Quick Look – The Steam Deck

I’ve never been one for console gaming or handhelds. I dithered back and forth about getting a Nintendo Switch for so long, someone else made the decision for me and gifted me one. I liked it, but the idea of rebuying games I already had on PC frustrated me, and in the end, I used it far less than I had hoped I would. I toyed around briefly with streaming games from Steam to my iPhone, but I just didn’t find it to be a good way to play – I wanted a Nintendo Switch feel with the abundant library I already owned.

So when reservations opened up for the Steam Deck, it was an absolute no-brainer for me. Even if they’d made their original release estimate, I had plenty of time to save up. Less than an hour after reservations went live on July 16th, 2021, I’d secured my spot in line for the mid-level device. On April 28th, 2022, I received notification that my Steam Deck was available for purchase.

I paid for it that afternoon, and received my shipping notification on May 2. When the FedEx truck showed up on Thursday, May 5, I met the driver on the side of the road. I didn’t want that box sitting on my porch for even a second. It was a package I’d been eagerly anticipating for the better part of 10 months.

What Comes In The Box

A lot less than you might think. There’s a USB-C A/C adapter, which is the permanent plug kind, and not detachable. If I want to connect my Steam Deck to my computer (say, to transfer screenshots), I’ll need a separate cable. Or if I want to use it plugged in or charge it in one of the 86 spots in my house that I don’t have access to a wall plug, but instead to a USB hub. Or if I want to get a battery pack for it. It seemed like a bit of a weird choice, to be honest, and is probably my least favorite thing about it.

There’s also a really nice, solid case, and then the machine itself. Oh, and a piece of paper with the following instructions: (1) Plug in, (2) Turn On. No other documentation. I realized printed manuals are not really a thing anymore, but I miss them.

Of course, there were patches right out of the box, and it was a good few hours before it was fully charged and ready to use. Logging into my Steam account was a breeze, and initially, I left all the settings on default. I’ve since turned off adaptive brightness, and nudged down the default max frame rate slightly because I really, really cannot tell the difference. That seems to have made a huge difference in my biggest complaint; battery life seems to have improved significantly with those small changes

I’ve installed a good handful of games so far, a few of each that are Verified, Playable, and Untested (which is the majority of my library, but that number is slowly ticking down each time I check it). I’ve decided – at least for now – not to mess around with anything that Valve has decided is currently unsupported. Although there’s a few games that I think would be great on handheld that fall into that category, I don’t feel like choosing games that someone has already decided don’t work right is the optimal way to enjoy my time with the Steam Deck.

As for what I’ve actually played on it thus far, the answer is – not much.

Currently installed: Barricadez, Bugsnax, Crashlands, Crying Suns, Cultist Simulator, Darkwood, Dorfromantik, FTL, Graveyard Keeper, Heaven’s Vault, In Other Waters, Kentucky Route Zero, Koral, Loop Hero, Love: A Puzzle Box Filled With Stories, Town of Light, and Yonder: The Cloud Catcher Chronicles. I still have over 180G of space remaining without additional SD card storage.

The first game I tried out was Loop Hero, which is listed as Playable. I initially found it really difficult to read the font, but quickly remembered there are in-game options to change the font, and using anything except the default was a vast improvement. It was a crash-course in using the touch pad – I hadn’t considered just how much “click & drag” that game entails.

Although I don’t plan on going outside of the Steam interface to do any messing around, I did manage to use the Deck to stream a non-Steam game that I had added to my library while on my PC. I played a bit of The Wild At Heart, which I downloaded from the Humble launcher, and added to my Steam library via the install location. Though you cannot directly copy files over this way to have the game on the Steam Deck and play it on the go, streaming from my PC to the handheld was a near perfect experience, with only one noticeable moment of lag in about an hour or so of play. Since I mostly plan to use my Steam Deck in my home but away from my desk, I absolutely plan to use this workaround on some games I own on other platforms (like Itch.io and GoG) where I’ve had success in the past adding games from them to my library.

I fully intended to try a bunch of different titles out over the next week or so, but just about every time I’ve picked up my Steam Deck, I’ve found myself working on yet another playthrough of Bugsnax. I do not need to play through the game a third time, although I appreciate getting those sweet sweet achievements on Steam now too. I am finding that it’s a good way to learn the controls – it’s a game I’ve played very recently with mouse and keyboard, so translating that knowledge is actually teaching me a thing or two.

Now, not having a lot of experience with handhelds, and just slightly more with controllers, I’m maybe not the best person to talk about this, but everything seems to work just fine. The trackpads are going to take some getting used to, but they seem very responsive, the thumb sticks behave the way I expect, the buttons all work fine, as does the D-pad. There are four buttons on the back that can be programmed, but I’ve just mostly ignored them and let the machine decide what the buttons do in any given game. I’m finding that going in with very little expectation of what the buttons should do has served me well thus far, and I keep forgetting that it’s also a touchscreen, because I haven’t felt like I needed to use it.

