The Top 10 Games for the Steam Deck
Valve’s impressive (for being a handheld console) Steam Deck has been available since February 2022. As of its release, more and more games have been added to its verified list (a library of games approved as being guaranteed to work on the system), but several of the best games available are currently unverified. This past summer, I managed to get my hands on a 512GB NVMe Steam Deck and have been testing out various titles these past few months. What I have come up with is a list of the top 10 games based on performance and graphical appearance.
Before we start, however, a quick explanation of the Steam Deck’s graphical capabilities for those not in the know. By default, the device is limited to a 7-inch IPS LCD touchscreen capable of 1280x800 (720p), though you can dock the device and connect it to a monitor, allowing for increased resolution options. It is generally accepted that the Steam Deck is able to match or outperform the last generation of consoles (the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One), but is nowhere close to being on par with the current console generation (PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X|S). Though, because of the devices’ limitation to a resolution of 1280x800, some games may actually look worse than their counterparts. With that out of the way, let's get onto the list!
10: The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim Special Edition (2016), unverified
It's been released, then re-released, then graphically upgraded, before being released a few more times. While The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim SE has not been verified by Valve for the Steam Deck, it works extremely well. You do have to engage in some tinkering for the best experience (such as limiting to 50 frames per second and choosing the low graphics preset in the launcher), but it looks and runs beautifully once you do. You will also have access to several mods available through Bethesda’s in-game mod page. The only hiccup you will have is the need to manually call up the Steam Decks’ touchscreen keyboard when choosing your character's name.
9: Fallout 3: Game of the Year Edition (2009), unverified
Yes, Fallout: New Vegas is better, but I have not gotten around to testing that game yet. Though, I imagine it will be just as good as Fallout 3 has proven to be on the Steam Deck. While the low graphics settings are not needed for this Bethesda title to run well, I do still recommend limiting the game to 50 fps; this helps with battery life as well as keeping the internal fans from getting too hot while generating that open-world apocalyptic landscape. Just like with Skyrim, you will need to manually call up the Steam Deck’s keyboard when necessary. Unfortunately, this title is too old to take advantage of Bethesda's modding options. But, if you are familiar with the concept of dirty modding (the implementation of mods without using a mod organiser), then adding some basic improvements is still possible.
8: Tomb Raider (2013), verified
While a fully verified game, Crystal Dynamics’ 2013 Tomb Raider does require some tinkering. Graphical texture quality can be set to high, but mostly everything else should be set to normal. A few other tweaks include setting texture filtering to anisotropic 4x and anti-aliasing to FXAA. Hair quality can be set to Tressfx; this makes Lara’s hair look normal rather than drawn on. My past recommendation of using a 50 fps limit also stands with this title. Once these tweaks are implemented, you will have a smooth experience as you explore the island of Yamatai, and things will look great to boot.
7: The Walking Dead: The Telltale Definitive Series (2019), verified
This game really put developer Telltale Games on people's radar. The Walking Dead was a sensational TV series when Telltale announced the production of this episodic title. The Walking Dead: The Telltale Definitive Series includes all four adventures (20 episodes) in the series as well as a standalone game starring the katana-wielding Michonne. My only recommendation here is to turn the graphic black setting off; other than that, this bunch of games runs great.
6: The Wolf Among Us (2013), unverified
Though unverified, Telltale Games' The Wolf Among Us is fantastic on the Steam Deck; you won’t have to make any deep graphics changes with this one. But you may have to correct the resolution, as it is not currently 1280x800 by default when booting up the game for the first time. In all honesty, I much prefer playing Bigby Wolf, the titular sheriff of Fabletown, than I do Lee Everett or Clementine from The Walking Dead series.
5: Left 4 Dead 2 (2009), verified
I like to think that Valve took a special interest when ensuring Left 4 Dead 2 would work natively on the system. As a staple of the company's golden years, it is a testament to say that Left 4 Dead 2 is almost perfect on the Steam Deck. The one issue is online gameplay. The Steam Deck has built-in Wi-Fi connectivity, but falling short of using a cell phone hotspot, your online capabilities are pretty limited when travelling. Sadly, this does take away some important gameplay options from this title.
4: DOOM II (1994), verified
Well, how could it not be on the list? I mean, this thing runs on anything. This 1994 classic from id Software is a very enjoyable experience on the Steam Deck; it runs perfectly (of course it does) and is something quick and easy for you to entertain yourself with on the go. I would say its performance and appearance on the Deck proves that DOOM II may have finally found a real home in modern gaming.
3: South Park: The Stick of Truth (2014), verified
I first started watching South Park during its ninth season (back in 2005) and have been hooked ever since. Nowadays, I have watched the show in its entirety numerous times. So you can imagine my excitement when I heard the series was getting a full-budget game! Fortunately, South Park: The Stick of Truth did not disappoint and even garnered enough praise to receive a sequel, though South Park: The Fractured but Whole does not make this list. If you are going to play this in public, I’d probably wear headphones, and I don’t recommend doing it where children can see your screen; in fact, just don't play this one in public at all.
2: Hades (2018), verified
Roguelike ARPG Hades takes second place on our list; this award-winning and visually enthralling title is buttery smooth on the Steam Deck. With fast-paced combat and an overhead camera, you can expect to have some seriously intense battles throughout the underworld while on your ride to work — or even at work if you can get away with it. You don’t even need to tweak any settings for this one; just press play and go. Hades is definitely not a title you want to miss out on if you own this console.
1: Fable Anniversary (2014), verified
Oh, Fable, you will always have a special place in my heart — here’s hoping the latest entry will be any good. This game runs like an absolute dream on the Steam Deck, with zero tinkering that needs to be done on the player’s behalf. At the moment, this is one of a very few RPGs to be verified for the Steam Deck. When it was initially released back in 2014, many were quick to point out the blurriness of Fable Anniversary's graphics, but running it in 1280x800, you no longer notice it at all. Enjoy the beautiful and dark world of Albion as you rise to legendary status as either a great hero or ruthless tyrant.
Bonus: DARK SOULS: REMASTERED (2018), unverified
FromSoftware’s remastering of the original DARK SOULS runs great on the Steam Deck. However, its visuals leave a lot to be desired when scaled down to 1280x800. Sadly, no amount of tinkering has alleviated the muddy textures of this great classic. I would have also included ELDEN RING on this list, but, while it plays well (it’s even verified), the system runs really hot when playing it on the Steam Deck, and the graphics look greatly reduced.
A quick side note regarding my experience with all these titles. Some, such as The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim SE, Fallout 3: Game of the Year Edition, and The Walking Dead: The Telltale Definitive Series, suffered from severe fan bursts. Which are very noticeable and annoying — especially when not using headphones — instances of the device pushing the internal fans from zero RPM (rotations per minute) to 3000 or 4000 RPM. To fix this, I followed the instructions listed here in this Reddit post. Please remember to be careful when engaging in system file tinkering on your Steam Deck; the last thing we want is for anyone to brick their device. But, for those skilled enough to follow the directions, the result is that you can programme your Steam Decks’ fans to stay idle at 1500 or even 2500 RPM, thus removing the annoying bursts and reducing overheating by quite a lot.
What did you think of our list? Did we miss your favourite game? Are you more likely to take the plunge and buy one of these devices? Share your voice in the comments section, and let us know.