26 games we love on Steam Deck (2024)

Since it launched in 2022, the Steam Deck has quickly amassed a reputation as one of the best, if not the best, handheld gaming platforms on the market today— especially when considering the benefits of the OLED version.

With a library of games spanning much of Steam’s vast storefront, a docking station to play games on TV and monitors, and an increasing number of titles being optimized and verified for the Deck every day, Valve’s proprietary handheld is a perfect example of the viability and promise of portable PC gaming. That’s why we’ve collected 26 titles that showcase what makes the Steam Deck so special.

To curate the list, we’ve pick games that benefit the most from the Steam Deck’s special features. You will find PC exclusives, Switch games that benefit here from faster load times, and games that break apart nicely into short sessions.

Don’t expect to see some presumed contenders on the list. Not every game is compatible with the Steam Deck, nor is every genre a perfect match — we’re looking at you, RTS games. And for now, this list also excludes emulation and cloud streaming.

We intentionally limit our lists to avoid overwhelming readers, so be sure to share your personal picks that didn’t make the cut in the comments.

Our latest update added Animal Well, I Was a Teenage Exocolonist, and Stardew Valley.

Animal Well

26 games we love on Steam Deck (1) Image: Billy Basso/Bigmode via Polygon

For at least a few of the games on this list — like, say, Elden Ring — you’re going to mess with the game’s settings on Steam Deck in order to make sure you’ve got a decent frame rate and the game feels good to play. Not a concern at all for Animal Well, a pixel-art masterpiece that feels like it could’ve been at home on the Game Boy. With a file size of just 33 MB, it sure won’t take long to install, either. But Animal Well packs quite a bit of mystery and time-intensive puzzle-solving into its very small package. What starts off as a compelling Metroidvania soon spirals into an extensive Easter egg hunt with items hidden behind delightfully esoteric clues. You may as well play it on the go, since it’s going to take over your brain for a while and you’re carrying that around with you already. —Maddy Myers

Hyper Light Drifter

26 games we love on Steam Deck (2) Image: Heart Machine

Last weekend, on a whim, I booted up Hyper Light Drifter on my Steam Deck for the first time since playing it back in 2016. Nine hours later, I finally managed to wrest myself from the siren-like call of its pixelated tableaus, blistering combat, and melancholic score, having completed it again and earned the game’s secret ending. Such is the magnetic appeal and power of Heart Machine’s debut even eight years after its release.

Game director Alx Preston and co. set out to create a 16-bit action-RPG that channeled the very best elements of the Legend of Zelda and Diablo series, with a story not so much told as it is felt through its dialogue-less cutscenes that play out as if they were fugue-like visions of some doomed alternate universe. Hyper Light Drifter achieved all of that and more, coalescing into an action-RPG that stands the test of time. —Toussaint Egan

Yakuza 0

26 games we love on Steam Deck (3) Image: Sega via Polygon

The Yakuza series spans hundreds of hours across seven mainline entries, along with a handful of spinoffs. Which is to say, the portable Steam Deck provides the best chance at seeing the entirety of this Japanese gangster epic, especially in the form of short missions on lunch breaks. If you don’t have time for every game, or just need a place to start, we recommend Yakuza 0. A sort of prequel to the series, the adventure takes place in 1980s Japan and provides lots of colorful backstories. Don’t be fooled by all of the violent combat and seedy locales; this series (and especially this entry) has more heart and joy than 99% of games from big-budget publishers. Hero Kazuma Kiryu wants to make the world a better place, one city block at a time. —Chris Plante

Cult of the Lamb

26 games we love on Steam Deck (4) Image: Massive Monster/Devolver Digital via Polygon

Deep breath: Cult of the Lamb is Animal Crossing meets Hades meets the dark side of Catholic history meets Happy Tree Friends meets American cultism meets European occultism meets Dark Souls meets 1980s Satanic Panic meets Fractured Fairy Tales meets the waking dreams of Peter Molyneux.

Cult of the Lamb is like a stew. If you look closely, you can spot all of these delicious individual ingredients, but when slurped from a big spoon all you’ll taste is one distinct flavor. —CP

Dave the Diver

26 games we love on Steam Deck (5) Image: Mintrocket via Polygon

There are few mobile gaming experiences as serene and enthralling as Dave the Diver. Dave dives not just to collect fish and cooking materials for the sushi restaurant he staffs every night, but to uncover ancient secrets. Regardless of your objective, navigating the deep feels like a blend between Animal Crossing and a roguelike, where you’re amassing better tools to uncover what (and who) is lurking in the depths.

