Weirdly, Skyrim Special Edition hasn't been tested for Steam Deck yet

Skyrim on Steam Deck
(Image credit: Bethesda)

Can you play Skyrim on Steam Deck? If you're considering buying a Steam Deck so you can enjoy some mobile PC gaming, you may be wondering if one of the most popular RPGs of all time works well on Valve's new handheld device, especially since it seems like you can run Skyrim on everything from PCs to consoles to the Nintendo Switch. I definitely was, too.

Valve says it's testing every single game on Steam to see how it plays on the Steam Deck. Some games work just fine, others are playable with a few issues, and some games simply don't work all that well on a Steam Deck and aren't recommended.

As Valve tests games for the Steam Deck, it sorts them into three categories: Verified, Playable, and Unsupported. For games not yet tested, there's a fourth category: Unknown.

Surprisingly, the most popular version of Skyrim currently fits into that last category.

Can you play Skyrim on Steam Deck?

There are a couple of different versions of The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim available on Steam, including Skyrim Legendary Edition (2011) and Skyrim Special Edition. There's also the Skyrim Anniversary Edition, though that's really just the Special Edition with a bunch of extra DLC and features, so we're currently counting that as the same game as Skyrim SE. Finally, there's Skyrim VR.

Since Skyrim Special Edition is the most played version by Steam users, we'll start there.

Skyrim SE/AE

Skyrim Special Edition's Steam Deck compatibility

Currently Skyrim SE falls into the Unknown category. Skyrim Special Edition is not Verified on Steam Deck. If you use Valve's Steam Deck compatibility site, which shows you which games in your Steam library are verified, playable, and unsupported, Skyrim Special Edition doesn't show up there at all. That indicates Skyrim Special Edition hasn't been tested by Valve yet, which is a bit strange considering Skyrim has been in the top 100 most played games on Steam since it launched in 2011. And this is the version most people play today.

That doesn't mean it won't work on Steam Deck, though. ProtonDB gives Skyrim Special Edition a gold rating with over 600 reports from users who have played it using Proton, Steam Deck's compatibility layer. It's not a flawless experience, and some users report audio bugs (in some cases, NPC dialogue not playing at all), stuttering, freezing, and other issues. 

I've emailed Bethesda to ask if they're working on ways to make Skyrim SE more compatible with Steam Deck, and I'll update when I hear back.

Our Tests

Our experience running Skyrim Special Edition on Steam Deck

Our Hardware Lead Dave James has tried running Skyrim Special Edition twice on his Steak Deck. The first time, a few weeks ago during his initial Steam Deck tests, Dave said Skyrim Special Edition didn't work well due to intermittent freezing. He described the experience as "basically unplayable."

However, booting it up again this week he found a much smoother experience. There was no freezing and Skyrim Special Edition ran at 60 fps on Ultra settings on Steam Deck. He was able to load old saves and switch to survival mode without any issues.

Skyrim LE

Skyrim Legendary Edition Steam Deck compatibility

Steam in your hands

Steam Deck with an image from Elden Ring overlayed on the screen

(Image credit: Future, FromSoftware)

Steam Deck review: Our verdict on Valve's handheld PC.
Steam Deck availability: How to get one.
Steam Deck battery life: What's the real battery life of the new device?

Here we're talking about the 2011 version of Skyrim, which is a separate game from the Special Edition (you can still buy it on Steam, though the game's page is unlisted in the Steam store). Skyrim Legendary Edition is rated Playable on Steam Deck, which means it has been tested by Valve and works on the Deck, though with some noted issues. 

Here's what Valve says:

"Valve's testing indicates this title is Playable on Steam Deck. This game is functional on Steam Deck but might require extra effort to interact with or configure."

🟡 This game's launcher/setup tool may require the touchscreen or virtual keyboard, or have difficult to read text
🟡 Some functionality is not accessible when using the default controller configuration, requiring use of the touchscreen or virtual keyboard, or a community configuration
🟡 Entering some text requires manually invoking the on-screen keyboard
🟢 This game shows Steam Deck controller icons
🟢 In-game interface text is legible on Steam Deck
🟢 This game's default graphics configuration performs well on Steam Deck

(Image credit: Valve)

It seems likely that having to pull up Steam's on-screen keyboard, rather than having an in-game keyboard usable with the analog stick, is why Skyrim is "Playable" and not "Verified."

Skyrim VR

Can you play Skyrim VR on Steam Deck?

Well, no. It's not surprising but probably worth saying just in case: Steam Deck does not support VR games. (Though it's a PC, so you could probably find a way to make it happen if you really want to have a bad time).

Christopher Livingston
Senior Editor

Chris started playing PC games in the 1980s, started writing about them in the early 2000s, and (finally) started getting paid to write about them in the late 2000s. Following a few years as a regular freelancer, PC Gamer hired him in 2014, probably so he'd stop emailing them asking for more work. Chris has a love-hate relationship with survival games and an unhealthy fascination with the inner lives of NPCs. He's also a fan of offbeat simulation games, mods, and ignoring storylines in RPGs so he can make up his own.