Until relatively recently, large-scale gaming on the go was limited to people who had powerful smartphones, or, even better: Nintendo Switch, while other platforms (and their game catalogs) were locked to one location or, at best, a cumbersome gaming laptop. And then Valve came out and said: be chair-bound no more, my friends, for Steam Deck is here. And amazingly, the idea took off!

What is this thing, in the first place?

Steam Deck is, in simple terms, a Nintendo Switch for PC games. It has hardware powerful enough to run a whole lot of games, although don’t go in expecting 4k graphics since the screen resolution is “only” 1200×800 pixels with a 7-inch display. However, it is more than enough for comfortable gaming on a couch or during a daily commute.

It uses gamepad-like controls as the main methods of interaction, supported by an LCD touchscreen which does a good job substituting for a mouse and keyboard when you can’t have them connected. There’s also a gyroscope as an additional input option.

Picking the games

Since the Steam Deck uses, well, Steam by default, a growing number games on Steam are checked for compatibility with it, rated Verified, Playable, Unsupported, or Unknown, as appropriate. You can see this rating on the right side of a game’s description, below supported languages.

The Verified games work perfectly fine right out of the gate, while Playable usually involve some minor hurdle to overcome before running the app, but after that they function perfectly fine. It’s very handy rating system, and there is a dedicated list for Deck-checked games available on Steam, but as the numbers grow, the legibility falls. Which is why we’ve prepared a short list of games which are great first steps to take with your Steam Deck.

They are all Verified, with the exception of Skyrim, which is Playable because of a launcher that has to be dealt with before you get to your game. With that in mind, let’s take a look at…

The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim

Release date:2021-11-11
Genre:RPG
Developer:Bethesda Game Studios

What if you didn’t need to stop your exploration of Skyrim just because you’re not home?

Skyrim on the go is a really appealing idea, especially if you have a lengthy commute ahead of you and need something to pass the time with. TESV is great for that, as it pretty much is as intense as you want it to be, easily changing from combat to picking up flowers depending on your own actions.

When buffed by the three expansions, Skyrim is a lot of game to enjoy, with tons of quests big and small, flexible progression, and more room for roleplaying than you’d think given the game’s limited conversation system. Skyrim is very keen on letting you ignore the core stories for as long as you want in order to become a master alchemist or build a perfect lake mansion.

Key features
  • An epic story about dragons, civil war, and ignoring all of that in favor of exploration
  • Two solid story-focused expansions and one giving you your own land to build a house on
  • No classes, you develop the skills you want as you use them
  • Great in short bursts and lengthy sessions alike

Persona 5 Royale

Release date:2022-10-21
Genre:Adventure
Developer:ATLUS

Persona 5 Royal is an enhanced edition of an already awesome game, and it’s a perfect fit for Steam Deck’s small screen.

The game tells you an increasingly complicated story about the Phantom Thieves of Hearts, high school students who acquire the ability to explore a psychic Metaverse and use it to take action against corrupted and immoral adults.

P5R has two sides top its gameplay. One is the protagonist, Joker’s, daily life as a student in a Japanese school, which involves some time management to balance social obligations, leisure, part-time jobs etc. The other part of the game are psychic dungeon heists and stylish-as-hell turn-based combat benefitting from relationships fostered in the real world.

Key features
  • Anime aesthetic
  • Excellent combat system and a robust social simulation
  • Interesting plot involving teens determined and able to fix corrupted adults
  • Excellent soundtrack

Elden Ring

Release date:2022-02-25
Genre:Action RPG
Developer:FromSoftware

Less of a commute game and more of a “play in absolute comfort” option due to the game’s tendency to elicit unsavory language from players.

Wouldn’t want to worry co-passengers, after all. Elden Ring works surprisingly well on the Steam Deck, despite the expansive map and the importance of smooth framerate to your survival: getting hit on a dropped frame would be rough.

Elden Ring was developed by FromSoftware, the creators of Dark Souls and Sekiro. While the world’s structure is much more open than in either of them, the combat is just as challenging as ever, even if you have more options and freedom to prepare. As usual, the plot is mostly left to figure out from item descriptions and enigmatic conversations, but it feels suitably epic in tone and scale.

Key features
  • Challenging combat system
  • Interesting lore with a fantastic dark fantasy aesthetic
  • Many, many ways to build a character
  • Not great for a commute, especially if you get frustrated quickly

Hades

Release date:2019-12-10
Genre:Indie
Developer:Supergiant Games

Zagreus is a rebellious son of Hades, and he’s had it with his father’s restrictions and terrible parenting, so he resolves to escape the mythic underworld in search of something more.

It’s a simple premise, but Supergiant Games made it work extremely well, and each escape attempt is a separate “run”, which can be easily completed during commute or abandoned without issue.

Zag has access both to persistent upgrades, like weapons and skills, and attempt-specific ones, coming in the form of divine boons. They are granted by Zagreus’ Olympian family and add interesting effects on top of your normal abilities, like dashes and heavy attacks. Although the boons are randomized, they are all powerful and it’s not hard to find an exciting and effective build.

Key features
  • The attempt-based structure makes it excellent for a bus ride
  • Amazing art style
  • Digs deep into the nuances of Greek mythology for inspiration
  • Tight, fast-paced combat system augmented by divine boons

Marvel’s Midnight Suns

Release date:2022-12-02
Genre:RPG
Developer:Firaxis

Midnight Suns is a very peculiar game, with two very different sides to it, not unlike Persona 5.

It’s both a superhero-themed tactical games with battles happening on relatively small maps, and a relaxed social sim taking place in the home base housing over a dozen superheroes gathered because of a supernatural crisis. Both sides play great on Steam Deck, but combat gets the edge due to its limited battlefields.