Dave the Diver is a family-friendly game (if you can look past small clouds of blood when you harpoon a fish) that is startlingly good at blending many game genres in one. You swim; manage a restaurant; farm fish, veggies and more; and are solely responsible for reversing a climate change-inducing threat under the sea. And on the Steam Deck, it’s so much easier to fit in just one more dive session. —Cameron Faulkner


26 games we love on Steam Deck (6) Image: Black Salt Games/Team17

You might not expect Dredge to feel at home on the Steam Deck at first glance, but it totally does. This haunted seafaring adventure tests the protagonist’s psyche, and the gameplay loop is perfect for quick pick-up, put-down sessions. Not to mention, it’s a lot of fun being set free to fish, solve mysteries, and complete objectives before the sun goes down. And if you dare, dredge the depths after dark for some spooky surprises. —CF

I Was a Teenage Exocolonist

26 games we love on Steam Deck (7) Image: Northway Games/Finji

Part coming-of-age visual novel, part exploration-heavy sci-fi RPG, part poker-esque card game, I Was a Teenage Exocolonist is a brilliantly captivating game that you’ll want to play again and again (and again). You take on the role of a young kid in Earth’s first planetary colony, and follow their life on a strange new alien planet over the course of 10 years. Every activity you pick impacts your personal journey and the relationships you make — and also plays a huge role in the future of the planet.

What really makes I Was a Teenage Exocolonist so compelling is the replayability — finishing a playthrough gives you knowledge that you take through to the next, allowing you to make different (and possibly better!) decisions. For instance, there’s a character who dies very early on in the first playthrough that can’t be saved at all. Their death haunts that first run.

But in the second one, you can save them because you have a hunch as to how things will go. It’s a game that invites you to play through another round and another and another — just to see if you can get it all right this time (or make things go horribly wrong! Or crack the secret as to why you’re living these lives over and over again!). —Petrana Radulovic


26 games we love on Steam Deck (8) Image: MNKY/PixelJam via Polygon

My love for the Star Fox series has evaporated with each new entry, to the point that I began to wonder if I ever really enjoyed those games or if I just liked chunky ’90s 3D graphics. Ex-Zodiac’s creators have done what Nintendo couldn’t for the past couple of decades: bottle the original magic of the space flight franchise and add just enough tweaks to make the adventure palatable for our collective evolved tastes. (Hey, video games have come a long way since the SNES!) Developer MNKY also created bonus levels inspired by other retro classics, like Space Harrier, emphasizing its knack for refueling once exciting genres that have spent way too long collecting dust in the garage. —CP


26 games we love on Steam Deck (9) Image: BlueTwelve Studio/Annapurna Interactive

Stray is a game about being a cat. You don’t talk like Garfield or wink at the camera like Bubsy. You stretch, scratch, and occasionally leap between ledges at perilous heights. Your cat participates in a harrowing adventure set in a dystopian, cyberpunk underworld in which robots echo the lives of their long-dead human counterparts. But most engagement happens on your behalf through an adorable, English-speaking, artificially intelligent drone named B-12. The game’s creators keep your cat’s direct involvement ambiguous. Is the cat the savior of a dying planet? Or is the cat just a cat who happens to be the incidental shepherd of historic change? Like I said, typical cat stuff. —CP

Stardew Valley

26 games we love on Steam Deck (10) Image: ConcernedApe

There’s a reason Stardew Valley is still so beloved after eight years: It’s just damn good. The latest big update adds so much to the already robust game, fleshing out Pelican Town and its inhabitants. It’s not just farming, but mining, fishing, foraging, and getting to know all the townspeople (and possibly marrying them). Rebuild your little community and get really invested in perfecting your farm’s layout! Or travel to the deepest, darkest levels of the mines. Or just spend a lot of time fishing.

