Not all of us can afford to go out and buy the hottest new AAA title out there the day it comes out. It sucks, but that’s life sometimes. Still, it’s not like you necessarily have to if you want to have fun. My perspective has always been that if it’s new to me, it may as well be new. Most of my ‘new’ games come out of Humble Bundles, Steam Sales and the like, or from games like these that launched at or dropped to a lower price.
The arbitrary cut off point here is $20, which means a few good, cheap games didn’t quite make the cut (sorry, no A Hat In Time, Deep Rock Galactic, or Slay The Spire here. They’re great games but they’re about $10 too expensive for this list) but we can still make it work. All of these games are good fun, and one of them is even new!
Cheap Steam Games Under $20
In no particular order, here are my top six picks.
Depth is the game that inspired me to make this list, so it gets to lead off. I love this game. The quickest description I can give is that it’s Left 4 Dead’s Versus Mode but with divers and sharks instead of survivors and zombies. That doesn’t quite do it justice, but it gives you the general gist of what a round of this game is like. Divers are trying to gather treasure as quickly as possible and escape with it, while sharks want to kill all the divers for invading their territory.
There is a surprising amount of variety and content in this game for one with such a small (but dedicated!) community. It still constantly get updates even though it was released back in 2014 and generally averages only about 800 concurrent players. Playing as both divers and sharks are fun, with a lot of build options on either side.
For divers, your options come down mostly to weaponry, which comes in roughly three different forms: automatic weapons, single shot/semi-automatic weapons (like the powerful harpoon gun), and miscellaneous gadgets. The weapons, admittedly, largely play the same as each other in a given category but the gadgets are where things really get spiced up.
Say you feel like proving how brave you are: you can decide to eschew normal weapons and roll with a net launcher and bangstick (pretty much what it sounds like; it’s a stick with an explosive on the end). Use your quick reflexes to matador sharks, or if they’re a bit too fast slow them down with a net and close in for an instant kill before they break free.
Maybe you don’t feel like fighting at all: that’s fine. You can roll with the DPV (one of those motorized scuba ‘vehicles’ you hang onto to propel you underwater) and just gather treasure as quickly as possible, and have the sonar gun as your backup, using it to detect sharks at the range for your allies to kill. You’re basically helpless besides your increased movement speed, but you’re still an invaluable member of the party.
There’s a lot of options like that in the game, keeping things constantly feeling fresh from match to match.
Similarly, the sharks get to play around with various options. You can start as one of 11 sharks (four of which were added since I played the game last; looks like I need to dive back in too) each with the same pool of 18 Evolutions to choose from to shore up weaknesses or maximize their strengths. My personal favorites are the Mako (a high damage speed demon shark that gets more Evolution points from kills and speed blitzes the divers) and Hammerhead (a ‘positioning matters’ shark that is durable but deals low damage…unless you can slam your targets against the environment, killing them near-instantly).
I cannot recommend this game enough, especially for its low price tag.
100% Orange Juice
I like board games. This is all you really need to know to understand this pick and one other on the list. 100% Orange Juice is a very fun anime-themed Mario Party sort of. It’s a party game featuring all of the characters from developer Orange_Juice’s works, hence the odd name.
The gameplay is pretty simplistic, with you traversing around the board, gathering stars (the currency) and items to use against your opponents. There is a mild combat element with some characters being better at combat than others, and resolution comes down to a simple opposed d6 roll plus minor modifiers and special abilities, sometimes shaping the outcome of combat (for example flagship character Suguri rolling more dice when using her special item, or one of the characters self-destructing on death, taking their opponent with them). There are two ways to win: collecting more stars, or getting more combat wins and turning them in at the “Home” spots around the board.
Not much more to say. It’s great fun for up to four players, and you can buy the 4-Pack Bundle for just $15 to share with your three closest friends. If you like board games, cute anime-style characters, or both this is a perfect game for you, and it still receives updates even six years out from its release date.
Aragami is one of the best stealth games I’ve ever played., and stealth games are one of my favorite genre of game. You can think of it sort of like a budget indie Dishonored but with a higher focus on stealth than that game (which has a lot of support for flashy combat) and an interesting resource management system.
The basic gist: you play as an Aragami, a creature of pure shadow created by a woman named Yamiko, who wishes to use you to free herself from imprisonment. You traverse multiple levels, gathering various artifacts that allow you to release the barrier sealing the city she is trapped in, and either slipping past unseen or killing any enemies in your path. If you’re caught, any enemy can kill you instantly, making it very much a pure stealth game.
You get several tools in the form of upgrades to your powers, though everyone starts with the basics: teleporting from shadow to shadow, and creating shadows at a target location. Your energy to use these resources is limited but recharges fast…with a catch. Your energy only recharges in darkness. Getting trapped in the light can not only risk revealing your position but leaves you completely powerless.
It is very possible to go through the game with only these two abilities, but others (such as creating decoys, blinding enemies, summoning shadows to devour them, and so on) exist to tailor Aragami’s abilities to your playstyle.
