When it comes to sneaking in a cheeky gaming session on the go, the Steam Deck is an absolute game-changer. I mean, time is money and all that! And with a snazzy new OLED model releasing recently, it’s never been a better time to pull the trigger. But, out of the thousands of titles on Steam’s digital storefront, which ones are the best fit for Valve’s plucky handheld? Well, that’s where we come in. So, come join us as we dive into the top 10 best games on the Steam Deck. Let’s get it!
10. Blasphemous 1 & 2
Blasphemous and its 2023 sequel are what you get if you fell asleep during church mass after eating way too much cheese. Indeed, this intricately designed 2D Metroidvania is filled to the brim with nightmarish abominations that look like they’ve been ripped straight out of the Old Testament.
You assume the role of The Penitent One, a mysterious fella who wears a mask jam-packed with barbed wire for his “sins.” This jovial chap is tasked with ridding the land of Cvstodia of the Miracle and its minions, who’re as diametrically opposed to the word “friendly” as you can possibly get. Suffice to say, you’ll be doing enough hacking ‘n slashing in this stylish action-platformer to paint the town red.
What makes Blasphemous such a great fit for the Steam Deck, though, is the fact that it runs really well, with a locked 60fps, and doesn’t drain the battery like a hog. From our experience, we got around five hours of gameplay off a full charge, which ain’t too shabby at all.
Few games boast the unique storytelling potential of Rimworld. From heroic turtles to nude cannibals to killer squirrels, the narrative possibilities in Ludeon Studios’ colony sim are head-dizzyingly endless.
For the uninitiated, the basic premise is a simple one: your spaceship has crash-landed onto a mysterious planet and it’s your job to build a base, explore the wilderness, trade with the locals, and eke out an existence on this strange, alien world.
However, what’s really cool is the Canada-based outfit deployed an update specifically tailored for the Steam Deck adding more intuitive controls, making the strategy-survival experience way easier to play and enjoy on Valve’s pocket-sized system.
8. Dave the Diver
Dave the Diver is the video game equivalent of a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. Why? Well, Mintrocket has taken two disparate gameplay genres — a 2D deep-sea exploratory experience and a sushi restaurant management sim — and mashed them together in a wholly unique way. The result? Something truly special!
In essence, stages are split between diving, exploring and catching fish in the the sea so that Dave can cook up some yummy sushi for his restaurant in the evening. On paper, it may sound like a disaster waiting to happen. But in execution? It’s easily one of the most novel gameplay fusions of the year.
Further, not only is Dave the Diver verified on Steam Deck, but it also features a locked 60fps, which looks really slick on its 1200×800 7-inch display. Sure, it may not possess the ultra-realistic visuals of some of the big-hitters on Valve’s storefront, but what it lacks in fidelity, it makes up for in stunning, pixellated style. Oh, and speaking of gorgeous pixellated style…
7. Octopath Traveler 1 & 2
Square Enix’s wonderful homage to the 8-bit and 16-bit glory days of yore is not only a sight for sore eyes — thanks to how gosh damn gorgeous it is — but it’s also a surefire remedy for those hankering for a much-needed trip down memory lane, without the rigamarole of getting an ancient game running on modern hardware.
Inspired by the classic JRPGs of yesteryear, the Octopath Traveler series focuses on easy-to-digest vignettes centering on family, loss, friendship, and love. Combine its excellent writing with a whimsical and catchy orchestral soundtrack, and you’re left with one of the most memorable hidden gems on Valve’s handheld system.
Thanks to its old-school, turn-based combat and its stunning pixel-art, Octopath Traveler and its 2023 sequel both look and run terrifically on the Steam Deck. It also drains the battery very slowly, which comes in handy for those marathon gaming sessions on the go.
With its 1930s’-inspired Walt Disney and Fleischer Studios-era art-style, Cuphead is possibly one of the most visually arresting titles on this list. After all, not only did it snap up numerous awards for its beautiful hand-drawn visuals, but it also nabbed accolades for its accomplished jazz score to boot.
But don’t underestimate the cartoonish wrapper this 2D action-platformer is packaged in! Seriously, Cuphead will kick you right in the crown jewels if your platforming muscle memory isn’t up to snuff. And it will proceed to laugh in your face. Hysterically.
Yep, I can’t emphasize this enough: Studio MDHR’s challenging indie hit requires both patience and bucketloads of skill to reach its finale, but it sure is worth it. And as opposed to the low-ish 30fps performance on the Nintendo Switch, the Steam Deck runs Cuphead at a buttery smooth 60fps, which helps the anarchic moment-to-moment gameplay significantly. Just don’t go throwing your controller at a wall in frustration. You’ve been warned!
