After waiting for an entire calendar year (and enduring several failed delivery attempts), the Steam Deck is finally in my hands! This promising device has the potential to change PC gaming as we know it, so does it live up to expectations? Here are my thoughts after a week with Valve’s new console.
Upon booting up the Deck and logging in, you can begin installing your favorite games. The UI is crisp and intuitive. It was especially wonderful to see my Steam library in this format for the first time, with tabs demarcating which games run well on the Deck (more on that later.) Navigating to the store is a breeze, and there are numerous customization options including control mapping, brightness, battery display, night mode, and so much more. None of these options feel overwhelming or inaccessible.
Big and Mighty
I’m still in my honeymoon phase with the Steam Deck, but I’m also attuned to its flaws. This is a Goliath of a handheld. Unlike the 3DS or Switch Lite, both of which I can lift parallel to my body or even above my head while playing, the Steam Deck requires sustained effort to hold. Its elongated design and chunky middle contain sophisticated machinery, but this is at the expense of comfort. More often than not, the device sits in my lap as I play. I’m beginning to think of it as the console equivalent of a lapdog.
For comparison, the Deck is as long as my original Switch with the Hori Split Pad Pro attached on either side. It’s fuller, thicker, and noticeably heavier. The screen alone is about the size of my Switch Lite. In short, “handheld,” while not necessarily deceptive, is a bit generous. I already know its massive size will not age well, but its material construct likely will. Straight out of the box, I noticed responsive controls facilitated by smooth joysticks and clicky buttons. It also boasts a touch screen and trackpads on either side.
PC in Bed, on the Go
Like the Switch, the Steam Deck is versatile. With a usb-c to HDMI adapter, you can hook it up to a television. Valve has not yet released an official dock, but there are plenty of cheap docking stations online that can simultaneously charge your Steam Deck while also wiring it to the TV. I purchased one myself, and while it’s not as streamlined as the Switch (lacking a wakeup function and requiring a few more cords to operate), it’s still preferable to the computer. What’s more, after connecting my DualShock PS4 controller via Bluetooth, I was able to position myself anywhere in the room without having to worry about extra wires. As someone who usually works at a computer all day, this setup gives PC gaming an extra dimension of comfort, customizability, and convenience.
Not All Games Are Equal
When you first boot up your Steam Deck and log in, you will be greeted with a stunted version of your game library. Tabs near the top of the screen demarcate which of your games have been “Deck Verified.” This phrase will come up often as you explore the Steam Deck, and if you’re like me, you will start to see verification as the Deck’s preeminent drawback.
Unverified games are either untested or poorly optimized to run on the Deck. While you can still boot up these games, they often come with a host of inconveniences such as unresponsive controls, poor performance, jumbled UI, and faster battery drain. Even verified games sometimes have bizarre formatting and stutters, with the UI overlapping or responding in unexpected ways. Thankfully, my experience with verified games has been mostly smooth, even impressive. The screen is big and bright; the graphics are detailed, and the controls are responsive. When the stars align and the Deck works as intended, it feels like a premium gaming experience.
Conclusion: Worth a Go?
The Deck doesn’t fully deliver on its potential (to make your whole Steam library available on the go.) If you’re like me, only a fraction of your library will run crisply on the Deck which can be disappointing. As a console, it doesn’t feel entirely realized or revolutionary, but it is immensely customizable. You can even run it in desktop mode, installing additional software and launchers that grant you access to non-Steam gaming libraries. As long as you go into the Deck knowing its limitations, then it’s an engaging and worthwhile device. I’ve had an excellent time with it, and I can’t wait to see how it evolves with future iterations.