

10. Monster Train

My Favorite Games to Play on the Steam Deck - Monster Train

Deckbuilders are a natural fit for the Steam Deck, and Monster Train is the first one on my list. This game innovates on the roguelike deckbuilding formula by adding a tower defense twist, where unit placement plays an important role. Players must defend multiple floors of their train against waves of enemies, and since each run is procedurally generated, this can occupy you for potentially hundreds of hours. It’s a bit more complex than other deckbuilders in the genre, so if you’ve gotten bored of what those have to offer and somehow skipped out on Monster Train, give it a try.

9. Inscryption

My Favorite Games to Play on the Steam Deck - Inscryption

At first, Inscryption appears to be another deckbuilding card game. However, its gameplay involves a blend of puzzles and psychological horror to deliver an experience you won’t forget. There’s a dark storyline buried underneath all of it, with a surprising narrative that’s best experienced by knowing as little as possible about the game. Just be aware there are unexpected twists and turns in the narrative. If you like deckbuilding card games and enjoy story elements, Inscryption is one of the rare games that succeeds in delivering both.

8. Vampire Survivors

My Favorite Games to Play on the Steam Deck - Vampire Survivors

This is the game that spawned an entire new “survivors-like” genre. Released in early access in 2021, Vampire Survivors surprised much of the industry last year with its basic but satisfying gameplay. It’s one of the best games you can play on the Steam Deck when you don’t want to do a whole lot of thinking. Beware though, while the overall game is simple, its gameplay loop of unlocking upgrades and finding broken, overpowered builds gets very addicting. Before you know it, you’ll find your Steam Deck’s battery dead.

7. Stardew Valley

My Favorite Games to Play on the Steam Deck - Stardew Valley

For many gamers, Stardew Valley is the perfect game for the Steam Deck. At this point, the game really needs no introduction, but if you’ve somehow never heard of it, it’s a farming simulation/role-playing game that offers way more content than you’d expect for its price. Since its initial release in 2016, developer ConcernedApe has continually supported it, releasing massive updates full of new features. The game features a day-to-day cycle where players can farm, spend time with the other townspeople, adventure deep into a mine filled with materials and enemies, or just hang out by a lake and fish. It supports multiplayer too, so you can farm with friends. Many consider Stardew Valley to be the reason why so many cozy games have been released in the past few years, although Animal Crossing’s success on the Switch had a bit to do with that too.

6. Slay the Spire

My Favorite Games to Play on the Steam Deck - Slay the Spire

I consider Slay the Spire to be the first real mainstream deckbuilding roguelike that got popular, and it still remains the best for me. It’s easy to pick up but challenging to master, and even after all these years, I continue to be impressed with the game’s variety of characters and cards. If you’re entirely new to the genre, I highly recommend Slay the Spire. The game really is masterfully designed to introduce deckbuilding to an entirely new audience.

5. Cocoon

My Favorite Games to Play on the Steam Deck - Cocoon

Cocoon (review) was my biggest surprise game of the year and fits wonderfully with the Steam Deck. It starts with basic puzzles to introduce you to the mechanics, but they quickly become more complex and satisfying to solve. It’s all set in a very artistic world with a wonderful soundtrack. While it does require some critical thinking, it’s still a very relaxing game to play. My only real complaint is that it’s rather short at around five hours for completion. But if you like puzzle games, those five hours will be some of the most enjoyable you’ve ever experienced.

4. Dave the Diver

My Favorite Games to Play on the Steam Deck - Dave the Diver

This little “indie” game seemingly came out of nowhere this past year and quickly got popular. Dave the Diver somehow manages to successfully blend diving adventure with restaurant management, resulting in a pretty unique experience that’s lighthearted and fun. You can get anywhere from 20 to 50 hours of entertainment with Dave the Diver, and it’s one game I almost exclusively played on the Steam Deck. Everything about it just felt better on the handheld and it looks fantastic on the Steam Deck OLED.

3. Final Fantasy XIV

My Favorite Games to Play on the Steam Deck - Final Fantasy XIV

There is some tinkering that needs to be done in order to play Final Fantasy XIV if you have a non-Steam account, but it’s not terribly hard or time-consuming to set up. I consider Final Fantasy XIV one of the best games I’ve ever played, and it’s the only longstanding title I still revisit often. I find the Steam Deck to be the perfect device to unwind in the world of Eorzea. I personally don’t recommend using it for dungeon runs, although it’s fully capable. Instead, it’s a great way to sit back and gather, craft, manage your never-ending growing inventory, complete those side quests, or level up a new job. The MMORPG plays surprisingly well on the Steam Deck, although it might take a bit getting used to using a controller if you’ve spent the past few years on keyboard and mouse.

2. Halls of Torment

My Favorite Games to Play on the Steam Deck - Halls of Torment

You might be surprised to see Halls of Torment (first impressions) this far up the list, and even ahead of Vampire Survivors. But I just enjoy Halls of Torment more, even though it offers less maps and characters than Vampire Survivors. I find its gameplay loop a tad more engaging, and prefer its countdown for each level with a clear completion goal. Much of this comes down to personal preference, however, and you really can’t go wrong with any of the survivors-like games on this list with the Steam Deck. We also named Halls of Torment one of our favorite games of 2023.

1. Hades

My Favorite Games to Play on the Steam Deck - Hades

You’ll notice that many of the games on this list are roguelikes, and that’s because I find their shorter gameplay sessions a perfect fit for the Steam Deck. So it’s probably little surprise I have Hades at the top of the list. Many would consider Hades to be the game that brought the roguelike and roguelite genres to a mainstream audience by adding a twist to the permadeath mechanic. After dying, players can strengthen their character with persistent upgrades, making each run progressively easier.

Hades also manages to blend excellent storytelling with those roguelike mechanics. While it probably isn’t the first game to do all this, it’s the first game to do it well. If I was stuck on an island and there was only one game I could have on my Steam Deck, Hades would be it. The fun doesn’t stop even after you’ve completed it—it’s that good. Its sequel, Hades II, is currently scheduled to launch sometime in 2024.

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With over 20 years of online publishing experience, Jason Siu is currently the Content Director at VerticalScope and used to spend most of his time writing about cars. His work can be seen on websites such as AutoGuide, EV Pulse, FlatSixes, Tire Authority, and more. As the former co-founder of and West Coast Editor of Modified Magazine, he has also authored two books for CarTech Books. In his spare time, he founded FullCleared to indulge in his passion for writing about games. Although Jason is a variety gamer, he generally prefers RPGs.

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