It’s been about a year since the Steam Deck was released, and I’ve had some time to play around with it. I got it because I wanted a piece of hardware that wasn’t a Steam Link or Raspberry Pi where I would have to stream my games since I felt like the streaming wasn’t as great as having the media physically on my devices.
When the Steam Deck was announced I knew it would be something I wanted to pick up, and after spending time with it I wanted to give a fair review of it. I hope this will help you make a choice.
Steam Deck immediately offers a way to download and play your steam games on the go. The difference between a Steam Link and a Steam Deck is that the Steam Link will stream the game over wifi whereas the Steam Deck does not involve streaming, you’ll essentially carry the experience of playing the Nintendo Switch, but with the benefit of playing PC games.
The Steam Deck is a powerful gaming machine with the ability to drill down on settings to get the most out of that performance. This includes changing the framerate, brightness, clock speeds, and much more. If certain games aren’t performing well, you have the power to fine-tune them to your taste.
The Operating system performs well and is packed with all of the same features as the Steam client on your PC. So by getting the Steam Deck you won’t lose out on the ability to chat with friends, review and edit your profile, and buy games. Therefore, I am freed from being tied to my PC all of the time.
Even better is the constant support the handheld gets. As of today, there have been several improvements to get more out of the console and make it more stable. Several of these, I noticed made a big difference in the games I play.
The Steam Deck is powerful, but also very comfortable. I enjoy playing on it, and I’ve had long sessions where my hands didn’t feel too strained from holding it upright in front of me. The button placement is a bit weird because they seem to fall over to the sides of the device, but I quickly noticed that it’s enough space not to feel weird or uncomfortable. In a sense, it’s just right. There are some oddities such as using ‘tactile’ bumpers and the triggers aren’t. It’s not bad but it can take a little to get used to. If you’re coming from the Switch you’ll know that the bumper and triggers are tactile.
Depending on the game type and settings you choose in your games. You could either have a very long-lasting battery or a short one. In my experience, I was able to get maybe around 3 – 5 hours of gameplay if I tweaked my settings to use fewer graphics and about 48 FPS. Which I felt offers nearly the same fluidity as 60 FPS, just with less consumption.
The Steam Deck does get warm, with normal use you’ll feel the system heat up and sometimes a little bit too hot. Luckily, because of the placement of the buttons on the device, you’re not going to touch the hot part of the device. There are ways to combat this of course, but It would have been nice to find a way to improve the devices cooling further.
There are several hotkeys on the device to bring up menus that handle game options and communications. You can use these keys to talk to your friends or create parties, etc. The Steam button brings up several options, the store, your game options (such as exiting), messages, and more. The “Dots” button brings up your device settings, this is where you can edit framerate, optimize battery life and build a game profile so that those settings carry over to your select games.
The Steam Deck is made of plastic but it has a very premium feel, almost to the feel of it being metal. It has a premium look and as of today moving it around to several destinations, I can confidently say all pieces are intact. The buttons don’t rattle much and aren’t too squishy. The glass screen gives off vibrant colors and the panel is 1280 x 800 giving a sharper look to the games.
The Steam Deck operating system runs on a version of Linux custom-built for the handheld. The software is smooth and intuitive, it’s very similar to the Steam you know on your computers. The software has a nice balance of simplifying the user interface and experience. I like that I can filter for games that are playable on the Steam Deck and I like that games can be separated based on my custom parameters. For example, I can filter for Steam Deck playable titles that are JRPGS. Since I’m a big fan of the genre
On the Steam store, Steam will try to automatically filter for games that are playable on Steam Deck. This way you don’t have to spend the time to find them yourself. I’m unsure if this is present on the PC version, but there is even a featured slider that you can select on the store that shows Steam Deck Verified games as well.
Messaging and talking to friends is fairly easy as well. Anytime during gameplay, I can see who’s online, and invitations from friends to chat in a game party. Unlike the Switch, you won’t need to download a separate app to get started with a party-like experience. It’s an all-in-one package. The option of having a touch screen helps amplify the experience because it can shorten the time to type messages, search for titles, and more.
The Not So Good
Going back to the software, one of the main gripes I’ve had with the Steam Deck since getting it, is that not every game is supported on the device. The weirdest thing for me is that there are video game series where only some are supported on Steam Deck, but the rest aren’t and for the most part, the gameplay is unchanged in those series. A prime example, is Danganronpa 2, only part two of the trilogy is supported. Both 1 and 3 are not oddly enough. I think it’s important to note that Steam verifies these titles themselves so it’s weird that the QA team isn’t able to find these games compatible.
Another issue with the Software is that there are many bugs that are still being resolved as of today. I understand it’s difficult to include a one size fits all solution to multitudes of problems. However, there are times when I feel like if the Steam developers just did some unit testing or End-to-End tests they could avoid the potential bugs. I’ll use Danganronpa 2 again because it was the game I had the most trouble getting to work.
There is this thing called Proton, that Steam automatically downloads to help on-load the games to the handheld. Steam constantly updates this software to improve the compatibility of games. However, because of the constant changes being made, there was unfortunately a regression in the stable Proton version. This meant I had to play with the properties and run an experimental version of Proton since that’s where the fix was committed to.
I really am happy that Steam is constantly improving this device, but game-breaking changes (literally) make it difficult for the end user to enjoy the device. It feels as though the system just wasn’t ready yet at the time of release and we’re all beta testers for then Steam to release their next best version in the following year.
Battery, You’re Draining Me
I know I mentioned earlier that the battery can be either good or bad depending on use. However, I don’t think that’s a good thing overall. Let’s say a user isn’t tweaking the settings of their device or maybe they don’t know how to. Sure, they can look up a tutorial but is that really how the experience should always be?
The Steam Deck is a very powerful system and I won’t take that away from it. However, it drains relatively quickly because of that fact, I’m sure Steam has many optimizations in place to improve the battery life. You just won’t feel it because you’ll have to run to your charger most of the time if you want to keep going on those performance levels.
A thing I would have liked to see is Steam implementing a window before a game loads, that may let a user select how much battery they’d like to use (low, medium, or high) and save that setting for the user in the future. That way every time they launch that specific title the settings of the game would be reduced to that option and allow the user to enjoy more time gaming.
The Steam Deck is a modern, powerful machine capable of playing today’s games and the future’s. There are definitely some improvements that can be made, but it shouldn’t stop you from truly enjoying the experience this device provides. I’ve played hundreds of hours on the system and can say this is one of the most comfortable, and impressive consoles I’ve played today and I can’t wait to see what Valve does with it.