Though it’s still relatively new, the Steam Deck has already shaken up how PC gaming works in many ways. It’s potentially a revolutionary piece of technology but the one big issue with it from a user perspective is that it’s tough to figure out which games work well on it.
Valve tried to address this by adding a “Steam Deck Compatibility” section to each game’s page on the Steam store. The trouble is that a game can be labeled as “unsupported” while still being playable, and a game can be tagged as “Great On Deck” while not actually being a good game.
With that in mind, it’s worth going over the actual best games to play on Steam Deck. Not all of these games are Steam Deck-verified, but all of them offer a strong experience even if players have to bring up the touchscreen keyboard.
While farming and life sims have existed for years with games like Harvest Moon and Animal Crossing, 2016’s Stardew Valley was instantly regarded as one of the best in its genre. Developer ConcernedApe didn’t just take that victory to the bank, though. The game received numerous updates that added bunches of new content.
Even though it came out when the Steam Deck was just a glint in Gabe Newell’s eye, Stardew Valley is perfectly built for the platform. What makes Stardew Valley on Steam Deck particularly nice is that it retains full modding support.
Mods are a game-changer for Stardew Valley from both a quality of life and content perspective. Even those who completed the game can return to it, add a handful of mods, and enjoy a radically different experience.
Halo: The Master Chief Collection
Halo: The Master Chief Collection was listed as “unsupported” for a long while but things have changed. Users can now enjoy the first six Halo games with few hiccups beyond an annoying sign-up process that requires users to make an account, which is made more unwieldy by the requirement of using the Steam Deck’s touchscreen keyboard. But once that’s done, players have access to a wealth of high-quality FPS action.
Halo helped to launch the Xbox console thanks to its ability to deliver as a single-player, co-op, or competitive game. While Microsoft nixed that with Halo Infinite, that’s not an issue with these classics. Players can easily get over 50 hours of fun just by playing through each of the campaigns, never even mind tackling them with friends or playing online.
The one big issue with Halo: The Master Chief Collection is that not all games are equally optimized for the Steam Deck. For a decent chunk of 2023, the remaster of Halo: Combat Evolved was mostly unplayable on Steam Deck due to devastating performance issues.
The Like a Dragon series has produced a number of classic games, with each of the Yakuza games having a great mix of action, comedy, and drama. Yakuza 0 is almost universally regarded as the best game in the series, combining the series’ signature gameplay and style with a unique setting; 1980s Japan.
While the other mainline Yakuza games had all taken place in modern Japan, Yakuza 0 throws things back to 1988. The Japanese economic boom was in full swing and serves as the backdrop for the rise of Kiryu Kazuma and Goro Majima, who share protagonist billing in the game.
Yakuza 0 features the beat ‘em up gameplay that defined Yakuza games to that point but also has some of the most beloved mini-games in series history. From running hostess clubs to dancing on Friday night, Yakuza 0 is the peak of the series on almost every level.
Vampire Survivors came out of nowhere in December 2021 and went from an early-access indie game to one of the hottest things on Steam. The game also stands as one of the best options out there for playing on the Steam Deck.
The game lets players choose from a number of different characters and tasks them with surviving as long as possible against an endless horde of enemies. The horde steadily increases in strength and grows in size, making for absurd battles that pack the entire screen. All of this is combined with retro-inspired graphics and sound that works on every platform.
Vampire Survivors’ gameplay and style makes it a great fit for the Steam Deck, but the case for getting it doesn’t end there. The game is just $5, takes up just 100 MB of storage space, and is easy on the battery. It’s the perfect session game for the Steam Deck and is basically a must-play.
FromSoftware and the Dark Souls series were already a big deal in 2022, but nobody could have guessed how big Elden Ring would become. Dark Souls has long been bigger than the niche title that many believe it to be, but the challenging open-world game wound up dominating video game discourse and sales charts for months.
There’s good reason for that. FromSoftware’s level design has always been regarded as some of the best in gaming and the studio created one of the densest, most intricate worlds in gaming. It also kept the Soulsborne gameplay intact while still adding all the features needed for players to effectively navigate the Lands Between.
The result is a game that will be widely held among the best of its generation. The kicker is that it also runs quite nicely on the Steam Deck. The Steam Deck can maintain a respectable framerate even on high settings, allowing players to take Elden Ring on the road. Fans can also look forward to the Elden Ring: Shadow of the Erdtree DLC.
