If you’ve been anywhere near the internet in the past 18 months and have even the remotest interest in gaming, you’ll have heard about the Steam Deck. This isn’t Valve’s first foray into gaming hardware, of course, but it is by far the most successful in its field. The ability to run your Steam library of Windows games on a portable device has long held appeal for geeks like me, but dedicated devices have been few and far between, and expensive. Along comes Valve, with a $400 starting price, and… what do I think?
The Steam Deck Isn’t Perfect
It doesn’t run everything. Not even nearly. There are plenty of games in my library that are flat-out incompatible with the Deck. Won’t even load. Some of these I really wanted to play. But alas, I had to give up hope on a fair few of them. Particularly competitive shooters. Almost anything that has anti-cheat stuff won’t run on the Deck because it runs on Linux, not Windows.
Even those that do run… well, not all of them run great. Some have lackluster performance, and others aren’t able to fully utilize the Deck’s control scheme, so “it runs”, but you can’t play it. Company of Heroes was the big one for me here. I really wanted to play it, but only the Classic version runs (which is fine), but you get so many usability errors (controls, text size, etc) that it’s not even worth bothering with. Old shooters? Forget about it. Medal of Honor? Not here, sire.
The 64GB Version Is Not Enough (For Most People)
But it is enough for me. I added a 128GB MicroSD card and I’ve installed Fallout 4, F1 2018 and a few other smaller games like Bastion, 140, Blair Witch and even Tannenberg! At first, when I saw that most games were 30GB+, I thought I’d made a huge mistake buying the 64GB version. But I think I did the right thing: a lot of them aren’t compatible anyway, or have to make big compromises.
I also wanted to know whether I’d like the Steam Deck experience. If I had splurged on the 512GB model, or the shiny new OLED version, only to figure out I didn’t like it or couldn’t run the games I wanted to play, I’d certainly lose a chunk of change re-selling it. And I didn’t want to deal with the hassle. I can always upgrade the internal storage anyway, and I probably will. But now, I’ll do it knowing I like the Deck.
Why Do I Like the Steam Deck, Then?
Well, Fallout 4 alone makes the darn thing worth it for me, and it’s not even my favorite Fallout game (no, it’s not New Vegas, either). But being able to explore the Commonwealth even when the electricity is out is a game changer. Also, I have a huge backlog of PC games (not all of which I can play, to be fair) and buying the same game on PC is much cheaper than buying it on a console due to publishing costs.
And really, I live in a country (Paraguay) where the electricity goes out a lot. In fact, I’m writing this on my notebook in the dark, in 40+ degree heat, because once again there’s no electricity. But you know what I did do? Play some Fallout 4 before resigning myself to working offline again. On the couch, with my dogs. No TV needed.
Also, people say the Steam Deck is BIG. And IT IS! It is HUGE. I come from the PSP era, so the Vita was already kinda big. The Switch was nearly unwieldy. So, the Steam Deck is… perfect? Yep. Here’s the thing: I’m no longer 17. I’m nearly 40. My eyesight is bad. So the bigger screen helps TONS.
And even though I have smaller hands, I always get cramps using the Switch or the Vita (or any other handheld). I love that Valve decided to embrace the THICC attitude and just made the darn thing actually COMFORTABLE. Is it truly as portable as Vita? Nope. But I have social anxiety and I’m not going anywhere much. But if I play on the Steam Deck, at least I know I won’t have sore hands in 30 minutes.
More Than Steam
Another thing I really like is that because the Steam Deck is an x86/x64 Linux computer, you can run A LOT MORE than just Steam. I’ve installed the Heroic Launcher and have access to the games I’ve built up on my Epic Games Store account, as well as my GOG account. Like I said, not all of them will run, but it all adds up.
Add to that that you can actually install apps, too. I could work off of the Steam Deck if I really wanted to. But I don’t want to, or need to. At least not right now. But knowing that I could is nice. Also, it allows you to run community-development software such as Cryoutilities, an absolute must-have for any Deck owner. Cryobytes33’s app optimizes the Steam Deck swap file and other little things to make games run much better.
The Community and Software Support
Which brings me to a lesson I learned the hard way when working with single-board computers. During the Raspberry Pi shortages, I bought a Pine64 Rock64 SBC which, on paper, had much better performance than the Pi. The reality, however, was that software was underdeveloped and the community was tiny. Whenever I had issues, I had no help. And it was often: I could not get an operating system with a desktop environment running for long without the SD card getting corrupted.
I sold the Rock64 and bought a Raspberry Pi Zero W. A lot slower on paper, sure. But the software experience has been incredible. Everything I set up on it worked first time, and it has been running on a solar power and battery for nearly a year as part of a project. It hasn’t missed a beat.
And I’m experiencing the same with the Steam Deck. The community is huge: there are people covering games, how to optimize them to run them well on the hardware, there are utilities, hacks, the lot. And first-party software development is incredible, with Steam releasing SteamOS and Proton (the compatibility layer that allows Windows games to run on Linux) updates regularly.
Am I Happy With the Steam Deck?
YES! Absolutely. It’s the most excited I’ve been about gaming in a long, long time. Is it perfect? Heck no. You can’t even download games with the screen off. Yes, I’m serious. Not all games run, and because they are PC games, they’re not very optimized and take up way, way too much space.
But being able to play PC games on the go is the kind of thing that won’t wear off quickly. I will probably eventually add more storage, but for now, I think I have enough to play for at least 6 months without issues.
Will it replace my Nintendo Switch? Well, it kinda has to, because the update to Switch OS 15 bricked and killed my launch-day Switch, and Nintendo refused to pay for the repair. I will replace the motherboard on it soon, and I’m looking forward to playing exclusives again (thinking I have to start Xenoblades Chronicles 3 from scratch makes me want to cry), but I am well kitted out for now.
The Deck is not for everyone. If you want to play competitive shooters and other such games, you’re better off with another device (may I suggest a Windows PC?). If you want your PC to be compatible with EVERY GAME you own, then… buy a PC, and make sure it’s powerful. Games are getting ridiculously hard to run.
But if you want to have some of your PC games available on the go, and are willing to accept the compromises, the Deck offers incredible ergonomics and respectable performance in a form factor that, particularly at the price, is hard to beat. Add to that the software support and community around the device, and, well… let’s just say I’m a happy customer.