The Steam Deck is a great console wrapped within a puzzle inside an enigma. It has great capabilities, but doesn’t explain them well, and locks many of its best features behind unintelligible barriers. Some people like this – the same kind of people who thrive in the BIOS and tweak every possible setting for fun. I’m not saying they’re bad people, they’re just not my people. I built my own PC and tweaked the settings to set it all up, but now I leave it mostly alone unless something breaks.
The Steam Deck seems built for the hardcore tweakers, but it’s still exciting for PC normies like myself to attempt to get apps like Xbox Game Pass to run on the powerful handheld system. Playing anything from that enormous library on the bus? Yes please.
But it’s not that simple. It never is with the Steam Deck. We’ve had to put together a whole guide for getting a Game Pass to work – a guide that involves editing lines of code – when it should be as simple as downloading an app. The process is supposedly going to get easier, but right now it’s a proper pain in the ass.
The end result is amazing – not only is your Game Pass library (courtesy of Microsoft) available on a Linux system – but Cloud Gaming is also available, meaning you don’t have to fill up the Deck’s small memory with your games. The more stuff available on the console the better – I already have the Epic Games Store and multiple retro emulators to top up my backlog Steam library, but some Game Pass games wouldn’t hurt either. Most of the Yakuza series is on Game Pass! And therefore now on my Steam Deck.
But if Valve wants the Steam Deck to be as successful as the Nintendo Switch, or as widely praised and used as the PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X, it needs a better user experience or casual gamers will bounce right off. Whether the Steam Deck was intended for a mainstream audience is another question altogether, but the problems affect all players.
While the console is aimed at enthusiasts, Valve must want some commercial and critical success from it. Otherwise, what’s the point? That said, we all remember the discontinued Steam Controller and Steam Link? Maybe the Deck is just the latest idea in a long line of ideas that have popped into Gaben’s head and it will eventually be forgotten like the rest of the Steam peripherals. I sincerely hope not, mostly because a sequel to the Steam Deck could be the best handheld console ever made, but Valve has previous.
Getting games onto your games console shouldn’t be this difficult, and shouldn’t need so many steps. In an era when I can play Halo Infinite via the cloud on my mobile phone by opening one easy-to-download app, logging in, and clicking on the game, why is the Steam Deck so obtuse and user unfriendly? Part of this is for sure due to the fact that the full capabilities of a PC are available on the console, but there must be a way to make this a better experience.
I like holding the Steam Deck. I like playing games on its crisp screen. I even like the two touchpads and the clever ways they’re utilised in menus and for keyboards. But so much of the console’s best applications are inexplicably hidden, aggressively difficult to access, and frankly impossible to use without a guide. I noticed this in the review, and with every new addition it becomes more apparent. It’s nothing a software overhaul can’t fix, but I don’t see a major update coming so soon after release, especially as many pre-orders haven’t even shipped yet.
I’ll use a guide and get Game Pass on the Steam Deck, sure. But because of the extra steps I have to take, I’m going to procrastinate from doing so for as long as possible, probably until the eve of a long journey or something. If Valve really wanted me to use the Steam Deck instead of my Xbox or main PC, then he would have to seriously change some core things about how third-party software works on the console. I hope that Valve has plans to fully support the Deck and listen to the community on this, but I’m not holding my breath.
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