There’s just so much to do in Stardew Valley. It’s clear to see why this game revitalized the farming sim genre and why every farming sim these days wants to be just like it (with a twist). —PR


26 games we love on Steam Deck (11) Image: Team Ladybug/WSS playground, PLAYISM via Polygon

I am proud of the work we do at Polygon, but every publication has its weaknesses. I’ve accepted that we’re not the go-to experts for old-school side-scrolling shooters and shmups. That honor goes to our pals at Eurogamer, specifically Martin Robinson, who I trust more with this genre than I do any pundit with American politics. When he proclaimed Drainus is “the most spectacular side-scrolling shooter since Gradius 5,” I had to give it a try. Is it the best? I said I’m not an expert. But I can say, with confidence, it’s been a blast on Steam Deck, a delicious digestif after hours in a modern open-world game, and an unusually accommodating entry point for a notoriously impenetrable genre. —CP

Final Fantasy 7 Remake Intergrade

26 games we love on Steam Deck (12) Image: Square Enix

One of the best games of all time received one of the best remakes of all time, and now you can play its most complete version whenever and wherever you want. I mean, I could write more reasons you should play this game, but let’s be real — either you have played a version of Final Fantasy 7 already or you’ve been told countless times to bump this one up your queue. Throw this recommendation on the pile. —CP

Elden Ring

26 games we love on Steam Deck (13) Image: FromSoftware/Bandai Namco via Polygon

Meet the Steam Deck’s killer app. It’s not perfect — I play on low settings and occasionally experience frame rate dips — but Elden Ring works, and that’s all I need to farm souls (er, “runes”) in FromSoftware’s open-world expansion of its Dark Souls formula. This is the game that has kept me awake past midnight. I promise myself that I’ll stop once I see what’s at the end of a moss-lined cave or over a burning horizon, but then I see some new curiosity, and suddenly, I’m pummeling my way through another dungeon. The convenience of a portable device turns what I meant to be a 15-minute grind session into a two-hour journey through a labyrinthine dungeon. —CP

Vampire Survivors

26 games we love on Steam Deck (14) Image: poncle

So you’ve dropped half a grand on a portable video game machine capable of powering the most complex and expensive 3D video games on the planet. Now prepare to burn dozens of hours on a $2.99 2D dungeon crawler that nearly plays itself. Vampire Survivors is the unholy union of clickers, roguelikes, and Gauntlet. Runs take 10-30 minutes and pair well with an audiobook or podcast. The developers have discovered the formula for a perfect portable game, but for the time being, you can’t find this one on Switch or smartphones. —CP


26 games we love on Steam Deck (15) Image: Don’t Nod

Jusant has been my go-to chill-out game of choice this year, and I can’t imagine playing it on anything other than the Steam Deck. The post-apocalyptic fantasy climbing game from French developer Don’t Nod (Life Is Strange) has a lot going for it: a mysterious and compelling world with beautiful art design, a moving orchestral music score, and tight controls that are easy to learn and gratifying to master.

It’s that last point that makes the Steam Deck my preferred platform of choice to play Jusant. The satisfying sound and haptic feedback of the Deck’s left and right triggers makes the challenge of climbing the cliff faces of the game’s impossibly vast and looming tower as painless and pleasing as possible, and the visual and sound quality of the Deck is terrific at rendering the gorgeous vistas and ambient soundscapes of the world. If you’re looking for a relaxing yet exciting adventure game experience that plays great on the Steam Deck, this is the one to play. —TE

Dragon Quest 11

26 games we love on Steam Deck (16) Image: Square Enix

The best place to play Dragon Quest 11 has changed over the years. The JRPG to end all JRPGs first launched in 2018 on Steam and PlayStation 4, only to be bested a year later by a Definitive Edition for Nintendo Switch, which included additional content and could be played on the go. The Definitive Edition then came to Steam in 2020, but, of course, it lacked the portability of the Switch version, forcing players to choose between visuals and convenience. With the Steam Deck, folks can now have it both ways. —CP

Nier: Automata

26 games we love on Steam Deck (17) Image: PlatinumGames/Square Enix

My blurb for Polygon’s best games of the 2010s applies to why Nier: Automata belongs on every Steam Deck:

Nier: Automata is the game I most often find myself wanting to play instead of the many fine-but-forgettable shooters and open-world distractions that land on my desk. I think about it every week partly because its soundtrack is my favorite writing music, partly because its toys litter my desk, and mostly because it’s just that good. Yes, you have to beat it five times, but in hindsight, I wish I had a reason to play it another five hundred. —CP

Paranormasight: The Seven Mysteries of Honjo

26 games we love on Steam Deck (18) Image: Square Enix

While Paranormasight is available for Switch and iOS, it looks and plays best (and is often the most affordable) on Steam Deck, whether you’re using it in handheld mode or if it’s docked to your TV. This spooky, rather mature episodic visual novel is tough to put down, especially when you begin to uncover how it progresses.