The sound that comes out of the machine is perfectly adequate, but I also had no issues pairing it with my Bluetooth headphones. I haven’t attempted to connect any other peripherals to it, nor have I bought any sort of dock or USB-C hub for it. I did splurge on a package of screen protectors, and a couple of USB-C cords as well as a couple of USB-C to USB-A adapters. My first attempt at using one of those cords to charge it didn’t actually work, but I was trying to charge it through my bedside lamp. The cord works ok in the USB-C port of my power strip at my desk, but I get a “slow charge” warning. For now, the plug it came with seems to be the best option for passthrough play, and if I attempt any lengthy gaming sessions, I’ll certainly want to be plugged in.

I’m still not 100% sure exactly what types of games I will gravitate towards the most – I had intended for it to be a way to play some of the more casual titles in my library on those days that sitting at my desk was particularly hard for one reason or another. That may still be where it sees the majority of its use, but I can see myself doing some more “serious” gaming on it once I get a better handle on all the controls. It’s certainly not going to replace my PC, but it’s a very nice little side machine.

Will it be a machine that makes me fall in love with platformers? Probably not, but I expect I’ll at least need to try some out eventually.

I’m definitely glad I bought it (and glad that I got it delivered, on time, and with no issues), but a few major changes in my circumstances over the past few months have meant I’m not spending as much time with it as I had expected to. Firstly, I’m moved into my new space, which means I’m in a quieter and more comfortable space for my gaming time already. Secondly, I started a little blog project a few months ago, which means I’m playing a little bit of a lot of games, and given the amount of time I’m spending both playing and writing about these games, I want the simplest way to have screenshots available.

(I have learned how to take a screenshot on the Steam Deck, I’m just not sure what is the best way to move them to my PC for writing. Right now, it seems like A Process, and I’m just not feeling it.)

Overall, I don’t think I can say that it’s absolutely everything I wanted it to be – but it’s better than I really expected, and it’s hard to complain about that.

Steam Deck Compatibility Check – Ten Games I Might (Finally) Get Around To On The Go

I reserved my mid-grade Steam Deck shortly after reservations opened back on July 16 of 2021, and tried not to think about it too often since then. I knew it was going to be a long time before I had one in my hands. However, since we’re Steam is now sending purchase notifications to folks who have Q2 reservations, it’s on my mind more and more. I’m pretty consistent about checking my email, so it seems unlikely I’ll miss my purchase window, but every now and then I feel the need to pop back onto the Steam Deck page every now and then to make sure it’s still (at least potentially) my turn.

I’m not sure if it’s new or if it’s been there awhile, but I’ve just noticed that there’s a button you can click to take you to a page that shows the Steam Deck compatibility of the games already in your library. Now, my library is vast, and I have no delusions that every game I own will work well on a portable device. But I couldn’t resist taking a peek to get an idea of which games I can expect to play on the Steam Deck when mine finally arrives.

This is just a small portion of the games that I own that have already been verified as being fully Steam Deck compatible. For me, the major appeal of a handheld console that works off of my Steam library is that I might actually get around to some of the smaller story-focused titles I tend to not gravitate towards while sitting at my desk. Call of Juarez: Gunslinger, Fran Bow, Heaven’s Vault, Kentucky Route Zero, and Town of Light all fall into that category; I think I will enjoy them, and I feel like they’ll do just fine on a smaller screen. Alternately, I’d like to be able to relax with some more chill experiences that require somewhat of a lighter focus. For that group, I’m looking at Abzu, Graveyard Keeper, and Yonder: The Cloud Catcher Chronicles. The final type of game that I think will translate very well to handheld play are turn-based games that are focused on small battles, like Nexomon and Slay the Spire.

Most of these titles have been in my library for quite awhile, and I’m hoping that a change of venue is exactly what I need to actually dive into them. I swear, when I bought them, I wanted to play them!

There were a couple of things I found quite surprising when I took a look at the compatibility check for my personal library. First was how many beefy titles have been verified. I don’t see myself playing games like Mad Max, Hitman, Dying Light, or The Witcher 3 on my Deck, but I could if I wanted to – provided I had the storage space.

The second was just how many games have yet to be tested. While I realize I’m probably an outlier by the sheer size of my library, over 80% of the games I own are still big question marks when it comes to this new hardware. I don’t expect I’m tech-savvy enough to do a lot of customizing, tweaking, or sideloading alternative software to make things work, so I’m unlikely to use my Steam Deck for any games that aren’t at least considered “playable” by Steam. But with so many titles yet to be checked, I expect I’ll probably be finding out through trial and error long before there’s an official designation on a lot of them.

Moving On Up

It seems like everyone is talking about the brand new GPUs that just released (and are apparently very very difficult to get ahold of). I, however, am just giddy that I finally managed to replace the machine I’ve been working with since April of 2014.

Full disclosure: I did not build these PCs myself. I know my limitations, and just bringing it home and connecting all the cables pretty much wiped me out for the day. Instead, we went to our Ye Old Local Computer Shoppe with a budget and asked for the most bang for our bucks.

Although this (long overdue) upgrade comes in the middle of my busiest time of year, I also feel as if the timing couldn’t possibly be better, because we’re getting awfully close to the pre-patch for Shadowlands.

All that’s left for me to do now is a whole bunch of re-downloading – I tend to keep quite a few games at the ready with some pretty large install sizes. I’m trying to make sure to use the solid state drive for games which I expect to suffer from load times, while loading my more compact indie library on the 2TB HDD.