Valve recently sent Steam Decks to us as part of our coverage of the system in Asia. So of course I decided to play around with the Steam Deck for a week, replacing my gaming PC whenever I could to game with this thing.
I wanted to answer one simple question “Is it worth getting a Steam Deck?“
I myself own a PS4, Switch, and a gaming PC. While I haven’t used the consoles much in recent years, I do have the option of using them. So when the Steam Deck got announced, I thought it was a neat device, but didn’t think the system would be for me since I typically played games at home and usually play mobile games when I go out anyway.
So what follows is an honest look at the Steam Deck. I’ll go over well this thing can run games, and some of the stand-out features of the device to help you decide if it’s worth getting a machine that can cost up to USD$649.
If you want Steam Deck, you can head onto the official website here.
▍A Sleek, Comfy, and Well-Built Machine
When you buy a Steam deck you’ll find the Steam Deck, a cloth for covering the screen, a carrying case, and the power adapter with a 1.5m Cable, designed to not take up extra space on a power strip.
This thing is definitely bigger than a Nintendo Switch, and the screen’s about as big as a PS4 Controller. If you want to carry this around I recommend putting it inside a backpack or bringing the carrying case by hand. Thankfully the Deck isn’t heavy and compared to a laptop, is far more portable and easier to pull out for gaming.
The Steam Deck feels solid. I especially like the hand grips on the back, and how it lifts the Deck off a table, letting you use the touchscreen for games that mainly use a mouse. The analogs are a little small though and the tops aren’t rubberized, making it easy for my hands to slip off at first.
Even though the Steam Deck’s GPU and CPU can reach upwards of 100 degrees Celsius, the heatsinks are placed away from your hands so can’t feel any heat while playing. Not to mention the charging port is on the top of the system rather than on the bottom, making it easy to play with while resting the device on your lap, or on a table.
Overall while the Steam Deck is certainly the bulkiest out of any portable consoles that came before it, it’s definitely still way more portable than a laptop, and I was able to bring this around without any trouble, while also being much faster to set up and play with than any gaming laptop I’ve ever had.
▍How well does it run games?
I ran about 15 different games on the Steam Deck, but rather than talk about all of them since most of them ran pretty well, we’ll go over a few that stood out to me performance-wise. Naturally, games that weren’t fully supported by the Steam Deck may not perform perfectly, and this is subject to change since as of writing, the Deck now has over 4,000 verified games, with your favorite games probably on the horizon.
For the most part, the Steam Deck was able to handle most of the games I ran on it pretty well. Even games like the recent Elden Ring and the not verified Monster Hunter Rise ran and felt very natural to play on the Steam Deck seeing as these games were originally designed for a controller. 3rd person action games were definitely this thing’s bread and butter, even better if it didn’t need precision with the analog sticks.
And fast-paced precision is definitely where it can struggle. While games like Apex Legends ran fine on the device, the fast twitch action and reflexes needed to play them don’t translate well on the Steam Deck’s small analog sticks, so if you’re a huge FPS fan, you may want to consider playing these games with a separate controller connected through Bluetooth.
Despite how well it ran most games since the Steam Deck runs off of Linux, it can’t run every game properly. Games like Ready or Not, and non-verified, early access titles not built for a controller wouldn’t run properly on the Steam Deck, with poor frame rate, constant stuttering, and general poor game feel. These occurrences were incredibly rare even among the other games I tried that weren’t verified, but if you were planning to play your favorite early access title on the Deck, prepare for a rocky experience.
Overall the Steam Deck is able to handle pretty much any, and everything you can throw at it. Just do be aware that some games could possibly perform poorly on it due to it just not being designed for the Deck, or still being a work in progress.
▍So it Can Run Games, What Else Does It Have?
So the Steam Deck can run games like a PC, but what else does it really have over its competitors, and what makes it something that’s worth purchasing even if you’re used to long game sessions sitting on a chair at home? Well, here are a few things you should probably consider too before getting yourself one of these.
■ Your Entire Steam Library, on the go.
For better or for worse, because this thing runs games off of your Steam Library, if you’re a PC gamer you can pretty much play most of your favorite games on this thing, or games in your backlog while on the go, and with Steam’s Cloud-save function, transitioning from your PC to the handheld is incredibly seamless, as long a sync up your cloud saves.
That’s only a privilege for Steam users though. If you don’t have a Steam account or you play on consoles, you’ll have to buy all of your games again. Xbox players can go into the Steam Deck’s Desktop mode to set up the Xbox Game Pass and access their games through Steam that way though, so it may be a smaller pill to swallow for Xbox players.
But because it runs off of Steam, you can enjoy this next thing.
■ No online subscription fees
You’ll never have to worry about paying an online subscription fee just to play on this thing. Ever since the PS4 and Switch adopted having players pay for the right to play online, the Steam Deck felt like a breath of fresh air. It’s still at its core a PC, but you’re undoubtedly still playing on a piece of hardware resembling a console, without needing to pay for it online.
Because of that, even though the Steam Deck can be priced at USD$649, I feel like you’ll still be spending less on it overall than you would on some other consoles, just because you don’t have to pay to play online with the thing. Couple that with Steam’s extensive library of games and seasonal sales, and you could be saving a lot of money with this thing.
And with Steam being a single platform, you won’t ever have to worry about your game never being available in English, unlike how many consoles region locks its games and splits off its languages across several products.
■ Much better than a lot of gaming laptops, and could even replace one.
I touched on this briefly in the hardware specs, but it’s hard to overstate how much better this thing is as a gaming peripheral over many laptops in the same price range, and above. At a base price of USD$399, you’re getting a powerful machine for its size with longer battery life than most laptops, with it being significantly more portable.
If you even have a setup and space for it, you could use the Steam Deck to replace a working laptop since it runs in Linux, and you can easily switch to the Desktop version and back to gaming within seconds.
▍The Verdict: Once You Have it, You Can’t Go Back
Once you get a Steam Deck, it’s really hard to go back. The system just feels and operates so smoothly and it’s integrated with Steam’s architecture so well that, that it has opened so many more avenues of gaming to me that I didn’t know I needed.
While it may be a bit of a hard sell if you’re committed to gaming on a console, the system is an absolute steal at USD$399 and a great investment at USD$649. If you’ve never been too into gaming on a console or PC, the Steam Deck simply offers so much value for you as a gamer, and may even offer more value to you than other consoles on the market.
If you’re able to get in on the waiting list, I highly recommend purchasing one of these for yourself. And if you’re still waiting for it to ship to your country, hopefully, you won’t have to wait much longer, as now certain countries in Asia can pre-order the device, and hopefully, to your region sooner than later.
As for me, I’ve already pre-ordered mine.