5. The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim
You’d be hard pressed trying to find a game as culturally impactful as Bethesda’s iconic power fantasy, and even though you’ll need to jump through a few hoops to get it running at a stable 60fps on Steam Deck, it’s still one of the most engrossing first-person adventures you can embark upon. Bar, well… none.
See, off the bat, The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim defaults to Ultra settings across the board, resulting in a framerate that fluctuates between 30 – 40fps. Once you’ve dialed down some of the game’s graphical settings, however, you’ll be looking at a solid 60fps on Valve’s hardware.
Set 200 years after the events of Oblivion, players assume the role of a nameless hero caught in the midst of a sociopolitical civil war between the Empire’s Imperial Legion and the rebel Stormcloaks. Oh, and a bunch of dragons who’ve lain dormant for centuries have started to rise from the earth. Luckily, you’re the only person in the world who can devour their souls and defeat them for good. What are the chances of that?
4. Baldur’s Gate 3
Larian Studios’ epic CRPG was arguably one of the biggest sleeper hits of 2023. With its excellent writing, likable characters, strategic turn-based combat, and its impressive mechanical depth, there’s a whole lot to love about Baldur’s Gate 3. And I haven’t even mentioned the name of everybody’s favorite blood-sucker Astarion yet!
While BG3 may only run at around 30fps on the Steam Deck, occasionally dipping below that, it’s a slow-paced and methodical adventure that doesn’t necessarily need those higher framerates for you to have a good time with it. Plus, if you’re anything like me, it’s just nice to play such a huge and ambitious RPG from the comfort of your own couch, without your PC sounding like an F-16’s about to take to the skies in your living room. I mean, that’s always a bonus, right?
Another wee fly in the ointment is the sheer size of the game’s install. Coming in at a whopping 120GB, it’ll eat up your Steam Deck’s hard drive space like nobody’s business. Still, these caveats are far from deal-breakers, and the huge upswing is the convenient portability of one of this year’s biggest fantasy adventures.
3. Slay the Spire
When it comes to card-battling deck-builders, MegaCrit’s fiendishly addictive roguelike is undoubtedly the cream of the crop. See, not only is Slay the Spire endlessly replayable, thanks to its four distinct characters, 148 game-changing relics, and 300-odd unique cards, but it also features a Daily Climb mode that adds a bunch of unusual gameplay modifiers that’ll constantly keep you on your toes.
At its core, Slay the Spire is an incredibly moreish tactical card battler that challenges you to climb to the top of its eponymous Spire, and defeat three dastardly bosses along the way. With its immediately arresting turn-based gameplay, this is a great fit for Valve’s handheld. Plus, it also runs like a dream on the Steam Deck as well.
But don’t just take our word for it: Slay the Spire is one of the top 20 most-played games on the Steam Deck, according to October’s recent “most hours played” data, which comes directly from Valve. Pretty impressive, no? Speaking of which, however, another habit-forming title wants to introduce itself…
2. Vampire Survivors
Poncle’s chaotic 2D bullet hell romp is a masterclass in elegance. Fusing minimalist auto-shooting gameplay with a continuous drip of increasingly powerful permanent upgrades, Vampire Survivors is the very definition of less is more.
Of course, by virtue of its incredibly accessible pick-up-and-play gameplay, there’s an addictive quality to the second-to-second shoot ’em-up action that’ll keep you coming back for more. You see, the basic premise is remarkably simple — like most of the best games out there. All you need to do is defeat progressively powerful waves of enemies while collecting gems to level up. And that’s pretty much the long and the short of it.
Still, it’ll hook you in a matter of seconds as it’s just so brilliantly designed, and thankfully the Steam Deck version runs pretty much flawlessly. Even though its stylish Castlevania-inspired 8-bit sprites are a little rudimentary, the sheer volume of enemies on-screen is truly a sight to behold. In other words, its habit-forming pandemonium translates perfectly to Valve’s miniature console.
1. Elden Ring
It’s not often that a studio comes along and rewrites the entire ruddy rulebook, yet here we are. Indeed, Elden Ring is the culmination of years of hard work from Japanese developer FromSoftware, and the blood, sweat, and tears have undoubtedly paid off!
While the popular sub-genre was first borne back in 2009 with the PS3 exclusive Demon’s Souls, it’s safe to say that 2011’s Dark Souls truly popularised the Souls-like to the masses, firmly establishing the studio as a hugely creative and influential force in the industry.
Amazingly, this epic open-world RPG is the confluence of everything the developer has been working towards, and it’s an appropriately awesome experience on the Steam Deck. Running at a respectable 30 – 40fps, with smooth frame-pacing, the only real downside is its battery usage. From our experience, playing Elden Ring on Steam Deck lasts around an hour and a half before having to reach for a charging cable.
Nevertheless, this is the full-fat Elden Ring experience with almost zero compromise. And between you and me, whenever I sit down and play it on the Steam Deck, I can’t help but be impressed. What a world we live in, folks!