I’ve played a ton of my Switch, with a significant portion of time spent in Mario Party and Mario Kart. The thing just works, which is supremely enjoyable. That said, there are some issues with the Switch. First is just performance in general, as the technology inside dates from 2017. This is normal for Nintendo, as none of their consoles have ever been horsepower machines. Offset by game quality, right?
Second, is the actual game library. 1st party games are light’s out (Mario+Rabbids is great!), but also quite expensive. The general lack of any sales, especially for games that are 5 years old, hurts my brain. 3rd party games are almost always available on PC, and for a fraction of the price. Further, I have zero interest in paying for a subscription to access a game library of 25 year old games… a library I’ve had on hand for quite some time.
Third is the walled garden. If you’re a console fan, then this doesn’t make much sense. If you’re on PC, then you likely understand why this matters. Being able to configure your gaming environment with a slew of options allows you to play almost any electronic game, in the way that suits your needs. Want 4k at 60fps? Do it. Want a customized controller? Done. Want to stream music in the background while playing? Ok.
I’ve been looking at a Steam Deck for some time, or at least the concept of a portable PC form factor. I already have a gaming laptop (MSI Raider GE), which is an awesome rig. While I enjoy the workstation that the laptop provides, the use of the Switch has convinced me that there are better ways. Frankly, this is why consoles are still sold… couch & co-op gaming on a big arse TV is legit fun. PC gaming rarely affords this flexibility, and there’s an intersect that’s been sorely missing.
Take the Plunge
The Decks went on sale (10% is a sale, right?) and I opted to pick one up after sitting on the fence for a while. I opted for the largest drive, as 1) I can afford it, 2) I don’t want the hassle of swapping/configuring an upgraded drive, and 3) SD cards are “good enough” and cost efficient. Shipping was like 4 days from order to door.
Importantly, the form factor is oddly comfortable. It’s heavier than the Switch, but doesn’t feel a burden. Button layouts are good, a little less ergo than the Switch. The extra back toggles are nice addition, helping with the PC additional controls… and the trackpads are oddly responsive. It’s not the most intuitive layout. granted, but will adapt over time.
The initial setup was simple, and the UI is basically Steam Big Picture mode. Simple is good.
I started with Hades. The initial load was about 30 seconds, but then the game itself ran identical to the PC variant. Visuals are better than the Switch, and the sound doesn’t have that metallic echo. The Deck is louder due to fans running, but that seems to be sporadic. The screen itself is impressive, even with the anti-glare coating. It works perfectly indoors, regardless of lighting angles. I came away from that thinking that this is how Hades is meant to be played.
Next up was Final Fantasy 9. I have the series on Steam, collected over the years. SquareEnix ports are generally bad, and the modding community has to rescue them. FF9, in the default state, looks horrible, has annoying bugs, but comes with some QoL boosts. These issues are all addressed by the Moguri mod. I would not recommend playing without it.
The challenge here is that the Deck clearly indicates the FF9 is not compatible. Which is sort of true. The game needs keyboard/mouse inputs at certain times – notably naming characters. If you want to install the Moguri mod (yes, you do), then you need to break down the walled garden. Enter Desktop Mode.
Holding the power button brings up the ability to enter the desktop mode, enabled by a Unix UI. The interface is simple enough, allows web access, more applications, and the desktop interface for Steam. This makes it very simple to download the mod, extract the ZIP, and add it as a non-Steam game. It’s the tip of the iceberg when it comes to customization options… I think it’s rather wild truthfully.
Where things get a bit more complicated is the gaming mode and file explorer. You need to know the folder structure and manually enter it (not navigate), which is not exactly intuitive. Guides are essential, and after a year there are plenty available. Running the mod requires a file path the first time, and once done you simply load FF9 directly and everything is golden.
I have nearly 200 items in my Steam library. Quite a few would be interesting to explore on the Deck. I am frankly amazed at what I’ve seen so far and more time is needed to figure out all the quirks (battery life is one I want to figure out).
A docking station and controller pairing is something I’ll get sorted out before the summer. Getting any of the Lego games to play on the TV with extra controllers would be a great time with the kids.
I also want to tinker around a bit and see how I can get my Epic games on the Deck. I’ve accrued a fair amount of the “free weekly games” and this is a great opportunity to give it a shot.
Finally, I want to see how this thing works in Airplane mode. Portability means intermittent or lack of network connections. How does that impact the gameplay and integration? I mean, I’ve read the notes and it works, but the details are bit murky to me.
This is just an initial view of the Deck, so it seems all roses right now. Obviously I am going to find some annoyances along the path. So far, this actually seems to be the real deal. Portable PC gaming. Wow.