Note that links to info on the Steam Deck will be located at the end of the article.
Introducing the Steam Deck
It is no secret that Valve is one of the most successful gaming companies of our time. Valve has made some of the most iconic games of our time. From FPS games to MOBA games and all genres in between, they have (we’ll ignore Artifact for a moment) created some of the most successful games ever. Along with this, Valve owns Steam, the biggest PC gaming platform by a factor of billions. Valve of course has its demons, the company in a lot of ways can and is considered evil in every way. This does not stop them, however, as they seem to strike gold whenever they go looking for it and it seems they have done it again.
Gaben Co’s latest gift to humanity is the Steam Deck. A handheld, gaming optimised PC with power that rivals the PS4 and Xbox One. Promising the ability to do anything a normal PC can do, this nifty gadget coming to NA and EU later this year could be just the thing that myself and I assume many many other PC gamers out there need to get ourselves into the handheld market. Gaming is not the only thing this little beast will be capable of however. Valve has made it very clear that this is not just another handheld console. It is claimed that you can put anything on the device and do anything on it. Chrome, Netflix, Epic Games Store, YouTube, Programming! All will be theoretically possible given that this is its own PC. Let’s get into more features and see if the Steam Deck can do as my clickbait title suggests.
The obvious question on any PC gamers mind is going to be about the power. What good is the ability to take Total War to the toilet or Skyrim on a train if you get 7 FPS with the game doing its best impersonation of dodgy Minecraft? Well Valve hasn’t slept on this at all. The device, like I mentioned earlier, is going to be as powerful, if not more powerful, than the PS4 and Xbox One. Now don’t run and hide from these stats my fellow PC gamers. These puny consoles might struggle to meet 30 FPS let alone 60, but the Steam Deck has a few advantages that Valve states will ensure silky smooth 60 FPS gaming.
First I need to point out the screen. It is 800p and isn’t capable of going above that. This lower resolution drastically lowers the demand on the Steam Deck and while people may be upset that they don’t get 1080p and above resolutions, its important to remember that the small screen will offset this somewhat. Second is the specs. Now, I am no tech wiz and I won’t pretend to go in-depth about how amazing the specs are. But when I combine what I do know with what I have read and learned, the Steam Decks power, on paper at least, promises to live up to its claims. Boasting 1.6 Teraflops (whatever those are), 16 GB of LPDDR5 RAM, AMD Zen 2 CPU architecture and an AMD RDNA 2 GPU, the Steam Decks stats show that it has the potential to do what Valve claims it can.
This is not to say the Steam Deck is going to be capable of running things perfectly. Gamers will be forced to go into most Triple-A games settings and lower the graphics for sure. The ever hungry, FPS eating shadows will be the first to go when I get my hands on this thing. This is just because the chipset, while being very modern and very capable, is scaled down in size and power due to the size of the Steam Deck. And that’s just it, the Steam Decks size (we’ll get to that next), means there is a very limited amount of room inside to play with. My graphics card is both bigger and heavier! When airflow, components, features, buttons, gadgets and doodads are added to the mix, there is a literal maximum amount of power that can be put into one product before it melts.
In terms of convenience, there are a few metrics I have created in my own brain that I think will factor in when it comes to the average buyer. Those are portability, battery life, ease of purchasing games/ price of games and usability. In terms of portability, the Steam Deck has been criticised for its weight while its size ensures it will squeeze into any backpack or suitcase undies pocket you have (298mm Width x 117mm Length x 49mm Depth). Coming in at 669 grams, I personally think that this is very manageable and while you would notice this in your backpack, it will not be sending you to the Chiropractor any time soon. The Steam Deck will come with a carry case as well which helps with the portability.
Next up is the battery life and is where understandably a few people will be put off. Valve states that you can expect anywhere from 2-8 hours of run time depending on what you are doing. I know from my own life experience that this would be enough but only barely if you did not have an outlet handy. More battery life would have been great albeit extremely difficult but Valve says that you will only push the 2 hour limit if you play a really demanding game. It will last for 4 hours playing Portal 2 according to them which is cool, I guess.
Up next is the ease of purchasing and playing games and this is where I have to say, Valve has knocked it out of the park. Valve has intentionally made this a PC and claims it can do whatever a PC can do. When asked directly if it can load the Epic Games Store, Valve said yes. This creates limitless possibilities. Your steam library, Epic Games Store, Game Pass, Emulators and even browser games can all be played on the Steam Deck. You cannot praise this enough. I would’ve been happy if they simply made it a console that could only play games on your Steam Library but Valve has really out done themselves.