No Man’s Sky
No Man’s Sky was an infamous game for a long while, standing as the poster child for a game not living up to the hype surrounding it. While the game launched in 2016, Hello Games has been diligently working on it ever since and adding significant chunks of new content. In 2023, No Man’s Sky is a roundly amazing experience that players can literally spend a lifetime enjoying.
Procedurally generated worlds and wildlife give players endless frontiers to explore. While there’s enough for a game on that alone, No Man’s Sky also lets players customize a collection of ships, become a pirate, command a fleet of freighters, build a farm, control settlements, and much more. It’s a game that can be played in many different ways to the point where no two players will have the same experience.
No Man’s Sky runs quite well on the Steam Deck, with players able to enjoy it on high settings at a steady 30 FPS or on standard settings at 60 FPS. With the right settings, there are minimal or no performance issues even playing on planets with extreme weather. No Man’s Sky faces a serious contender in the form of Bethesda Game Studio’s Starfield, but even that renowned studio faces a tall order to match what this game has become.
Doki Doki Literature Club Plus!
Doki Doki Literature Club took the world by storm in 2017. The visual novel starts off as a campy dating sim before revealing that it’s something else entirely, a twist that saw the game become a viral favorite. The original game is available for free on Steam and is definitely worth checking out, but players can also look at Doki Doki Literature Club Plus for a graphical upgrade and extra content.
Doki Doki Literature Club Plus takes the original and adds new sidequests to the mix to make for a longer experience. It also has a 1080p visual update that is nice for those who play the game connected to a monitor or TV, though it doesn’t really make a significant difference on the Steam Deck’s screen.
The free, original Doki Doki Literature Club is still a great option for the Steam Deck, but the Plus version comes in at an affordable $15 before any sale. People who played the original won’t necessarily get $15 of extra enjoyment out of it, but those who haven’t yet played it and want the complete experience will get their money’s worth.
Final Fantasy 7 Remake Intergrade
Final Fantasy 7 Remake was a game that fans had longed for since it was initially teased as a PlayStation 3 tech demo in 2005. Even once it was confirmed to be in development, news of forward progress was rare. That led to extremely high expectations as the game actually approached launch in 2020, and it miraculously lived up to them.
Final Fantasy 7 Remake launched as a PlayStation 4 exclusive but later received a PS5 upgrade and a PC port. These launched with new features, a graphical update, and a side story starring Yuffie that folded elements of the original batch of Final Fantasy 7 spin-offs into FF7 Remake.
The Steam Deck is a great way to enjoy the game. While some concessions need to be made in order to balance performance, battery life, and graphics, the game can run smoothly and feels great on the Steam Deck’s controls. The PC version doesn’t add anything over the PS5 version, but those who want to experience this refreshed classic can faithfully do so on the Steam Deck. Unfortunately, this is also set to be the definitive Final Fantasy experience on Steam Deck for some time with Final Fantasy 16 not coming to Steam any time soon.
There’s no shortage of great Metroidvania games on Steam, and there are plenty of them that are rated as Great on Deck. For anyone looking for a true Castlevania experience, it doesn’t get better than Infernax.
Infernax captures the look, sound, and feel of the NES classics while still having modern gameplay mechanics that keep it from feeling dated. Though it’s openly derivative of Castlevania 2: Simon’s Quest, its willingness to embrace the retro aesthetic rather than emulating the stylized splendor of Hollow Knight or Ori and the Blind Forest makes it unique in this crowded genre.
The launch version of Infernax would’ve ended up on this list regardless, but 2023’s Deux or Die update also added new content that makes it an even greater value. Though Steam Deck owners are spoiled for choice when it comes to Metroidvanias, there aren’t many that compare to Infernax.
Street Fighter 6
Though fighting games were kept to consoles and arcades for a long while, all the major releases are arriving on the PC these days. The biggest fighting game release in years has been the instant classic, Street Fighter 6.
Street Fighter 6 broke two of the longstanding curses that have plagued the fighting game genre. It offered a number of tools to new players, offering a level of accessibility that very few games in the genre can match. On top of that is an actual single-player experience that goes beyond the barebones arcade mode.
The game has enjoyed very strong reviews and is a game of the year contender in 2023 despite facing some very stiff competition. Though some might prefer the style of Guilty Gear Strive or Mortal Kombat 11, Street Fighter 6’s “Great on Deck” billing makes it the best fighting game to play on the Steam Deck.