For my birthday, my lovely wife reserved a Steam Deck for me. Months later it’s finally here and I have some thoughts.
My first thought, this thing is huge. As you can see in the picture below it is larger than a launch Nintendo Switch. However, when you hold it, it doesn’t feel as large. It's also not as heavy as I was expecting. Therefore long play seasons are not a workout for your arms. It's actually very comfortable to hold and play for a longer session, as long as you have your battery charger but more on that later.
At first glance, the analog sticks look out of place, and also on first use feels weird. They are up high on the device. There are trackpads on both sides and the first time I used the Steam Deck my thumbs went to the trackpads instead of the sticks. Once I got used to where the sticks are it feels natural and just feels right, I can’t see it any other way.
The price point for the Steam Deck is very reasonable compared to similar devices out there. The cheapest one starts at 399 USD. As you go up in price the only changes are really the storage speed and size, and with the most expensive one you have a better screen for anti-glare. The graphical power is unchanged as you go up in price. The Steam Deck supports the use of SD cards and you can also open it up and change the solid state drive, so unless you need an anti-glare screen I can’t see buying anything other than the cheapest model.
The Steam Deck is not just a handheld gaming console. It's a handheld computer. That’s where some of the issues come into play. It's a computer running Steam OS. Steam OS is Linux based not Windows. Most games on steam are developed for Windows, not Linux. So how do your games work? Magic, and that magic is called Proton. Proton was developed by valve to make windows games work on Linux with no work needed from you the user. Just hit play and Proton takes care of the rest.
Unfortunately not all games work. Some games require you to try out different Proton settings to make it playable, others just do not work at all. Another major problem for games are the anti-cheat programs. These are also Windows based and some of them are not compatible with Proton making the game unsupported and unplayable. This goes for some big games, Call of Duty Modern Warfare 2 and Fifa 23 to just name a couple.
I'm actually finding that the Steam Deck is making me want to learn more about Linux and computers than I could have ever imagined. I thought I would just want to play games that are “verified” but I find myself tinkering trying to get games to work. Finding settings that work for games is a challenge but I’m finding that almost as fun as the games themselves.
The battery on the Steam Deck is almost nonexistent for bigger demanding games and surprisingly for some older games too. Two games I will use as an example are Spec Ops the Line and Ryse Son Of Rome. These are both older games coming out around 10 years ago. When playing Spec Ops, from 100% my battery says it will have about 4 hours of playtime. While that’s still pretty short that’s a playtime that I find acceptable. Ryse Son of Rome says it would only last 90 minutes. That 90 minute time frame seems to be closer to the norm for a lot of games and that is really a shame. Luckily I’m never without my charger.
It’s been a while since I played games on PC. My Steam library is filled with games I have never played. Now I am going to try to finally play them all. I can’t wait.
The Steam Deck is a fantastic device. You can do so much and it is a fully functional computer. Many games are verified, many more are playable, and so much more will get support. Anti-cheat not being supported for so many big games is frustrating but hopefully that is something Valve will figure out. The battery life is the most unforgiving aspect of the device but I just always keep a Charger with me. Get ready for some super irrelevant reviews as I clean out my Steam library.
Final Score: 8/10