It’s been a few months so I thought an update on my last post on the Steam Deck is in order. So let’s get to it, shall we?
First off, the things I liked about the Deck the first time around are still valid. I still think the experience of gaming mode is very cohesive, the option to choose and modify control schemes is extremely handy, I can run AAA games at quite decent frame rates and settings which makes for a beautiful experience on an 800p display.
Some people complain about battery life and I think that’s fair. Depending on what you play, you can end up with 1-2 hours of it which isn’t a lot. Normally though, I’m never far from a wall socket so it’s not an issue for me.
So what’s new? You might recall that I had a few issues with the Deck, namely the integration of third party games and some of the tooling. Also, emulation didn’t really click with me for a couple of reasons.
On both fronts, I’m happy to say that improvements have been made or the issue completely resolved.
I kept reading about what I did wrong last time and learned that I had apparently been pretty unlucky in my choice of game. It turns out that the one or two games that I tried playing were also ones that others reported to have issues with. Stuttering, audio crackling, that sort of thing. It seems this is an issue with the game or ROM and not of the emulator or the Deck. A bummer, really, but nothing too problematic. Other games I seem to recall to have tried suddenly worked flawlessly on my second try. I was also able to find out how to remove the spurious bezels on the sides which kept irritating me (turns out this was simple to do). On two instances I noticed that the horizontal axis of the right stick didn’t do what I expected it to do but, thankfully, this is simple to resolve. Simply reverse the axis input in the Steam control settings and you’re good. I love how easy this is!
Bottom line: emulation is fine, apart from some games that make problems which is rather their fault than the Deck’s. In other news: EmuDeck which I use for the task recently got a big update streamlining and prettifying the whole experience. I haven’t used it much since then but it does look good!
Third Party Things
Last time I had problems to get The Witcher 3 to work properly. I own it on GOG and didn’t have a good time trying to get it to work on the Deck. This is something I haven’t really resolved. I suspect an issue with Lutris as I was having problems on my desktop PC as well (stuff wouldn’t install properly). However, in light of the imminent release of the Next Gen update for the game I bought it (again) for a few bucks on Steam when it was on sale. I know this is not the most satisfying solution but it was cheap and I wanted to get on with my life. It’s just easier this way.
You could argue that this very behaviour is probably what Valve is going for. Playing third party games on the Deck is connected to enough friction that many people just won’t bother. On the other hand, you could say that gaming mode is seamless enough that it entices users to just never leave it, effectively creating a walled garden of sorts. If you think that, fair point. But it doesn’t bother me too much. At the end of the day it’s a matter of convenience and I very much appreciate the possibility for people to use the Deck how they see fit since it’s an open platform.
Another thing I had trouble with ties in neatly with the next point: customizing artworks. This was possible but a tremendous pain. I had to enter desktop mode, install a flatpak, mess with a website that wouldn’t properly work unless I performed some command line fu before and even then I couldn’t figure out how to edit all the artworks I wanted. Fun. Enter the…
The Deck has a vibrant community which I love. For example, people have made DeckyLoader which is a plugin installer. This enables you to install plugins for the Deck from within gaming mode from a kind of store. There’s a whole bunch of plugins available now, only some of which I installed, ranging from more settings for power users to small quality of life improvements. Especially the latter were interesting to me. I found a Bluetooth plugin that enables me to connect to already known devices more quickly without having to enter the settings. Neat. There’s one that shows me how much time other people took to finish games I have in my library or one that displays ProtonDB badges for them. My favourite one lately is one that enables me to change artworks for all of my games effortlessly from within gaming mode, even for non-Steam games. This is just stellar and removes any of the friction I had experienced with this earlier.
But also apart from this there’s loads of tutorials, nifty tools and that kind of stuff around. Taking a peek at /r/SteamDeck is sometimes very helpful for this. Also, there are a couple of content creators on YouTube creating very helpful videos explaining settings and hardware or taking deep dives into how to achieve optimal performance, visuals or battery life for specific games. This is very useful and saves me tons of time. I recently installed Cyberpunk 2077 and the Next Gen update for The Witcher 3 and I gotta say 40 FPS while still looking pretty is a real treat for these games.
Not only is the community busy, Valve itself is also not idle. The pace at which they churn out updates is staggering. Even though I strictly stick to the stable branch, I frequently receive updates, many of which introduce substantial improvements. I really do get the feeling that Valve is deeply invested in this project and as far as I can see it’s paid off. The Deck was wildly successful and it has already been hinted that a second version of is coming (at some point).
Granted, the UI bugs and inconsistencies I mentioned in my previous post are still present (at least from what I’ve read) but these seem to concern mostly the store and don’t bother me much.
Apart from such things, the desktop experience is somewhat rocky still. The buggy on-screen keyboard has been fixed for it but some things are still a bit awkward. For example the fact that Steam needs to be open for the controls to work properly. Thus, sometimes the triggers will work as mouse input and sometimes they won’t. This is not great, I admit but not a deal breaker as far as I’m concerned. Also, it’s of course possible to connect keyboard and mouse to make using the desktop more comfortable. But as I’m not really using it for anything I don’t care much.
You wanna know what is unironically the best thing about the Deck? That I can use it. Since I received it I haven’t switched on my desktop PC once. Since it was only used for gaming, the Deck has replaced it completely for the time being. And for good reason: the Deck reduces or completely removes the friction of switching on the device and starting a game that this already makes the difference between gaming and not gaming. Also, I can sit on the couch while doing this which is even more important because my bedroom (where the desktop PC is sitting) is usually occupied and thus off-limits. So far I have not played in docked mode except as a quick proof of concept because I find handheld mode just more comfortable for the time being. Also it puts less strain on the hardware.
All of this is remarkable to me, considering that I’d never owned a handheld gaming device in my life and had almost always played games on a desktop PC. I think this already says a lot about the Deck.
There’s almost nothing left to say. Except that I really love the Steam Deck. It’s not perfect but the issues it does have are either not important to me or they are vastly outweighed by its benefits. New games are verified all the time, new updates and helpful tools released so the experience get even better over time. I think the money I spent on it were well justified and I’m excited to see what the future holds for it.