Three Months With the Steam Deck

I’ve had my Steam Deck for about three months now. In the roughly nine months between hitting that pre-order button, and finally having it in my hot little hands, I had a lot of time to think about whether it was something I really needed, would I get enough use out of it to justify the cost, and could it actually be anywhere near as cool as I hoped it was going to be.

Well, on the first question, no, I didn’t need it (but – honestly – there was no reason to ever think I needed it – it’s a toy after all). For the first few weeks it was here, it was looking like the second and third question were also going to be no’s and I was going to have a $600-ish hunk of regret. I suppose the jury is still out on the third question, but over the past couple of months, that second no has turned into a resounding yes.

The first month, I didn’t so much play on the Steam Deck, as I played around with it. I installed games, booted them up, played for a few minutes, then went on to try something different. No matter what I tried, nothing really felt like the correct thing for the platform. I mean, if I just sat at my desk, I’d have a bigger monitor, and my trusty mouse & keyboard, and why did I think I wanted this thing in the first place?

I was still pretty obsessed with Bugsnax at the time, so I kind of forced myself to push through a hefty chunk of a third playthrough solely on the Deck. I didn’t come anywhere close to beating the game this time, but it was enough for me to start to get used to the idea. It wasn’t, however, until I started messing around with Atomicrops that I really started to be as excited about the Steam Deck as I was the day I placed my reservation.

It was the right game at the right time. I found myself reaching for the Steam Deck every time I had a gap in my day where I though I could knock out a season or two. Because of this, it ended up being my most played game in both May and June (and in June, nothing else came anywhere close). It let me shake off the bit of buyer’s remorse I’d been feeling.

Now, when I convinced myself that I wanted this, I thought I knew what types of games I wanted it for. What I didn’t consider is how much adjustment I would need to non-mouse-and-keyboard controls. I finally branched out more last month, trying out different types of games. Some felt pretty good with the controller, some I played just long enough to know I wanted my PC for them.

However, it was nowhere on my bingo card that my latest Steam Deck obsession game would be a Pop Cap title from 2006. Surprisingly, Zuma Deluxe plays like a dream, and 20 or so hours I’ve spent shooting tiny orbs out of a frog’s mouth over the last month or so have gotten me very used to the trackpads.

Of course, no love story is perfect. Although not something I am willing to send it back over, I unfortunately got a Deck with a wonky power button. Instead of just being able to gently press on it to boot it up or wake it from sleep, I need to really press it pretty hard. I have a tiny screwdriver that does the trick every time, and I’ve just started keeping it in the case. Sure, it’s a weird accessory, but it’s working for me.

It’s unlikely that the Steam Deck will ever overtake my PC as my primary gaming device, but I definitely feel like I’m using it enough to justify having it. Sure, I’m not playing the games I thought I’d be playing on it, but when I find a game that works for me on the smaller screen, I’m loving every minute I’m spending with it.

Quick Look – Atomicrops

Since almost all of my (not insignificant) playtime in Atomicrops has been on the Steam Deck, and I still haven’t mastered (a) remembering to take screenshots on that platform and (b) figuring out how to get them to my PC, all screenshots in this post are from the Atomicrops Press Kit.

I’ve never been much of a console gamer, and as such, have had very limited experience with using controllers. Sure, I own an inexpensive XBox style controller which I can connect to my PC, and there were even a handful of games I played on our XBox 360 back when it was current hardware. I had never owned (or even used) a handheld prior to getting a Nintendo Switch last winter, and despite my excitement about the Steam Deck, I knew that there was going to be a learning curve for me, and it was going to be a steep one.

But one of the things I really wanted to make a concerted effort to do with the Deck is to see if I could play some genres of games I tend to avoid on PC due to feeling clumsy with mouse and keyboard controls. Obviously, platforming games are part of this, but I’ve always been intrigued by (but very very bad at) games that involve twin-stick shooting mechanics. It always felt strange to me to be moving in one direction, and pointing my weapon in another with keyboard and mouse controls, and I never really got invested enough in any of these games to push past that awkwardness.

