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I know the Steam Deck is fantastic because it enabled me to do something I otherwise never would have had time for: I beat Elden Ring. After 155 hours — 150 of which were on the Steam Deck — I’ve become the Elden Lord. And I mean it when I say that Valve’s handheld computer is what empowered me to actually get through one of the best games in years.
As much as I love games, I don’t love anchoring myself to a couch or computer chair. Even within my home, I prefer to move around so I can stay involved in what is going on. Usually that means being near my kids or sitting with my wife while she watches a show. This is why the Switch is so great for me. But the Switch is limited in both support and power when it comes to its library. Steam Deck, meanwhile, is an improvement in both regards.
I covered much of this in my review and previous coverage of the Steam Deck. But I feel more certain now that the system succeeds at what Valve set out to accomplish with it. The device frees PC gaming to exist in the nooks and crannies of your life instead of forcing you to make your life fit PC gaming. And it does that through its powerful-yet-efficient hardware, but it also does it through smart user-experience features as well.
Always ready whenever and wherever you are
The powerful AMD system-on-a-chip and the powerful Proton translation layer are major reasons why the Steam Deck is so successful. But Valve also got the little things right as well.
Those little things include a clever suspend mode that enables you to stop playing on a whim. When you’re ready to continue, the system picks up from right where you left off. And all the while, this suspend feature barely uses any battery.
What this translates to in real-world use is that it only ever took me a matter of seconds to get back into Elden Ring whenever I put it down. And that might not sound all that important, but it absolutely helped me maintain my momentum with such a massive and challenging game.
Valve can get away with this because while the Steam Deck is a computer, it is a handheld gaming device first. So while you can alt-tab away to other applications, it’s most important that it centers the active game over everything else.
Small annoyances that are worth dealing with
My issues with using the Steam Deck so far are minor and rarely impede my enjoyment. Elden Ring, specifically, is very power hungry. It’s funny to watch the energy meter built into the system regularly pin way past 25 Watts during gameplay — especially when you can play something like the GameCube emulator that sips just 6 Watts. And that’s with the brightness and volume turned up.
But battery life is not nearly the concern that many make it out to be. What is a problem, though, is charging the device. Since I carry it with me throughout my house, I often try to get a quick bit of juice off of a nearby USB-C charger. But most common smartphone and even laptop chargers fail to provide enough power to satisfy the Steam Deck’s needs.
Now, if you use the official charger and a handful of others (like a recent Qualcomm Quick Charge 5.0 brick), you can get a full battery in about 1.5 hours. That’s true even if you continue to play the system. But my Steam Deck would continue to drain during gameplay even while plugged into certain other chargers.
The Steam Deck also has an awkward shape, which makes it precarious to set down. Its large size means you’ll need a significant amount of counter space if you run to the kitchen to make popcorn for the kids. But even if you do have the space, double check that it is secure. I’ve had a close call where I set it down only to have to catch it a second later in midair as one of the grips slid over the edge.
Still my favorite gaming PC ever
I meant it when I said that the Steam Deck is my favorite gaming PC ever in my review. It’s not how you should do your taxes, but it’s the ideal way to play games. But Elden Ring provided a real test of that claim. But 150 hours later, I have no plans to change up my habits. This is how I’m going to play my games whenever I can.
I’ve already booted up Tunic. It runs and looks great on the Deck. Maybe I’ll get Stranger of Paradise next. For me, this feels like gaming making an effort to ensure I don’t get left behind. I can’t tell you how nice that feels.
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