Unlike XCOM, combat in MS has almost no uncertainty: all abilities are guaranteed to hit for a guaranteed result. The trick is to use the available cards to the greatest effect, blocking off enemies trying to hit weaker characters, disposing of minions, etc. Despite being turn-based, Midnight Suns does a lot of work to sell the fantasy of running a superhero team, and it works!

Key features
  • Twelve heroes in the core game, and four more in the DLCs
  • Spectacular turn-based combat powered by card-like customizable abilities
  • You can build relationships with characters for plot and mechanical advantages
  • Customizable main characters with their own powerset

Vampire Survivors

Release date:2021-12-17
Genre:Indie
Developer:Luca Galante

An unexpected hit of 2021, Vampire Survivors has grown since then, with updates to lore, and even an expansion.

VS is a very tricky game. The core gameplay is a 2D horde mode, except your character attacks automatically with equipped weapons, your job is to move them around the map. It sounds simple, but you’ll quickly discover ways to make things more complicated.

Each weapon, of many available, has a different growth path and is affected only by certain upgrades, such as projectile speed or area of effect. Moreover, the weapons can evolve if you have proper catalysts, so if you want to reach certain hard-to-reach bits you better plan ahead and gather mutually complementary gear. This scaling complexity and simple controls are a perfect mix.

Key features
  • Simple, lo-fi graphics
  • Very strongly inspired by classic Castlevania games
  • Many characters to unlock, each with different traits and starting gear
  • It doesn’t take long before your character is a center of a maelstrom of destruction

The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt

Release date:2015-05-18
Genre:RPG
Developer:CD PROJEKT RED

If you crave open-world adventures, but Elden Ring doesn’t feel like a good fit, perhaps

The Witcher 3 will be a good option? It’s a lot less deadly (usually), and more aesthetically pleasing, even though verdant meadows might hide rotten monsters. The Witcher 3’s plot takes no prisoners, but gameplay is permissive enough to be a better commute Deck game than ER.

As Geralt, a professional monster hunter who recently recovered from a revival-induced short-term amnesia, you’re looking for your adopted daughter Ciri chased by the ominous Wild Hunt. In the meantime, you’ll take on quests to confront troublesome monsters, get tangled in political conflicts, and develop your own combat style mixing elaborate sword skills, magic, and alchemy.

Key features
  • Several large open-world maps
  • Classless progression: you pick the perks you need for your playstyle
  • Plenty of quests and side activities
  • Excellent expansions: “Hearts of Stone” and
    “Blood and Wine”

Dead Cells

Release date:2017-05-10
Genre:Action & Shooter
Developer:Motion Twin

Another roguelite on the list. Unlike isometric Hades Dead Cells presents itself in a side-scrolling fashion, closer to the traditional Metroidvania style.

It’s also somewhat harder than Supergiant’s game but makes up for it with a sense of humor and an excellent, responsive combat system. A single run, however, can still fit into a bus ride, and simple graphics look great on Steam Deck screen.

Although you’re controlling a humanoid body, you’re actually a blog of sentient cells that attaches itself to some hapless cadaver in the dungeons of a fortress. Your job is simple: get out of prison, but there are many complications involved, some of them weirder than you’d expect. There’s no shortage of violent monsters who’d love to send you back to square one.

Key features
  • The plot is quite interesting, once you start discovering it
  • Excellent combat
  • A Roguelite and a Metroidvania in one!
  • Great DLCs expanding gameplay and story

Root of Pacha

Release date:2023-04-25
Genre:Farming
Developer:Soda Den

This list’s been rather violent, so let’s take a breather with something cozy. Presenting Roots of Pacha, a cute game about establishing a stone age-like community.

Unlike games like Stardew Valley, this time you’ll get to develop the best farming practices from the ground up, including domesticating crops and animals for the benefit of your small society.

Discovery plays a large part of the game, but the social aspect is just as important, so you’ll be able to interact with NPCs in many ways, including recruiting them to your group and organizing festivals. There’s even support for multiplayer, so you can brave the challenges of simple technology and a complex world together with your friends, creating a great-looking, efficient community.

Key features
  • Pixel-art aesthetic
  • Very cozy
  • Unusual theme: establishing a community with stone age-like tech level
  • Co-op support

Hi-Fi Rush

Release date:2023-01-25
Genre:Action
Developer:Tango Gameworks

Although we are gently swinging back to high-octane action to end this list with, Hi-Fi Rush is different from the Witchers and the Elden Rings.

It’s upbeat and energetic, with a vibrant, cartoon-like aesthetic and rhythm-based gameplay giving a musical structure to your irregularly scheduled smashing of literal corporate drones. In other words: it’s a fun, exciting, pleasant game.

You’re playing as a fellow called Chal, who got a music player fused to his heart. Labelled a “defect” by the megacorp, now he has to fight for his right to rock alongside similar misfits. In game terms, if you perform actions to the beat, you get more effective and eventually get to use awesome special attacks. Hi-Fi Rush is a delightfully creative, entertaining hack and slash, check it out!

Key features
  • The cartoonish, vibrant aesthetic looks great on Steam Deck
  • Soundtrack includes a few licensed tracks from bands like Nine Inch Nails or The Prodigy
  • Rhythm-based action
  • The plot is an entertaining story about fighting against a nefarious megacorp CEO

All hands on Deck

This concludes our short list of recommended games you should check out, not just on Steam Deck, but also on a big screen, if you can. Because here’s the kicker: they are great regardless of the platform, and since it’s all working on the same account, thanks to the wonders of cloud-stored saves you can easily start on one system and switch to the other as necessary!