If you watched our Steam Deck video (opens in new tab) from a while back—further back than our own Steam Deck review (opens in new tab), even—you’ll notice I (that one lass, Katie) wasn’t overly enthusiastic about Valve’s gaming handheld. Perhaps it was the price, perhaps it was the wildly varying battery life (opens in new tab), perhaps I was just a little scared of Linux. I was pretty vocal about how I thought it was chunky, clunky, and doomed to failure.
And I was partially right… but not about that last part.
In February our hardware overlord Dave shoved the Steam Deck into my hands and cried, “Behold, o’ liker of games! Here be a cornucopia of PC games that are somehow devoid of a PC…” Or something equally dramatic for the sake of narrative. I’m not sure why Dave is a ye olde pirate in this memory, but I’m going for epic quest vibes, here.
This was before many games had become officially verified for the Deck, so there actually wasn’t anything close to a cornucopia of games that were guaranteed to work smoothly. More like a drizzle—and the ones that were compatible, I wasn’t really into.
I’ve always favored sim, strategy, and management games, which meant the Steam Deck controls (opens in new tab) were nowhere near as intuitive for my chosen gaming loadout. Still, I pushed through and learned that, actually, the Deck’s controls are so versatile that with just a little tweaking I could play most anything, some way or another.
As I barreled my way through the control system, more and more games finally started to get (opens in new tab) their ‘Deck Verified’ status, which meant I could stretch my wings a little. It also meant more people were starting to come up with community control schemes, so I could spend less time messing around with those.
When I was tasked with putting together our guide for the best games for the Steam Deck (opens in new tab), I was still pretty dubious. And yet doing all that testing opened me back up to genres I’d forgotten how to enjoy, or just figured my massive gaming rig was overkill for. Little indie games, walking sims, driving games even, all shifted their way back onto my radar and I’m honestly grateful for the Steam Deck’s role in that.
The most deafening hurdle through this period, however—which our Wes admits was his biggest complaint about the Steam Deck (opens in new tab)—turned out to be its incessant fan whine. But while the Deck at first failed to pass what we call the “significant other test” (where our partners judged the fan’s nuisance level while gaming), Valve put out a software update with a much better fan curve, and the problem has since become a mere memory.
The versatility of the Steam Deck really only started to dawn on me when I got to answering the most pertinent question for prospective Deck gamers (Deckizens?). That being: “Should I buy a Steam Deck or a gaming laptop? (opens in new tab)” That question gave me a mini existential crisis, as it turns out. I’ve honestly been taken aback by the Deck’s ability to free PC games from the desktop, without having to splash out on one of the best gaming laptops (opens in new tab).
Testing it, I realised just how portable it really is by comparison, as long as you pair it with the best Steam Deck accessories (opens in new tab), of course. No longer was it a dream to climb a big ol’ hill with a friend and show her my Elden Ring character while watching the sunset—that really was a game changer. I could take the Steam Deck to a bar (opens in new tab) if I wanted and not feel as embarrassed as I would opening up a desktop replacement and asking someone to move so I can sit by the plug socket.
But the real clincher for me—the thing that has made the Steam Deck my ultimate gaming handheld—is its friendliness to non-Steam games. The fact you can download, for example, the Epic Games store launcher on the Steam Deck (opens in new tab) is truly unreal (get it?), let alone the fact you can get them to show up in the Steam OS.
Moreso, I’ve found it’s the perfect platform to relive my childhood through the magic of emulation. Don’t get me wrong, emulation on the Steam Deck (opens in new tab) is frankly a pain in the ass to figure out, even with a near perfect tutorial to hand. But life on the retro side of gaming has been made a lot easier with tools like EmuDeck consolidating all your emulators, and Rom Manager letting you access all your (completely legitimately acquired) games without so much as launching desktop mode.
Cumbersome as it is, and with all its little foibles, I’ve found myself growing to love the Steam Deck. It’s like a fat tomcat that just won’t do as it’s told, but is too dear to simply abandon by the wayside. Yes it took Valve a while to have the Deck ready for public consumption, and yes Linux still frightens me a little (though not as much as before), but I’ve turned into a bit of a Deck head after all.