Steam Deck First Impressions

Steam Deck First Impressions
After putting in my reservation a little too late last year, I finally got the (somewhat) brand new Steam Deck. I’ve been testing it out for a couple of days now, and I can already tell this is going to change how I play a lot of my games. 

This review is just my first impression of the device. Once I’ve had more time with it and have truly given it the portable experience, I will make a full review detailing the most important aspects if you’re considering reserving an order.

Out of the box, the handheld fits perfectly in my hands for a 1.65 lbs device. At first glance, I was put off by the placement of the D-Pad and ABXY buttons like most people - but to my surprise - it doesn't feel weird. The left touchpad acts as a d-pad for most games anyways so it's not a big issue, but I think it would've made more sense to switch them around. But that's just me. Your mileage may vary.
Through the options menu, you can control a lot of different options. There's a performance data slider that lets you see the internal diagnostics. From here you can see your frames per second, CPU and GPU temperature, how fast your fan is running, etc. This way you can see how many frames you're getting while changing graphics settings. I love this option so much, and I wish there were similar easily accessible features on my desktop.

When looking at your steam library, each game has 1 of 4 indications on it. A green checkmark means that the game has been tested and is fully playable on the deck. A yellow exclamation mark means that the game might have a couple of caveats - like if the game is specifically made for a mouse and keyboard. For example, Inscryption is only on PC as of right now and does not have controller support. You mainly control the game through your mouse wheel, and the Steam Deck does not have one. Don’t worry, Valve thought 10 steps ahead to give you complete customization over your controller inputs. And your re-mapped button settings get saved to the specific game so you don’t have to change your buttons every time you switch between titles.

The other 2 indications are “Untested” and “Unsupported”, which speak for themselves. Every game has a “game details” tab where you can read why the game you want to play might require a bit of messing around in the settings. 
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Here are some of the games I’ve tried so far, mainly accounting for battery life and frames per second.

The Outer Wilds

A big open-world space sim with very simple textures. When I first booted it up it had a hard time maintaining 30 fps, but after turning some graphic settings to low and medium, I got a steady 60 FPS and about 2.5 hours of battery life. 

Dark Souls 3

A pretty big game, even by 2022 standards, and can have a lot going on the screen at once. When I started the game without changing any settings I was getting 40-50 FPS. After turning the texture quality and resolution down a bit I would get 60 fps, but would sometimes dip to 55 in really populated areas.

Apex Legends

To be fair, if you’re picking up a Steam Deck don’t expect competitive shooters to get a lot easier or anything. I highly recommend using gyro controls instead of the trackpad for aiming. It felt more natural than the trackpad since the track pad moves with momentum if you slide really quickly. Without changing any settings I got a solid 60 fps and almost 2 hours of battery life. 
 
Bioshock Remastered

Probably one of the best experiences I’ve had on the Steam Deck so far. I didn’t change any of the settings and I was getting 60 fps and almost 5 hours of battery life. Very excited to replay this classic. 

V Rising

I was excited to try out a survival MMO on a handheld device, but every time I tried to change the controller settings to make a more controller-friendly experience, my screen would freeze and I’d have to restart the Deck.

Rollerdrome

Works incredibly and didn’t need any graphics tweaking. However, I do recommend switching the d-pad inputs to the back buttons, as my muscle memory goes for the touchpad every time I wanted to switch weapons. Other than that, I got about 4.5 hours of battery life and solid 60 fps.


In my full review, I will play more AAA games like God of War 2018 and Elden Ring, and I plan on trying out some emulators to do some retro gaming.
I’m willing to look past some of the shortcomings in terms of battery life, some performance bugs (which get patched pretty quickly), and the screen quality. At the end of the day, I think being able to play Dark Souls 3 and Apex Legends from bed is pretty cool. Even if the battery life is as low as 2 hours, I don’t see myself having play sessions any longer than that. Perhaps it will be smart to invest in a portable charger with the right wattage so you can play longer when you’re not near an outlet. The device does charge pretty quickly when asleep, and it will give you an estimate of how long it will take to fully charge. The battery life can get up to 8 hours if you’re playing a game that isn't too graphically intense like a visual novel by setting the frame rate to 15.

Overall, the first impressions make me excited for the future more than anything. Despite the minor shortcomings that are constantly being patched by Valve, the Steam Deck is one of the most innovative handhelds I’ve ever used, and I’m looking forward to using it frequently.
 
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