My preference is generally for pure stealth, and going for pacifist runs in these kinds of games which provides a satisfying challenge in Aragami as the enemy view cones (which aren’t strictly visible like in some stealth games) are just wide and long enough to make them competent guards. Interestingly, unlike many games in the genre going for a run where you kill every enemy is, if anything, harder than pure stealth making the game worth two playthroughs to experience the unique challenges of both playstyles. While the game is relatively short (maybe 4-5 hours), that replayability gives it more longevity than it appears at first glance.
The game was originally released in 2016 but had a major DLC (Nightfall) released in the middle of last year, so more content is always possible.
E.Y.E Divine Cybermancy
E.Y.E is a fascinating game. It’s basically a bootleg Warhammer 40k game. This is not a knock on the game; it’s just the facts based on what I could gather. It was originally supposed to be a Space Hulk game, but the developer Streum On Studios couldn’t get the license, so it became its own thing. They would later go on to make Space Hulk: Deathwing, so everything worked out in the end.
E.Y.E is the oldest game on this list but deserves a spot simply for how fascinating and ambitious of a game it is. This game has more playstyle options than a lot of modern AAA titles, and this was an indie project created in the Source engine in mid-2011.
It has pretty much everything. You just want to play with some cool guns? Sure, here you go. Would you like to be some insanely cyberized street samurai? Kit yourself out with spring-loaded legs that can carry you 50 feet with a single leap and a sword that explodes your enemies when you slash them. Hacker? Almost anything (and anyone) can be hacked…though be careful you don’t mess up. Most hackable objects can counter-hack, making it embarrassing when that ATM you tried to crack screws your interface for the next 20 minutes because you lost the discount Pokemon battle against it. It even has psionic abilities. my favorite is the one that explodes an enemy in a spray of gore and summons a werewolf in its place that attacks whoever’s nearest including you.
It even has up to 32 player co-op. Not that you would ever want to try to get 32 people running around in a mid-2011 Source engine game, but the fact that the option is there is commendable.
The only drawback is one other thing this game has: a very steep learning curve. This game at the start is nearly impenetrable. The plot makes no sense, the mechanics even less, and you will likely find yourself frustrated trying to figure out how to play. Your first character is probably going to be a throwaway because you will die. A lot early on, and less as you master the mechanics. Dying has permanent consequences for your character (stats permanently reduced, strange Insanity mechanics, the works) so you’ll probably find yourself stuck in a death spiral your first time through.
This can be off-putting. I bought the game in 2012 and didn’t finish it until 2016. But I have no regrets: this is a game that needs to be experienced to be believed. And for $10 you’re not really out much for one of the unique games out there.
Risk of Rain 2
The newest game on this list, Risk of Rain 2 hit Early Access less than a month ago to success that was surprising even to its developers. Risk of Rain was a game my best friend loved, and I hated, unfortunately. Too much visual chaos packed into only two dimensions made the game impossible for me to keep track of, constantly losing the position of my character and getting killed, then needing to wait 20 minutes for the level to be finished so I could respawn only to die 5 minutes later, rinse and repeat. That was my experience with the original game.
When the sequel was dropped, pretty much out of the blue, I was skeptical. When I saw it was in 3D, I started to be intrigued. To my perspective, the swap was probably going to be a big deal. And I was right.
Risk of Rain 2 is a strict improvement over its predecessor in all ways except the sheer volume of content. The game is now understandable. I fight with friends over loot less (and not at all with mod support!), I always have an easy time keeping track of my character, the abilities are fun, the enemy variety is great for an Early Access game, and I’ve enjoyed every second of it.
While you may have missed out on the BOGO deal this game had running for the first few days of its release, it’s still wholly worth the $20, and the planned upcoming content is something I eagerly await. Especially the rumored addition of HAN-D, my favorite character from the first game.
This game can make or break friendships. Another board game, and like 100% Orange Juice you could liken it to Mario Party in many ways. Except where the former is somewhat similar in terms of gameplay, Gremlins is closer in terms of the feelings of raw hatred it can engender toward your greatest friends.
Gremlins is a board game where you take control of one of 12 characters, each with unique abilities and playstyles. You move around the board, gathering resources and cards to play to gain points, and the first person to reach a predetermined number of points and keep them until the end of a round (or, if your a masochist, whoever has the most points when the last Chaos card is played) wins.
That “keep them until the end of the round” clause is key. All of the characters have a predetermined play order. The Engineer always goes first, and the Thief always goes last, making the Thief the round ender in every game if he’s chosen. Until the round ends, even if someone has enough points to win, the game continues.
And you can bet everybody else in the game will be gunning to surpass your point total or, more likely, steal or otherwise remove your points, so the game continues.
This and other mechanics (such as the Misfortune cards) create a toxic air in the game…in a good way, mostly. You really start to feel gremlin-y as you scheme and hoard certain cards, scheming for the long game or plan and plot how to tear down everyone else until eventually, you have the advantage. The person in first place early rarely wins in Gremlins. Everybody else will dogpile them until they’re in the last place, thus teaching them better than to so unsubtly grasp at victory.
Gremlins is brilliant and terrible. Play it only with people you love or hate. The former will forgive you, and the latter can’t think any worse of you.
And that’s the list for now! Six excellent games for under $20, for a variety of gamers’ tastes. There are, of course, plenty of other games out there and new ones being released all the time. I’ll keep my eye out for them, and so should you!