Ten Years ago on February 14th 2013, Valve released Steam for Linux and with that the first step that would lead us to the success of the Steam Deck. There's a lot that has happened between then and now, which you can read up on thanks to Liam Dawe's detailed article on Gaming On Linux, but instead of going over Valve's history I wanted to take a look at some of the games us Linux users got to play in the past decade. After all, what's the Steam Deck without its Steam games? Well, I guess a fantastic emulator, but that's besides the point.
Throughout this list you'll see some heavy-hitting AAA release, but writing this list has reaffirmed my belief that indies are the lifeblood of any platform. Sure a Breath of the Wild will get your console in the door but indies are what we play between big releases or even another indie game. Their experimental nature helps people learn what they enjoy in a game and let's us re-examine game design to improve the industry as a whole. Indies can even extend a console's life years after first party support ends. With all of that said, let's go through some of the best Linux games, one for each year since Steam's Linux release.
2013 - Fez
While not the first artsy indie to earn overwhelming critical praise (Braid beats it with a 2009 release) it certainly has maintained its charm even as so far as getting a Switch release last year. A gorgeous platformer with a brilliant core mechanic that won over the hearts of many and despite the creator Phil Fish's polarizing persona and sudden cancellation of Fez II, Fez remains an indie darling in the hearts of many.
2014 - Shovel Knight
You might say I'm just picking this because it's popular, and you wouldn't exactly be wrong, but I feel like it wasn't until after this game where we saw an explosion of retro inspired indies popping up. Katana Zero, The Messenger, Undertale, even this previous Steam Next Fest had retro inspired games like Gravity Circuit. Shovel Knight proved that great games don't have to be expensive blockbusters to change the landscape of gaming.
2015 - BioShock Infinite
BioShock Infinite was an expensive blockbuster that released on consoles and PC in 2013 but didn't grace Linux until 2015. After BioShock 2's less than steller reception, fans were elated to hear Ken Levine was back at the helm for a new BioShock game in a new city, Columbia. I enjoyed the game and I would even call it a great game, but I think it's hard to argue that the FPS genre did the narrative any favors. Combat fit the tone of stumbling through a hostile underwater city but here it felt a little like because of its title, it had to have FPS combat. The Burial at Sea DLC leaned more into stealth which I think elevated it above the base game. My opinion aside, even though it took two years we got our AAA game on Linux the same year Steam Machines first hit the market marking one of our first steps towards the eventual Steam Deck.
2016 - Stardew Valley
This game holds a special place in my heart as it's what helped my partner and I through the pandemic when we were separated. We would have Stardew Valley dates where we'd run a farm together, my partner doing all the farm bits making money and me delving into the mines and fishing. As much as Animal Crossing: New Horizon captured the world in 2020, Stardew Valley brought us a special kind of calm with it's chill music mindless but engaging gameloop. There's something endearing seeing a game blow up the way Stardew Valley has and knowing just one guy managed to achieve it.
2017 - Hollow Knight
My friend Trevor would not stop talking about this game when it released and the art of the gameplay looked beautiful no matter part of the game I saw. To this day people are still screaming in vein for its sequal, Hollow Knight: Silksong, to finally get a release date to the point it almost feels like expecting Silksong in a Nintendo Direct is the new "Half-Life 3 confirmed?" meme. There have been other Souls-Like 2D action games since but Hollow Knight nailed it with haunting beauty and indie charm.
2018 - Dead Cells
What we have here is a damn good roguelite Metroidvania and I can't put it down. It already started off with points in my book with an animated trailer as I'm a sucker for that sort of thing (the Hades trailer still gives me chills). When you add in responsive 2D roguelite action for you to eventually dunk on huge bosses and a good sense of humor, you end up with my game of 2018. I enjoyed it so much that when I bought the game on Steam after sinking several hour into it on my Switch and realized I had to restart from the beginning, I was actually excited because at no point was I bored with the game.
2019 - Slay the Spire
I don't know if the card battler indie scene got flooded after the release of this game, or this game made me pay attention to the genre far more. I swear after 2019 I saw nearly every Humble Bundle Choice have an obligatory deck builder game included. Any good roguelike/lite has a, "just one more run" factor and any good deck builder game has deep strategies to develop and refine through thoughtful game design. This game definitely has both. The dungeon crawling aspect gives each encounter an excitement of what I'm going to discover in my run and planning my route to balance the risk and reward of going through the more challenging fights.
2020 - Crusader Kings III
I remember asking my friend in Seattle what game we wanted to play for our next virtual catch up and he said, "You have to try out Crusader Kings III, just play the tutorial first." I agreed and like the good friend I am, I absolutely did not play the tutorial. What followed was my friend trying to give me the Cliff Notes successfully running an empire and royal bloodline for about an hour before giving up and playing our usual: Age of Mythology.
Look, I'm a hair-trigger dumby. I like the funny man with the giant sword air-juggling demons with bullets and a demon slayer whose driving motivation is avenging his pet bunny (Devil May Cry and DOOM). I do not handle grand strategy well. I can't be trusted to strategize my own dinner, let alone positioning armies on a world map and political espionage. What I can tell is Crusader Kings III has deep mechanics that lead to meaningful stories for the player. So much so that I have a hard time remembering the last grand strategy game that had as strong a critical reception as Crusader Kings III. I will return to it to properly learn the game, after maybe one more Bloody Palace run...
2021 - Inscryption
2022 - Elden Ring
In case you didn't already hate me for not putting Undertale as my Linux game for 2015, now a Windows game?! Ok pitchforks down, let me explain. While this list I've been trying to focus highlighting fantastic games natively on Linux, I put this as 2022's Linux game because it was the unofficial launch game for the Steam Deck. Elden Ring was such a massive and beautiful game that being able to play it portability was wild, but what was truly mindblowing was the Steam Deck ran the game smoother than a full Windows desktop.
I also picked Elden Ring because, well, it's Elden Ring. Are you going to tell me you wouldn't? A game as massive as Elden Ring that could be experience by Linux gamers at the same time as Windows gamers. Not delayed by weeks because there needs to be a Proton fix or for someone to upload the correct Lutris script. Despite it not being native, it's hard to call Linux gamers a second class citizen when it came to Elden Ring. I'll leave the native vs Proton Linux gaming debate to Gardiner, in the meantime I've got some runes to farm.
So what did you play on Linux in the last decade? Does your list line up with my list? Will you forgive me for not including Undertale? Let us know in the comments down below!