It’s been a few months since we excitedly pulled a shiny new Steam Deck out of its packaging for the first time, and since then we’ve spent countless hours messing about with Valve’s undoubtedly flawed but extremely exciting first-gen handheld gaming PC.
The Steam Deck rollout has been slow, and as you read this you might still be not-so patiently waiting to hear of good news regarding your pre-order. But those who have been lucky enough to secure a unit might be wondering what games they should play first. The Steam Store is about as ludicrously bloated as any online storefront, so you’d be forgiven for feeling slightly overwhelmed by choice.
As we explain in more detail in our review, while the idea is that the Steam Deck will one day be able to play every game on the Steam Store, that isn’t currently the case, with Valve employees still testing games to assess how they perform on the hardware. Games that have been given the seal approval – meaning they run smoothly at the Steam Deck’s target framerate and can be played comfortably using the device’s controls – will appear in your library as “Verified” with a green tick.
This doesn’t necessarily means that games not yet verified won’t play absolutely fine right now, but for new Steam Deck owners we’d advise sticking to the games that are at first for the best experience. There are over 300 games in the Verified club so far, with more joining all the time.
With that in mind, read on for our guide to the games we think you should play first, all of which have passed Valve’s testing and really feel at home on the powerful PC.
1. Rogue Legacy 2
This fantastic roguelite’s one-more-go nature makes it the perfect fit for Steam Deck, and as it’s currently only available on Xbox and PC, it’s also the only platform on which you can play it natively on a handheld. Making your way through Rogue Legacy 2’s colourful hand-drawn dungeons is hard as nails, but death is a good thing in a game like this, allowing you to accumulate cash that can be used to upgrade your base and classes. Just be careful if you’re sneaking in a few runs before bed; it’s amazing how quickly 2am rolls around.
Think top-down Zeldas of old, but Link is a little fox, and you have a pretty good idea of what to expect from Tunic, one of 2022’s best indies. As the titular Tunic (who also wears a tunic) you explore a mysterious fantasy world, slowly uncovering more of the map and learning how to progress by collecting pieces of an in-game instruction manual. It’s a brilliant, unapologetically old-school adventure that expects you to put the work in, and while we’re not totally in love with the tricky combat, you can make yourself invincible if a particular boss is proving to be insurmountable. Tunic will probably come to the Switch eventually, but right now the Steam Deck is the best way to play it handheld.
3. The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt
When The Witcher 3 was ported to Switch it was lauded as something of a technological miracle, albeit one that involved more than a few performance sacrifices. The best thing we can say about diving into Geralt’s 100+ hour adventure on the Steam Deck is that you’re really not giving up that much at all, with the game running well at decent settings. This is the RPG epic you know and love, but now you can play it on the toilet.
4. Vampire Survivors
The Steam Deck makes it possible to play graphically stunning AAA titles wherever you are. Vampire Survivors is categorically not one of those games, but it is one of the most addictive games we’ve played this year, and absolutely perfect on a handheld platform. Vampire Survivors is a graphically rudimentary time survival game in which you move around a small map attempting to slay an increasingly overwhelming onslaught of monsters before they slay you. Each run allows you to unlock better characters, items and gear, so eventually you’ll be able to last the whole 30-minute gauntlet. Trust us: it’s brilliant – cheap as chips and the perfect game to pick up when you have a spare five minutes.
5. Portal 2
Valve’s own timeless puzzling masterpiece performs, as you would expect, extremely well on Steam Deck, running at an unshakeable 60fps on pretty much its highest settings, and if you’ve been looking for a reason to revisit the Aperture Science Enrichment Center, then doing so on its maker’s hardware is a no-brainer. If you’ve never played either Portal game, start with the also magnificent first one, which is also Deck-verified.
6. Elden Ring
FromSoftware’s 100-hour epic is our current game of the year, and although we think its biggest moments deserve to be experienced on the biggest screen possible, it’s also really well suited to handheld play, especially when you’re just farming for runes in the open world and levelling up your character. Elden Ring has had well-documented performance issue on all the platforms it’s available for, but actually runs surprisingly well on Steam Deck, which is pretty incredible to behold. Expect it to guzzle away at the battery life, though.
7. Disco Elysium: The Final Cut
The dialogue-heavy nature of ZA/UM’s landmark RPG means it has always felt like the kind of game you want to play in bed, face right up close, but the long-awaited Switch port’s performance wasn’t up to much, sadly. Enter the Steam Deck, which for our money is the best way to experience Revachol’s murder mystery, thanks to myriad control options and the largely rock solid framerate that Nintendo’s machine couldn’t deliver.
8. Half-Life 2
Probably the most famous Valve title of them all, and one that has aged surprisingly well, Half-Life 2 is another must-have for your Steam Deck library. The legendary FPS paved the way for so many shooters that would follow it, and its influence can still be seen today. The game performs flawlessly on Steam Deck while taking advantage of the platform’s various control options, and who knows, if Valve sees enough people playing it again we might even get Half-Life 3 one day. Don’t go holding that breath, though.
9. God of War
God of War is one of many AAA games that you’d be forgiven for thinking would struggle on the Steam Deck, but the PS4 classic runs like a dream at very decent settings and is a joy to revisit in handheld form. And with the sequel (hopefully) not too far away, now is the ideal time to reacquaint yourself with Kratos’ unique approach to parenting.
10. Aperture Desk Job
Clocking in at less than an hour, this one is more of a tech demo than a proper game, but it’s also the only game specifically designed to make use of the Steam Deck’s extensive feature set. Set in the same universe as the Portal games, Valve’s typically amusing short puts you in the shoes of a new starter at Aperture Science, where an initially mundane first day on the job quickly takes a rather violent turn. Aperture Desk Job makes use of every button, sensor and hardware quirk the Steam Deck has to offer, and as it’s absolutely free, you really have no excuse not to give it a shot.
The winner of our game of the year award back in 2020 really hasn’t aged a day, and hacking and slashing your way out of the Underworld with Zagreus’ all-powerful arsenal seemingly never stops being fun. If you’ve already sunk tens of hours into this masterful roguelike dungeon crawler on PC, rest assured that taking it on the go makes the game feel brand new. Haven’t played Hades yet? The Steam Deck is as good a platform to fix that on as any.
12. Hollow Knight
We’re still waiting for Hollow Knight: Silksong, the much-anticipated (to put it lightly) sequel to Team Cherry’s gorgeous Metroidvania masterpiece, but luckily the original plays like a dream on the Steam Deck and, like a lot of the games in this list, feels like it was designed for handheld play. As you explore the meticulously detailed insect kingdom in which Hollow Knight takes place you’re going to die. A lot. But as with any deliberately difficult game, success feels all the sweeter when does come, and the ability to take this one everywhere with you makes gradual progress more realistic.