Great games done cheap
One of the most thrilling parts of the Steam Summer Sale—aside from, you know, all the cheap games—is the opportunity to check out lesser-known gems you may have missed. There’s no better time to try something new than when prices are low.
True to that spirit, this hand-picked list skips the annual discounts on the Skyrims and Civilizations of the world to instead highlight damned good games that weren’t blockbusters. Even better, they’re all under $10 during the Steam Summer Sale—a fraction of the cost of a single new AAA game.
Looking to save even more money on Steam Summer Sale deals? Be sure to check out PCWorld’s selection of 15 great games under $5 and 10 Steam sale bundles that save you even more money.
This “roguelike turn-based RPG” absolutely oozes atmosphere, from the gorgeous gothic art to the solemn intonations of the game’s narrator. “Recruit, train, and lead a team of flawed heroes against unimaginable horrors, stress, famine, disease, and the ever-encroaching dark,” the game’s description reads, and that sums it up well.
What it doesn’t say? This game can be hard. Damned hard. Desk-smashing, keyboard-chucking hard, sometimes. Like the XCOM series, Darkest Dungeon ($9.99 during the Steam Summer Sale) leans heavily into probabilities and invisible dice rolls, and RNGesus can be a cruel god. But that plays right into the game’s overarching themes and is a big part of what makes it so good.
SOMA blends sci-fi and terror, set in the murky depths of the merciless seas. The less we say about this game (from the makers of the classic Amnesia: The Dark Descent), the better your experience will be, so we’ll leave it at this: SOMA earned a rare 5-star rating in PCWorld’s review and easily made our list of the best PC games of 2015. It’s a steal at $8.99 during the Steam Summer Sale.
Ori and the Blind Forest Definitive Edition
Here’s another one of PCWorld’s favorite PC games of 2015, going for just $9.99 during the sale. Here’s what my colleague Hayden Dingman had to say about Ori and the Blind Forest:
“It’s one of those games that takes you by surprise…There is emotion here, and awe, and beauty. And, if we’re being honest, a healthy amount of screamed obscenities as you get into the later areas. Ori and the Blind Forest can be an uneven and sometimes frustrating ride, but it’s testament to the game’s strengths that I persevered even through its worst sections. It’s a gorgeous experience.”
What, have you been living under a rock? Stardew Valley was the surprise hit of 2016, taking Steam by storm with its big heart and sublime Harvest Moon-like gameplay. You grow your farm and interact with your local community. It’s tremendously relaxing after a long day of actual work—and at $8.99 during the Steam Summer Sale, Stardew Valley has never been more affordable.
Speaking of relaxing, Abzu ($5.99 during the Steam sale) is one of the most laid-back, drop-dead gorgeous experiences ever created, focused on “evoking the dream of diving.” It’s an absolutely breathtaking mix of beautiful graphics, a superb soundscape, and intuitive controls. Abzu’s relatively brief though, making the Steam Summer Sale an ideal time to pick it up.
Enter the Gungeon
Enter the Gungeon ($7.49 during the Steam Summer Sale) is the utter opposite of relaxing. It’s a bullet hell shooter mixed with a dungeon crawler. If you know what that jumble of words means, you’ll definitely want to check this out—Gungeon’s a stellar game. Bonus: It has relatively modest hardware requirements and runs on almost any computer, just like Stardew Valley.
Alien: Isolation ($9.99 during the Steam Sale) is the scariest Alien experience since, well, Alien, and it’s no coincidence. Like the classic movie, this game has you matching wits with a singular xenomorph, slinking through rooms and under tables to avoid its attention on a devastated space station. If it sees you, you’re dead. Isolation’s so tense I could only play it in short bursts.
H1Z1: King of the Kill
H1Z1: King of the Kill begs to be played for hours and hours, on the other hand—it’s one of the most-played games on Steam despite still being in early access. This battle royale-style murderfest drops you and dozens of others on a map filled with buildings and loot, with the play area steadily shrinking to keep the action hot and heavy. You get one life, and the last player standing wins.
Sound familiar? PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds sticks largely to the same formula and it’s been blowing up on Steam and Twitch—which may be why H1Z1’s only $8.99 during Valve’s sale.
House of the Dying Sun
Most modern space games, like Elite Dangerous, take a simulation-heavy approach. House of the Dying Sun ($9.99 during the Steam Summer Sale) strips away all the trading and interstellar routes to focus on one thing: Outstanding space dogfighting, with stellar stick-feel and a fine attention to detail. It’s a blast on a standard screen, but even better when you boot it up on an Oculus Rift or HTC Vive—House of the Dying Sun offers full VR support.
Offworld Trading Company
Now let’s scratch the strategy itch. Offworld Trading Company ($7.99 during the Steam Summer Sale) is a real-time strategy (RTS) game with a very interesting twist: Instead of slinging bullets, you’re slinging stocks. You’re in charge of a mining company battling for resources on Mars, to ship back to earth. As it turns out, economic warfare is surprisingly cutthroat—and compelling.
Endless Legend turns the 4X strategy genre on its head by focusing on story and the unique strengths and weaknesses of each of the fantasy-infused factions. Each faction plays in a wildly different way, but the game’s a blast no matter what, and the world is nothing short of luscious—both in art and narrative.
This may be my favorite 4X game of all time. It’s certainly one of the best outside of Civilization. How can you skip that for just $7.49?
Warhammer: End Times – Vermintide
You don’t need to know Warhammer’s rich history and lore to get into Warhammer: End Times – Vermintide ($9.89 during the Steam Summer Sale.). You just need to know that this cooperative action game is like Left 4 Dead draped in fantasy tropes rather than zombies. It’s one of the best co-op games in recent memory.
Hyper Light Drifter
Now let’s dig into some modern games with great old-school feel!
Hyper Light Drifter ($9.99 during the Steam Summer Sale) is like a blend of Zelda and Dark Souls, mixing masterful combat and a hands-off approach to storytelling with a large, beautiful world. Pick it up if you think games these days are too easy.
If the old-school Metroid games from the NES and SNES eras were made today, the result would’ve been Axiom Verge ($9.99 during the Steam Sale). Even more impressive? It was made by a single person, Tom Happ.
Wasteland 2 ($9.99 during the Steam Summer Sale) helped kick off the modern CRPG renaissance—and earned itself PCWorld’s Game of the Year honor in 2014. Wasteland 2 isn’t perfect, but even with its flaws it’s outstanding, and nothing short of a love letter to old-school RPG fanatics. An excerpt from our GOTY nod:
“The writing shines in WL2, but it's the sheer flexibility of the game that wows: Every obstacle can be conquered in multiple ways, and you're held accountable for every decision. The cries from burning Highpool still haunt me.”
Diving deeper into Steam
These are just the briefest handful of the 19,000-plus juicy deals available in the Steam Summer Sale. Again, for even more killer picks at even lower prices, check out PCWorld’s lists of 15 great for under $5 and 10 Steam sale bundles that save you even more money. There’s never been a better time to stock your game library without breaking the bank.