The Steam Deck reminds me of how much I love handheld gaming. The Game Boy Advance SP was the first console I ever owned, with fond memories of waking up in the morning and booting it up to play Lego Star Wars II: The Original Trilogy. Eventually, I got my hands on a Nintendo DS, where I would spend over one hundred hours playing Pokémon Platinum, getting lost in the adventure on long road trips. As the excitement of portable gaming tech got to me, my collection of handhelds steadily grew. I was ecstatic to receive a 3DS within the first year of its launch, despite its lackluster selection of titles at launch. I even have a pretty big soft spot for the failed PS Vita.
However, as I grew up, my attitude towards handhelds somewhat changed. Travel became less frequent for me, and many trips were far too short to invest myself in a game session. My hands grew larger, making it increasingly uncomfortable to hold these small devices. It was frustrating to discover that I couldn’t use a Nintendo Switch with first-party Joy-Cons for more than 30 minutes without getting hand cramps. Despite this, I still wanted to love handhelds, and when the Steam Deck was unveiled, it immediately became a game-changer for me.
The Arrival of the Steam Deck
Long before the Steam Deck was announced, handheld PCs caught my interest. The idea of being able to play my PC library on the go has always been enticing to me, but a lot of the handheld PCs available were too much of an investment for my taste. However, when I first saw the Steam Deck, everything about it felt like a product tailored to me. The unapologetically large form factor reminded me of the comfortable-to-hold Wii U gamepad, but with a more premium look. In addition, the affordable price, the full-sized thumbsticks, and the dual trackpads made the device even more attractive to me.
The choice to reserve a Steam Deck was an immediate one for me. I wanted to get my hands on this device as soon as possible, so I managed to book a Q1 2022 reservation for my Steam Deck that got moved to Q2 2022 because of a production delay. FedEx wouldn’t deliver the Deck to my location, so I had to take a bus to the airport, but it was very much worth the minor inconvenience. As soon as I took my 256GB Deck out of its packaging, it fit my hands perfectly.
Before I knew it, I logged into my Steam account and was ready to download games. I was quickly getting lost in experimenting with different games in my library. Whether it was Quake, Bayonetta, Yakuza 3, Mirror’s Edge, or Dragon’s Dogma, I couldn’t stop downloading games to test out the Deck. I was already falling in love with the device, but I had not even realized what the Deck’s secret weapon truly was.
The Wonders of SteamOS 3
The secret weapon I talk of is SteamOS 3. It is perhaps one of the best gaming-focused operating systems I have ever used, if not the best. The UI is clean and intuitive, packed with features that even my desktop lacks easy access to. Being able to instantaneously set limits for framerates, the TDP, and the GPU clock has been extremely useful. I’ve had my Steam Deck since April, and not once have I felt the urge to boot Windows on it.
Valve gives the user so many options to help run games, even if they’re not verified to run on Deck. I was able to play the entirety of Driver: Parallel Lines, an older game that has an unsupported compatibility status with the Deck. I was able to play the game easily by mapping some custom controls. In fact, I found it easier to get the game working with controller inputs on Steam Deck than on my main rig. Features like this have opened up the Deck to so many possibilities for me.
If a game is giving me some trouble running, SteamOS 3 often has a solution (except for online games with incompatible anti-cheat). Whether it’s switching to an experimental version of Proton or limiting framerates to provide more stable performance, the Deck can offer a massive library of games for those who are willing to tinker even a little bit. Also, the amount of updates that Valve provides for the Deck is impressive. If they continue to do this, the Steam Deck has a long life ahead of it.
Natural Backlog Completion
I’m not one to obsess over making sure I play every game in my Steam library. However, I’ve found myself trying games I’d never even think of playing on my primary computer thanks to the handheld form factor. The Steam Deck is a treasure trove for classic and indie titles. I tend to play games that don’t drain the Deck’s battery instead of games that test the Deck’s limits.
Take Shantae and the Pirate’s Curse for example. On desktop, I might give the game a try, but its visuals don’t necessarily feel like a good fit for a 27-inch monitor and a computer with beefy specs. On my Steam Deck, however, it was almost impossible to stop playing it. I couldn’t believe I had missed out on such a charming 2D platformer/Metroidvania. The Deck is superb at pointing me in the direction of games such as Shantae.
I like playing a large variety of different games and the Deck really helps me do that. If you have a large backlog like mine, the Deck presents a natural way to play games you might not otherwise give any time. I’m playing overlooked games in my library because I want to, not because I feel an obligation to play them.
Both a Console and a PC
I sometimes see debate on whether the Steam Deck is a console or a PC. In actuality, what Valve has done is combine some of the best aspects of console and PC gaming. You can use the Deck without ever booting into desktop mode if you wish, although you’ll be missing out on some tinkering options that will make your experience even better. You will most likely end up using your Deck in gaming mode most of the time though, thanks to the convenience of it.
Having to use the Deck as a full-on PC all the time would get irritating quite quickly, but being locked into using a limited console UI would hold the Deck back from its true potential as well. Fortunately, you can swap between a desktop mode and a console mode through a quick reboot process. This makes the Deck a very convenient platform for those who wish to tinker with their hardware, which includes me.
Learning to Love Handheld Gaming Again
The Steam Deck has remained one of my primary gaming devices after several months of use. In fact, I sometimes find myself using it more than my main rig. Playing games at high framerates on a desktop can be a lot of fun, but there’s also an undeniable joy about being able to play a large library of games wherever you want. There are times when I just want to get away from my desk so I can pick up and play a game. The Deck is perfect for those times.
Portable gaming technology has come a long way since the success of the original Game Boy. I’m playing classic games that I could only dream of playing on the go when I was a kid. It’s safe to say that the Steam Deck is very close to the future handheld I wanted as a child. Only more expensive hardware can match the variety of games I can play on the Deck. Whether I want to immerse myself in a big open world or just pick up and play something for five minutes, the Deck has me covered.
Being able to play the latest AAA releases on a handheld is quite neat, but I don’t think it’s what I’ll remember the Deck for. Instead, I’ll remember the Deck for revitalizing my interest in handheld gaming and pointing me in the direction of some excellent games that I might otherwise overlook. I use the Steam Deck on a daily basis and it comes with me wherever I go. The way I play games has possibly changed forever. I can’t wait to see where handheld gaming can go next.