Since my library is pretty well stocked with games of all genres, and since I wasn’t sure that I would be committed enough to this project to actually buy something, I went poking through my unactivated game keys, and found that I had Atomicrops from the September 2021 Humble Choice, and decided to give that a whirl on the deck to see if I could figure it out. Over forty hours of gameplay later, I can safely say while I’m still not fantastic at this game, I am at least really enjoying it.

Atomicrops is a twin-stick shooter farming roguelite. I think that the strange genre mashup is what really drew me to the game, and it’s also what keeps me playing. Each day, you head out from your farm to gather seeds, equipment and buffs from one of the 4 adjacent biomes. At night, your farm comes under attack, and you need to defend your crops. Each season lasts three days and nights, with the third night bringing one of two randomly chosen bosses for you to deal with. Once you get through each night, you’re given an opportunity to go to town to buy upgrades with the cashews you earned from your harvest, and gift the townsfolk with roses in return for helpful items.

At the end of each season, you go see the mayor, who rates you based on how many crops you were able to successfully harvest over the season. The more crops (and more valuable crops) you’re able to produce, the more grateful the mayor is and the greater your rewards. After four full seasons, you enter nuclear winter, one last epic boss fight, and if you manage to defeat the boss and make it through the night, you’re rewarded by unlocking a new year, with each year being more difficult.

All of the biome camps and available upgrades are random each run, and with each run you complete (or complete at least one season of), you get Cornucopias, which you may be able to use to buy small permanent upgrades in between runs. The further you get and more efficiently you proceed through the year, the more things you may stumble across to unlock new ways to play or benefit your meta-progression. It’s an addictive loop that has led to me failing to play much of anything else when I pick up my Steam Deck every time.

I don’t know if I have enough experience with this genre to definitively say that this is a good intro to the genre, but despite having some hilariously dismal early runs, I’ve gotten steadily better with the control scheme, and have started being a more efficient planter even while dodging bullets and killing bad guys. There are still plenty of things for me to unlock (and 8 more difficulty levels I haven’t even managed to unlock yet), so replayability on this one is pretty excellent if you enjoy the core loop. There is one paid DLC for AtomicropsReap What You Crow – which adds a new playable character and a couple of new weapon types, but I haven’t felt like I’m missing out by not having it.

But I do feel like I’m better prepared for other twin-stick shooters now, if I can ever get myself to stop playing this one.

CheckMyDeck – The Steam Deck Compatibility App I Didn’t Know I Wanted

I was initially pretty excited that Steam has a built-in compatibility checker which can take your personal gaming library and show you which games have been verified, which are playable, and which are unsupported. However, it didn’t take long for me to see the flaw in the long-term usability of their set-up.

On Steam, each category is sorted by how recently you launched or added a particular game to your library, which means you have to do an awful lot of poking around to see what’s recently been added to any of your categories. So I went off to the internet to see if I could find something that did the same thing, except better, and I ended up at CheckMyDeck.

Once you link up your Steam account, you can check not only your library, but your wish list as well. At the top of the page, there’s a breakdown of how much of your library is Playable or better. Beneath that, you’ll see a color-coded list of games which you can sort in multiple ways. Sorting by the first column – Last Change – will enable you to see what has most recently been tested and categorized.

I thought this was everything I wanted it to do, but I was even more impressed when I took a look at some of the filtering options they provide as well.

Everybody has their quirks about what issues are deal-breakers for them, and being able to choose to not show games that have a specific problem is fantastic. If you’re concerned about Playable games having hard-to-read text, you can check a box, and those games disappear from your list. If you’re willing to mess around with Unsupported titles, but not if they’re Unsupported due to anti-cheat issues, just click off both anti-cheat related items. If you don’t want to see any Unsupported games in your list, just check off everything in red, and you’ll be left only with Verified, Playable and Unknown titles.

For a fairly lightweight web tool, there’s a lot here to like. It loads my rather hefty library without very much hang time, and I find myself checking it every few days to see what’s been added, and maybe find a hidden gem that I already own to play around with.

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 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.