In 2016, PC game distributor Steam grew its already-impressive library by 4,207 new games—nearly 40% of its total at the time in just twelve months. The platform is growing almost exponentially. That’s a good thing if you like a little variety in your PC games…but with all that variety, it becomes harder and harder to find the gold among the dross.
That said, there are a few tools built into Steam that allow you to more reliably find the best games, at least according to other Steam users. Here’s how you make use of them.
Use the Search Tools
From almost any list on Steam, like the Specials list of discounted titles or a manual text search, there’s a single option you can do to dramatically filter out the number of entries. In the right-hand column under “show selected types,” click the box marked “Games.” This will hide all the add-ons, downloadable content, trailers, demos, and other non-game items that have their own Steam entries. If you’re looking for deals, you might want to click the “see all” expansion option and also enable the “Include Bundles” box.
Now that you’ve narrowed your search down to only games, it’s time to sort through them. Directly above the search results list there’s a drop-down menu marked “Sort by.” Click it and select “User Reviews.” This will re-order all the results placing the games with the best aggregate user reviews at the top, starting with the games rated “Overwhelmingly Positive” by Steam users.
Even after narrowing the list to only games and sorting by quality, you might still have a list of a dozen pages or more. If you’re still looking at too many games, go back to the right-hand column and use the “Narrow by tag,” “Narrow by feature,” and “Narrow by number of players” options. Don’t forget to click “see all” to expand your option in each list. Tags can also be searched by text in the sidebar without leaving the search page.
Now let’s put it all together. In any manual search of the Steam store (or in specially assigned pages like “Specials”), you can only have one search term, but you can add an unlimited number of tags. So, let’s say you want a game that uses a roguelike setup, but also has some horror elements, and is highly rated by user reviews. Using a manual search for “roguelike” gives us 31 pages of search results, over 500 total games to sift through.
Restrict this list to only games instead of demos, trailers, or DLC, and it shrinks to 22 pages. Add the tag “horror” and bam, we have a list of only 30 or so games. Sort the list by user reviews, and you can see that games like The Binding of Isaac, Space Beast Terror Fright, Darkwood, and The Consuming Shadow (all rated “Very Positive” or better by Steam users) are where you should start looking. Remember to read the customer reviews for each game below the description for specific experiences from other users.
Take Advantage of Steam Curators
Steam introduced the Curators feature in 2014. It’s sort of like a custom playlist in a music service, except for computer games. Any Steam user can put together a list of curated titles and recommend them publicly, usually with a bit of information on the game and why it was selected thrown in. Curators range from the popular and famous, like video game sites such as Kotaku and PC Gamer, to anonymous but well-regarded Steam users.
To find curated lists, go to the Steam store home page and click “By Curators” under the “Recommended” column in the upper left-hand corner. If you haven’t followed any, click the button labelled “Find More Curators” in the next screen.
Here you’ll see the most popular curators and lists recommended by Steam, and how many users follow each list. You may want to follow some yourself; curators periodically update their lists with new game recommendations. Lists are either organized by a single person with no particular guiding principle except their own fancies, or by general theme, such as racing games, RPGs, and so on.
Keep in mind that these lists are entirely subjective, and you may or may not agree with their game choices. (Be prepared to take advantage of Steam’s two-hour return window if necessary!) The best strategy is to find curators who’ve recommended at least some of the games you’ve already played and enjoyed—that way you can be reasonably sure that your tastes overlap in some areas.
Use the Steam Queue
Steam generates a custom “queue” of recommended games for each and every user. This is generally less reliable than aggregate user reviews, because it’s an automated system based on the games you’ve already purchased and how long you’ve been playing them. Still, it might be a good place to start looking, especially for newer titles that might not have many user reviews or Curator recommendations yet.
From the Steam store home page, click “Your Store” on the top tab, then click “Your Queue.” In the next page, select “Click here to begin exploring your queue.”
The queue is merely a series of linked Steam store pages. For each entry you can select “Add to your Wishlist” to be alerted if there’s a sale, “Follow” to get updates in your Community page, or “Not Interested” to dismiss the game from your queue and have the system update its impression of your preferences. To move forward through the list, click the gold arrow button marked “Next in Queue.”
The Queue can be customized to make it more useful and better at interpreting your specific gaming tastes. Click “Customize” above the gold arrow button. Here you can remove early access games, videos, software, and unreleased games from appearing in your queue, as well as add tags for products you’re not interested in. If you’re simply not a fan of real-time strategy games, add “RTS” to the excluded tag list.
As with all consumer products, it’s best to do a bit of research before you buy. Even if the Steam store page and user recommendations indicate that you’ll love a new game, it couldn’t hurt to Google for a review before finally putting down your money. And remember, even if you decide you don’t like it after playing, Steam’s refund policy offers a combination of 14 days after purchase and/or two hours of gameplay time to accept an unconditional refund.