There is one big caveat though. Valve has created their own OS based on Linux to run the device which is great in theory as it theoretically means the Deck will be optimised for its true purpose. This will, however, make a pretty large number of games including Apex Legends and PUBG unplayable unless the developers work with Valve to make sure the games can work on release day. It will be on both developers and Valve to make sure they can make ports or fix the thing that needs fixing. I suspect a lot of people will be turned away if that doesn’t come to fruition.
Finally is the usability. The Steam Deck is not heavy, but its weight could be a problem. 669grams in itself is not at all heavy but it will be interesting to see how ones arms hold up to that weight after 1, 2 or even 8 hours of play. Gym goers out there will understand just how heavy even the smallest amount of weight can become after holding it for a while. It is essentially pure speculation at this point at whether it will be comfortable to use but only time will tell.
Another aspect of the usability is the button layout, and this is where I see Valve getting most of their criticism. I personally don’t see the issue but a lot of people are claiming that the controls look uncomfortable to use. In an interview with IGN, Valve have said that while it doesn’t look similar to most controls available, their QA testers have had no issue playing it with the way the controls are setup and have even found it quite comfortable. I don’t see a reason for Valve to lie about this since they seem to want to create a product that is usable across the board. With their grand plan for the future (again we’ll get to that), it wouldn’t do Valve any good to make an uncomfortable device.
This part also comes with a caveat, a huge one in fact. The storage of the basic model of the Steam Deck (64gb) is laughable at best. Games these days are only growing in size and most games come with 6 day one patches that are triple the size of the original game. The other 2 models, the 256gb and 512gb are better but this will still be a challenge for gamers to overcome. There is a micro-SD slot that makes this less of a crime, but I don’t believe the 64gb model will be worth anyone’s time.
Why buy it?
While the Steam Deck is going to release with prevailing competitors in the PC handheld industry, the only true competitor this thing will have is the Switch. Other than the fact that Nintendo has the best and greatest number of exclusives, the Switch really wins out on its convenience. Compared to PC, PS and Xbox, the Switch is capable of playing games at a fidelity and FPS that casual gamers are happy with, gives casual gamers a platform which won’t break the bank and allows them to do this wherever and whenever they want. The Steam Deck is going to going to have to tackle quite a few hurdles if it wants to assert itself and break into the market.
First is the audience that plays games on Steam. We are a needy and very spoilt bunch who demand nothing short of 60 FPS at a minimum. We want the best and the brightest and we are not afraid of paying for it. Second is the casual gamer. In order to really make a dent on the Switchs sales and really create a market for this type of device, Valve must make this as usable by casual gamers as physically possible. They will (in my uneducated opinion) make up a significant number of sales and need to be catered to. The third hurdle is the scope of what Valve wants to do. They want to create a powerful handheld PC that can do anything a computer can do. They have claimed that it will be able to run any app a PC can, run games at 60FPS (with lower settings) and they want to do this for the price of 400-650USD.
When you combine all three of these factors, it is impressive that Valve has managed to do it on paper alone. Gamers accept lower fidelity on the Switch due to its size, cost, and exclusives. Gamers play on console because of the ease of setup, the ability to have a great multi-media centre and exceptional gaming machine in one. PC gamers play on PC because of the the power, the fact that it can do more than just gaming and because of there are a plentiful amount of games and even genres that are only playable on PC. The Steam Deck has the potential to be all 3 of these things in one and even at a price that is reasonable.
Valve wants to create a new way of gaming. The God Gaben himself has said that they want to have competition. They want people to make their own, even better and even greater devices. Valve has given permission for their competitors who want to make their own device the ability to use the OS they created. It is easy to see why. Steam is still the biggest PC gaming platform on the planet and Epic Games is still mucking around NOT PUTTING ESSENTIAL FEATURES INTO THE STORE THEY WANT PEOPLE TO USE. Give me a damn review section for Christ’s sake! All this means that if Valve can create a new way of gaming, one that uses Steam as its primary store front and one that creates more PC gamers, Valve can make more money.
They seem like they have done their homework and they have the brains and determination to break into the market. Nintendo, consistently keen on ignoring the needs of gamers with a taste for quality, will have no choice but to respond to the Steam Deck or lose out on their market share. If this device succeeds, it has so much potential to change the way we play. As the saying goes, “in a free market, competition is nothing but good” and this my friends, is going to be quite the competition.
This article was written by our ally – The Aussie Perspective. A brand-new YouTuber with a passion for PC gaming. Check out his YouTube channel for all things PC specific gaming including reviews, opinions and a monthly section on the best games coming!
Enjoying our work. Check out our social media links and give us a follow.
Keep it Gamer. Keep it Commie.