The Steam Deck is fantastic and changed how I play video games.
Since receiving it in May, I have barely touched any other platform — be it PC, Switch, or anything else — and have mostly gamed on the Deck.
I sometimes turn on the PC to use it as a streaming device to the Steam Deck (I wrote about this on my blog here), but all my gaming sessions happen on the Deck. And there have been a lot of them. (Except for Death Stranding. For this, I hooked up my PC to my LG TV to play the game in glorious 4k!)
It’s been a while since I’ve been this excited about a gaming platform. So, it’s about time we have a look at my experience so far. Here’s the good and the bad.
Let’s get straight to the point. I believe the Steam Deck and similar platforms are the future of video games for a vast amount of people, especially if they are part of the PC Master Race.
A pocketable (more or less) handheld Gaming PC that plays most games out of the box with little to no setup and the possibility to play the remaining games via streaming from the cloud is — I predict — how most people will experience gaming in the near future.
If you’re not looking for a specific experience (FPS, RTS, or highest fidelity gaming), there is no reason to build a dedicated Gaming PC (except if you’re into building PCs for fun).
Get a Steam Deck (an Aya Neo or an Ayn Loki), and you can have your Steam Library on the go. And when it works, it works. Because:
When it works, it feels like magic
It’s crazy how good Proton is, the compatibility layer created by Valve and friends to make Windows games run on Linux. It often feels like magic. You install a Windows game without knowing it’s not a native build, start it up, and boom, it just works.
Valve can even go as far as bake hacks into Proton to make games run better on Linux than natively on Windows. And thanks to Proton-GE, a community build, even more games work out of the box than Valve advertises.
Also, a little recommendation: don’t only look at the Steam Verified score. Sometimes you only need to change a little setting for a game to run flawlessly. I suggest you bookmark Protondb, where you’ll find said settings.
The King of Emulation
I’m a sucker for old games — especially the Legend of Zelda franchise. I regularly go back to the games defining my childhood, and there is no better platform than the Steam Deck.
Thanks to EmuDeck, RetroDeck or similar, and the power of the custom chip AMD developed for Valve, you can play nearly all old consoles up to the PlayStation 3.
And let me tell you, they run even better than on the original hardware. For example, I’m currently replaying a heavily modded version of the Breath of the Wild Wii U build in glorious 40-45 frames per second without any stuttering.
Not even the Switch can do that!
There’s a Github for that
Maybe this is a Linux thing or strictly related to the Steam Deck, but the community is impressive. There are so many tools, hacks and tutorials for the Steam Deck, which allow you to do anything you can think of.
It surely helps the Steam Deck is a full-fledged PC running a version of Arch Linux, but there are so many tools out there, it’s crazy.
And I’ve written about a lot of them on this very blog.
However, not everything is perfect. Neither is the Steam Deck.
The Steam Deck is a first-generation device created by a company notoriously known for abandoning its hardware projects. While I don’t believe this will ever happen to the Steam Deck, Valve is still running into problems more experienced companies don’t seem to have.
Some of them I’ve never experienced. My Deck arrived in pristine condition without any hardware failure whatsoever, but there’s no way to deny the fact the community had to deal with this. Going by the Steam Deck subreddit, there have been a lot of attempted returns (RMAs).
Another community “favourite” — which Valve could have avoided with a bit of foresight: delivery drivers are stealing the damn thing. While this is not a hardware issue per se, it surely doesn’t help that the packaging lists the content. Apple, with its neutral boxes, does this better.
But some other issues I have experienced myself.
When it doesn’t work, it’s ugly
Not every game works on the Steam Deck. And despite Valve and the community working hard to get this issue resolved, it’s simply a fact that you can’t play every game you own on the Deck. Be it because this thing runs Linux (which would have been fixable by installing Windows, but that brings its array of issues) and uses some anti-cheat software that doesn’t work on Linux. Or because some games are not meant to be played on a small screen with a controller layout.
One example of a game I disliked playing — and even ended up refunding — is Klei’s Oxygen Not Included. I am a massive fan of Klei’s video games and got this one without doing my fair share of research. Unfortunately, this game is meant to be played with a mouse, and the experience on the Deck was subpar.
Despite the two integrated trackpads, a mouse-heavy game doesn’t sit right with me on the Deck. (But maybe that’s just me.)
Where can I get a portable nuclear plant?
Another issue which can’t be fixed without a significant hardware revision is battery life.
Depending on what game you play on what settings, you barely get 90 minutes of battery life. You can try to circumvent this by downgrading your graphics, but it doesn’t hide the fact that battery life is not that great.
I mostly play my Deck plugged in while sitting on the couch. Fortunately, the Steam Deck has power passthrough, so instead of charging the battery, it powers the Deck, which is much better for your battery health.
It’s not easy if you go deep
Unlike the Nintendo Switch, the Steam Deck is open for you to do anything you want. This is both its charm and its limitations.
Because if you don’t know what to do, you risk having to nuke the whole thing. I’ve written several guides on how to install plugins, hacks, and so on. And most of them have to deal with the terminal. And no matter what anyone says, the average user shouldn’t have to deal with this to make a game run better.
So if you don’t know what to do and a game doesn’t run, you might have to accept it if you’re not experienced enough to, worst case, reinstall the OS.
I hate the keyboard
Ok, maybe this is just me. But I hate the keyboard. It’s laggy, sometimes doesn’t register what I type, and I have yet to get used to using the trackpads. And I don’t want to use the touchscreen because I don’t like the screen to get filthy, but sometimes I have no other choice.
Also, using it in desktop mode is often a pain in the ass. Either it doesn’t open on the first try (I have to bash
Steam + X multiple times), or it doesn’t want to close anymore. There needs to be more work.
I love the damn thing
But despite all its problems, despite the fact it’s a Gen 1 product, I absolutely love the damn thing.
I don’t think I’ve felt as much “love” for a gaming device since the PS Vita. After all, I’ve created a blog to share my love for the Deck.
I am intrigued to see how it will evolve. I believe, like I said above, this to be the future of gaming. There’s so much untapped potential here, and continued support from Valve, the community and other game developers means this thing will become even more fun with time — unlike the PS Vita that Sony has abandoned from the get-go.
I can’t wait for Valve to announce a Gen 2. And I can’t wait for other companies to try their hands on the market. Microsoft, how about an Xbox Series P(ortable)?