You assume the role of multiple characters, who are all trying to survive a supernatural cataclysm that’s out for everyone’s soul. The story is told to make you care about each one of them, not knowing who’s about to bite the dust at the next turn of events. —CF

Red Faction: Guerrilla

26 games we love on Steam Deck (19) Image: Volition, Kaiko/THQ Nordic

In 2009, Volition created an open-world terrorism simulator set on Mars. With a hammer and construction-grade explosives, a bald space bro destroys landmarks, government office complexes, and mining facilities piece by piece. Where its open-world peers focused on realism and narrative, Red Faction emphasized chaotic fun. Publisher THQ planned to convert Red Faction into a “transmedia” property, but little materialized beyond a mediocre sequel and a made-for-TV movie. The closest we’ve seen to a spiritual sequel is 2020’s Teardown, an indie heist game that invites players to bust through buildings made of chunky voxels. Speaking of, I should install Teardown on my Steam Deck. —CP

Zero Escape: The Nonary Games

26 games we love on Steam Deck (20) Image: Spike Chunsoft Co.

Nine Hours, Nine Persons, Nine Doors and Zero Escape: Virtue’s Last Reward were two of the most beloved visual novels on the Nintendo DS, 3DS, and PlayStation Vita. Unfortunately, Nintendo and Sony no longer support the DS and Vita online shops, and the 3DS online storefront will close in 2023. Meanwhile, The Nonary Games, which bundles the two titles, remains just as available today as it did when it launched on Steam in 2017, with no threat of disappearing anytime soon. —CP

Spelunky and Spelunky 2

26 games we love on Steam Deck (21) Image: Mossmouth, Blitworks/Mossmouth

Spelunky HD kept my PlayStation Vita within arm’s reach long after Sony gave up on the cult handheld. Last year, developer Mossmouth ported Spelunky and its sequel to the Nintendo Switch — and I finally moved my Vita into its long-term home in my storage bin of gaming artifacts. I won’t say the Steam Deck is a better home for Spelunky than the Switch, just that it’s another portable home. And any portable that can play Spelunky should play Spelunky. —CP


26 games we love on Steam Deck (22) Image: Worldwalker Games

Wildermyth made Polygon’s top 10 games of 2021 list by reimagining the D&D experience without the need for a part-time Dungeon Master. The combat is clever enough (your magic can convert any object into a deadly weapon), but I especially cherish its creator’s dedication to characters. Party members find lovers and nemeses, they acquire weapons and battle scars, they age and eventually die. Quests are broken into 10- to 15-minute episodes of story and combat, ideal for filling any gaps in your day. The controls on Steam Deck do take a little practice, but the game has benefited from an active community of modders and storytellers, so I wouldn’t be surprised if we see improved user-made control settings soon. —CP

Half-Life 2

26 games we love on Steam Deck (23) Image: Valve via Polygon

In 2004, Half-Life 2 helped launch Steam, attracting thousands of players to Valve’s then-unproven video game ecosystem. In return for joining Steam, players could download a first-person shooter that was far ahead of its time. Today, Half-Life 2 (and its pair of supplemental episodes) works as another example of Valve’s magic. I installed a PC game I bought nearly 20 years ago onto a portable computer, and it only took a few minutes to enter the streets of City 17. —CP

Death Stranding

26 games we love on Steam Deck (24) Image: Kojima Productions/Sony Interactive Entertainment

What if Hideo Kojima made his magnum opus, but most people wrote it off as a tedious walking simulator? Reader, it happened! Death Stranding is my personal game of the decade, an astounding mishmash of everything to appear in a Kojima game: earnest critiques of capitalism and the pain points of democracy, eerie premonitions of global pandemics and a gig economy forced to carry society on its shoulders, and enough mommy issues to justify a lifetime of therapy. Plus, the game itself is fun. Like, very fun!

No, you don’t get to shoot much stuff, nor do you conquer the giant open-world map. But you do make the world a little more manageable for you and other players, slowly building bridges, roads, and ladders that will inevitably be destroyed by nature. Where other games ask you to become the ruler of their world, Death Stranding reminds you that we are all merely tourists awaiting our one-way flight off of this rock. Did I mention the poop grenades?

Plenty of folks didn’t give the game a shot on PlayStation 4 or PC. Maybe the Steam Deck will make the game convenient enough to win over a handful of curious people to take the plunge into Death Stranding’s sticky, inky depths. —CP

26 games we love on Steam Deck (2024)
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