After almost a year with the Steam Deck I've finally been converted

Image of the Steam Deck playing Frostpunk.
(Image credit: Future)

If you watched our Steam Deck video from a while back—further back than our own Steam Deck review, 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, 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 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 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, 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—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 Steam Deck's interior, with the fan front and center.

(Image credit: Future)

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?" 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.

Testing it, I realised just how portable it really is by comparison, as long as you pair it with the best Steam Deck accessories, 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 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 is truly unreal (get it?), let alone the fact you can get them to show up in the Steam OS.

A Steam Deck being used to emulate a Nintendo 3DS game.

(Image credit: GameXData)

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 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. 

Katie Wickens
Hardware Writer

Screw sports, Katie would rather watch Intel, AMD and Nvidia go at it. Having been obsessed with computers and graphics for three long decades, she took Game Art and Design up to Masters level at uni, and has been demystifying tech and science—rather sarcastically—for three years since. She can be found admiring AI advancements, scrambling for scintillating Raspberry Pi projects, preaching cybersecurity awareness, sighing over semiconductors, and gawping at the latest GPU upgrades. She's been heading the PCG Steam Deck content hike, while waiting patiently for her chance to upload her consciousness into the cloud.