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 find that I (that one girl, Katie) wasn’t too thrilled with Valve’s gaming handheld. Maybe it was the price, maybe it was the wildly varying battery life (opens in new tab), maybe I was just a little scared of Linux. I was pretty vocal about how I thought it was fat, clunky, and doomed.
And I was partially right…but not about that last part.
Back in February, our hardware lord Dave shoved the Steam Deck into my hands and exclaimed, “Behold, o’ game liker! Here’s a plethora of PC games somehow bereft of a PC…” Or something equally dramatic for the sake of narrative. I’m not sure why Dave is an old pirate in this memory, but I’m going for epic quest vibes here.
This was before many games were officially verified for the Deck, so there was really nothing close to a plethora of games guaranteed to run smoothly. More like a drizzle – and the ones that were compatible I didn’t really like.
I’ve always preferred sim, strategy, and management games, which meant the Steam Deck controls (opens in new tab) were nowhere near as intuitive for my chosen gaming gear. Still, I persevered and found that the deck’s controls are actually so versatile that with a little tweaking I could play just about anything, one way or another.
As I worked my way through the operating system, more and more games finally started coming (opens in new tab) their ‘Deck Verified’ status, which meant I could stretch my wings a bit. It also meant that more people started coming up with community control schemes, so I could spend less time messing around with those.
When I was tasked with putting together our guide to the best games for the Steam Deck (opens in new tab), I was still quite dubious. And yet doing all that testing opened me up again to genres I’d forgotten how to enjoy, or thought my massive game rig was too much. Little indie games, walking sims, even racing games, they’ve all gotten back on my radar and I’m genuinely thankful for Steam Deck’s role in that.
However, the most deafening hurdle in this period, our Wes admits, was his biggest complaint about the Steam Deck (opens in new tab)– turned out to be the incessant whine of the fan. But while the Deck initially failed what we call the “significantly different test” (where our partners rated the level of fan clutter during gameplay), Valve released a software update with a much better fan curve, and the problem has since become just a memory.
The versatility of the Steam Deck really started to sink in when I answered the most relevant question for future 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, it turns out. I’m frankly surprised by the Deck’s ability to liberate PC gaming from the desktop, without having to use one of the best gaming laptops. (opens in new tab).
When I was testing it I realized how portable it really is in comparison, as long as you pair it with the best Steam Deck accessories (opens in new tab), naturally. It was no longer a dream to climb a big old 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 to and not feel as embarrassed as if I opened a desktop replacement and asked someone to move so I can sit near the outlet.
But the real deciding factor for me – the thing that made the Steam Deck my ultimate gaming handheld – is its friendliness to non-Steam games. For example, the fact that you can download the Epic Games store launcher on the Steam Deck (opens in new tab) is really unreal (get it?), let alone the fact that you can make them appear in the Steam OS.
Moreso, I’ve found this to be 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 tricky to figure out, even with a near-perfect tutorial at hand. But life on the retro side of gaming has been made a lot easier with tools like EmuDeck that consolidates all your emulators, and Rom Manager that lets you access all your (entirely legitimately acquired) games without launching desktop mode.
Cumbersome as it is, and with all its minor weaknesses, I find myself loving the Steam Deck more and more. It’s like a fat tomcat that just won’t do what he’s told, but is too precious to just leave by the roadside. Yes, it’s taken Valve a while to get the Deck ready for public consumption, and yes, Linux still scares me a bit (though not as much as before), but I’ve become a bit of a Deck head anyway.