Depending on what you play and the titles in your library, the Steam Deck is either the future of portable gaming or an expensive brick that can barely run many games promoted as verified. Or you might fall somewhere in the middle as someone who just wants to play Steam games away from home on a laptop that doesn’t look like it was made by edgelords. Gaming laptops are just too cool to exist, which is why companies are required by law to add glowing dragon and poop logos.
After spending a few weeks with the Steam Deck – including while traveling – I can confidently tell you that the Steam Deck…is fine. It is not bad at all ! I found myself picking it up and playing it more than I thought I would. And while it’s heavy, the system is surprisingly comfortable if you have armrests or Popeye-like muscles. The screen is good. There are video games available that I’ve spent almost two decades buying. This is a Steam Deck.
A lot of complaints about the Steam Deck center around the fact that it’s not a particularly fast computer. Or rather, not a particularly fast gaming computer. Valve may have overstated its compatibility. Some older games play like crap. Some newer games look like crap. Even verified games can take hours of effort to figure out. For example, The Elder Scrolls: Oblivion is incredibly weird to play on the Deck. Looks like the Steam Deck and Elder Scrolls: Oblivion don’t know why anyone would want to play Elder Scrolls: Oblivion on a Steam Deck.
That said, there’s something oddly charming about the quirkiness of the Steam Deck. Unlike playing on a traditional console, you can fiddle with the settings and dive into the guts of a game to make it work. There’s a charm to seeing that the Street Fighter Collection isn’t compatible with the device and trying it out anyway – only to find it only works by inexplicably lowering the games resolution.
It also helped me enjoy playing a game on low settings. This is not a joke. It’s quite nice.
One of the first games I loaded onto the Steam Deck was The Quarry. I had already read that the game ran terribly on the Steam Deck, which only made me more curious. I felt that if I could just tweak a setting or fix a little thing, it would miraculously work as well as it did on a PS5.
Obviously, I was wrong. Reducing The Quarry to even the lowest settings makes it a mixed bag at best. Some scenes run at smooth frame rates of 30 frames per second. Some scenes look like a slideshow. But at the very least, messing with the settings and trying to turn off different elements (as well as toggling between two resolution options) only pulled in a few more frames.
And I like it.
Quarry works best on my personal gaming computer. It looks a thousand times better. It sounds better. It plays better. Quick Time events are not missed due to choppy camera work. Environments are easier to read for objects and clues. The characters do not forget to move their mouths from time to time when they speak. But I still played The Quarry a lot more on the Steam Deck than at home.
Nor is it because I have travelled. Damn, I hate traveling. I barely do. But part of what made the Nintendo Switch work for me was its grip quality. It’s on your coffee table. You don’t need to change your HDMI settings. You don’t need to turn on the soundbar. You can just put it in your hands and it’s already powered up. The Steam Deck has the same quality.
Of course, like the Nintendo Switch, that means nearly every triple-A title is compromised in some form. But it’s just easier to pick up and turn on a sleeping Steam Deck than to go to my office/bedroom/storage unit and turn on a computer. It’s a stupid distinction. We’re talking about a five-metre difference in step. Laziness wins.
There’s a charm to games running as simply as possible. I was pleased that The Quarry was more playable than some had complained. The fact that it sometimes worked weirdly added charm to it – like me and the Steam Deck were both doing our best to get through a 2022 next-gen game without worrying about ray tracing or hitting 60 frames per second at 4K, it becomes… a game. Within hours, I forgot I was playing on settings made for a 1997 Gateway Computer. I was just playing.
The same goes for Cyberpunk 2077. First of all, it runs much better on the Steam Deck than it’s entitled to; it also happens to look exactly like it works on a laptop. But somehow it also made me more willing to move on. When I knew my best possible options for graphics were bad, I didn’t have to worry that I was experiencing the game “badly”. Because I knew I was experiencing the game in a less than optimal situation, so – damn it – might as well enjoy the game.
Maybe that weird relief comes from an anxiety around the newest and the best. Like many dumb industries, this dumb industry is driven by money and hype. If you’re not playing the hottest new game on the hottest new console (or with the hottest new graphics card), you’re not playing as expected. Hell, we all obsessively watch chart comparison videos to make sure we get the right version of the game.
Which is logical! If you’re putting $60 or $70 or fucking $80 for a deluxe edition of a game that doesn’t really tell you what’s deluxe about it, you want it to be the best value- price. I’ve made buying decisions from chart comparison videos because I’m allergic to making up my own mind before getting permission from strangers.
But I find I get more for my money when I can just pick up my gaming PC and play anywhere and anytime. Without the pressure to enjoy the game “the right way”, I am ironically able to enjoy the game. What I know is stupid, but I can’t control how my brain does this shit.
NEXT: We Need To Stop Being Toxic To Video Game Developers Except Bobby Kotick