Steam Deck

I’ve had my Steam Deck for just about two months, and after spending quite a bit of time interacting with this handheld powerhouse, I finally feel like I have a pretty firm grasp on what it offers and the impact it has on my gaming habits.

In an effort to not bury the lede, let me state upfront that the Steam Deck is by far the best console I’ve had the pleasure of playing for quite some time (I know, I know; It’s a PC, not a console). Not only that, but the Steam Deck has quickly cemented itself as my go-to platform and has almost completely reshaped the way I consume and purchase video games. 

I worked hard to secure my PS5. I followed the essential PS5 drop update accounts on Twitter, I lined up with millions of others with little to no hope of landing one at first, but I slowly developed what turned out to be a pretty reliable method (I was able to secure a second PS5 for my brother for Christmas last year after successfully getting one myself using my patented system).

From the moment I got it (it happened to arrive literally on my birthday last year), I was living that PS5 life, baby. Sure, it wasn’t jam-packed with a bevy of PS5-centric titles to peel back my wig and blow my freakin’ mind, but that was mostly due to the reliance of developers on milking those still-in-the-majority last-gen rigs, much to the current gen’s possible detriment.

And yet, even though my PS5 consumed my gaming habits and pushed my dust-covered Switch and almost-as-dusty Xbox Series S deeper into the bowels of my entertainment setup for a while, there is a new sheriff in town these days. Once I finally had a Steam Deck in my hand, chock full of games and ready to rock, I had a new flavor of stew going, and it was seasoned with Valve.

Carl Weathers - Steam Deck

At first, I was merely downloading and testing every game in my library to see which ones worked on the Deck before deleting them to make room to repeat this cycle. Some games would earn a more permanent spot and remain on the internal 256GB memory, but most did not.

Once I got through my library, I started scouring the underbelly of the internet for cheap game codes that would grant me access to games from my distant past. Mind you, I already owned a majority of these games on one of my three other current consoles. But the prospect of playing them on the Steam Deck was tantalizing enough to drop a few duckets to experience them again through this new lens. 

And considering the PC ecosystem is far cost-friendlier than, say, shopping on PSN or the Xbox storefront (to say nothing for the wallet-abusing Nintendo eShop), it made this a far less bitter pill to swallow. Mad Max for $4? Yes, please. Death Stranding Director’s Cut for $20? Don’t mind if I do. Elden Ring for $49? Well, maybe I’ll wait a little bit longer for a possible sale…

But these aren’t just the console versions of these games merely in handheld form. No, these are the PC versions, which means they also come with the inherent benefits of PC gaming, like FOV sliders and a wellspring of graphics and control settings, as well as the Deck’s own settings.

No Man's Sky - Steam Deck

So after exploring a library of well over a hundred titles — most of which run like an absolute dream, others not so much — I feel that the Steam Deck has lived up to my hype and delivered on the promise of a handheld PC and all that comes along with it. I never thought I would be the type of gaming enthusiast who monitors FPS counts, making tweaks to graphics settings to help cement better performance. I had been so accustomed to just turning on a console and being at the mercy of whatever it produced. I didn’t even understand shaders or shadow renders or draw distance and their impact on performance, let alone what I was comfortable sacrificing in order to get a smoother experience.

The most surprising development is my apparent love for handheld gaming, something the Switch just didn’t instill in me. But the Switch never offered the types of games I like to play, and in addition to the almost toy-like feel of the Joy-Cons, I simply didn’t enjoy using it for extended periods of time. Even in docked mode, the lack of Julian-centric games made the Switch a proof-of-concept rather than a fully realized gaming option for me. I don’t really care about Nintendo’s first-party games, so I never really saw the value in modern handheld gaming (I also don’t often use my phone for gaming, as an aside). 

But now I realize there is an almost intangible intimacy that comes with handheld gaming. Perhaps this stems from the proximity to the screen — just inches from your face — coupled with the almost black-hole effect of having your hands so close together, your attention directed toward the screen and your body almost craning around your core. I don’t know… It’s hard to describe because it’s mystical, and I’m not well-versed in the mystic arts.

Steam Deck on Hammock

But there’s also the novelty of being able to now seamlessly play your Steam library, with the Deck docked, on your big-screen TV without having to stream from your desktop via an app or running a ridiculously long HDMI cable from your tower (which always seems to be nestled in the opposite corner of the room, at least in my case). Firing up Project Zomboid on my TV, using the native Steam Deck controls, has finally given me an avenue to enjoy and fully fall in love with this incredible (if not unforgiving) zombie sim that I just couldn’t seem to enjoy while using a mouse and keyboard or even the excellent Azeron keyboard alternative.

The Quick Suspend/Resume feature is another gift from the gaming gods — just make sure your charging cable is nearby, because the battery life is criminally short (depending on the type of game, the graphics settings, and the Deck’s system’s settings). In fact, the Deck’s battery is the biggest detriment to its overall chances of reshaping the industry’s gaming habits. 

Then again, I personally never play it outside of the confines of the couch in my living room, aside from the occasional session on my literal deck in my backyard or while “in the office” (this might be a euphemism for the bathroom… You decide!) But in those one-off situations, as long as the battery is charged going in, it’s never a problem. If I were someone who enjoyed playing handhelds on longer commutes or while at a coffee shop or just (cringe) while sitting in a park, the battery life would definitely be a knock against the Deck. 

Steam Deck while on the toilet

I still look to the PS5 for games like Cities Skylines, which doesn’t perform all that well on the Deck (it maps the mouse-and-keyboard controls of the PC version onto the track pads of the Deck instead of borrowing the analog controls from the console version). And that is perhaps the one curious drawback of the Deck for me personally: I don’t like the way some PC-specific titles play on it. That’s a shame, since a game like Cities Skylines is all the better when you have access to the almost limitless mods for it. Of course, you can simply just use a mouse and keyboard with the Deck to circumvent these control issues if you want — something I have yet to experiment with, but it’s notable to further extol the virtues of this incredible little device. 

So where am I going with this? As is usually the case, it’s hard to say. What I’m getting at, if I can recall correctly, is that the Steam Deck is nothing short of a miracle, and it has impacted me personally in a way that I haven’t experience since perhaps when I upgraded from the PS2 to the Xbox 360. As excited as I was to get a PS4, then a PS4 Pro, and then a PS5, those were mostly just incremental upgrades in the visual and performance category; none of them really wowed me. The Steam Deck is different. It’s unique, and it’s perhaps carving out its own little niche, but it has transformed the way I play games in ways I hadn’t expected, and I have come to love it for doing so. 

So in conclusion (this is a thesis paper, right?), the Steam Deck really is a game-changer for me, awakening my previously undiscovered passion for handheld gaming.

Sleeping with Steam Deck

If you’re on the fence about whether or not the Steam Deck is for you, hopefully this not-really-a-review review will help answer some of your questions or better shape the argument for (or also against, I guess) getting one.

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