To follow up on the post I made last night, here’s a more general post about my overall initial impressions of the Steam Deck. The super short form: this thing is amazing, with only a few things I’ve found a bumpy experience so far. <3
Longer form: I’m not going to review this thing in great technical depth. Lots of other sites, such as Ars Technica, have done that already. Go looking for your favorite gaming review site of choice and you’ll probably find they put up a review of this device months ago, with as much technical detail as you might want.
Me, I’m going to focus instead on my immediate impressions of it, and what this is going to mean for me in my gaming moving forward.
Size and the feel in the hands
The Deck’s actual screen is not significantly bigger than the screen on my Switch. However, the control areas on either side do add significant width, so overall the thing is noticeably bigger than the Switch. It’s got more heft to it.
That said, it also sits very comfortably in my hands. By and large, really liking the form factor.
So far, I’m finding most of the control placements very intuitive and easy to access without strain. It’s a little odd to me to have the controls oriented towards the top of the device–the reason for that being, the Switch’s placement of the controls on the Joycons are spread out, and my Nintendo Switch Pro controller echos the Joycons’ placement of things.
Right now, therefore, my muscle memory is more oriented towards Switch placement. And the Deck is, well, not that. In particular, the A and B buttons are where I’m given to understand XBOX players would expect them to be; the Switch flips those around. So I’m used to them being flipped.
This is not a dealbreaker for me though! It just means that I’ll need to tweak my muscle memory.
And I know I can rearrange control mappings, both inside games and in Steam. Doing it inside Skyrim is not optimal in my current experience, just because the UI doesn’t change completely to adjust and I find that distracting. I’ll need to experiment with this at the Steam level and see if I like that any better.
I’ve done a little bit of controller remapping in Morrowind as well, and that I’ve done at the Steam level. Morrowind’s UI doesn’t seem to handle telling you what button to hit the same way Skyrim’s does, so it’s not as distracting to me there.
Lastly, I noticed there are four additional buttons on the back of the device. Dara tells me these are also configurable. Which may actually wind up being interesting to me in Morrowind, since that game is more heavily keyboard driven than Skyrim. Having additional buttons available to me for configuring may improve my Morrowind experience! I’ll need to play with that too.
Dara ordered me the fanciest version of the Deck, which comes with a carrying case! Which turned out to be a damned good thing, because when the box arrived from Fedex, one corner of it did look like it’d been bumped fairly hard. But since the device was nestled inside its case, it was absolutely fine. <3
The case is very, very nice. It does not have room in it for a power supply, just for the device itself. But it’s nicely padded, and has a handle on it as well. It should fit easily into a backpack or suitcase.
The power supply
The Deck did come with its own power supply, which is probably going to be the way I generally charge it. It has a USB-C port, so in theory I could use other chargers too as long as they’re USB-C? But I did notice that when I tried to plug the deck into one of the USB-A ports on my MacBook just to see if I could and if that did anything, I did get a warning that I’d plugged into a low-power charging source.
And speaking of plugging into the MacBook
This didn’t actually accomplish anything, about which I was not surprised, but slightly disappointed. It meant that I couldn’t use that means to get screenshots off the Deck like I can with the Switch.
Setting up the device
It was super easy to set up the device. I’d been warned by a Facebook friend to be on the lookout for slow download speeds, since this is apparently a thing that has impacted maybe about 20 percent of users lately. I am pleased to report that I wasn’t one of them.
(But then, my house has got excellent business-grade Internet, and Dara also recently upgraded our Wi-Fi hardware. Your mileage may vary. So my advice here to anyone else on the verge of getting a Deck–I know at least one Twitter friend who says she has one on the way–is to be on the lookout for this. My Facebook friend’s recommendation was to be prepared to plug the device into ethernet if updating it over Wi-Fi gives you trouble.)
All I had to do to set it up was basically log into my Steam account, and let it download a few updates. That all went swimmingly.
Setting up games
I have only three games in my Steam library right now: Skyrim, Morrowind, and Oblivion. Of the three, Skyrim took the longest to download, just because I also needed to pull down all the content for the Anniversary Edition and there’s a lot of that.
That said, aside from the time required, the download and setup experience was almost entirely seamless. <3 Since I’ve been saving my games to the Steam cloud on my PC, I was able to pick up where I left off in Skyrim and Morrowind both.
The one slight bump in this was that once I entered my current Skyrim playthrough, I saw a message thrown by the Fishing content about my plaques in Lakeview having been reset and my fish being moved into my inventory. Apparently the Fishing stuff isn’t entirely happy with being moved from one device to another?
I didn’t have much in the way of mods set up on Skyrim on the PC. Just the USSEP, and a few other things explicitly geared to try to eke as much performance out of that machine as possible.
The performance-aiding mods were not a thing I need on the Deck, so I haven’t tried to install them yet. I did install the USSEP off of the in-game menu, the same as I’d done on the PC, though, just because I wanted access to that in Shenner’s playthrough. That was the only real concern I had about moving her playthrough over to this device.
I want to finish Shenner’s playthrough before I pursue more serious modding, so I’ve got some time yet to learn about the recommended ways to do this. Some casual searching has suggested that the correct approach may be to set up mod profiles on the PC first, and then copy the resulting files over directly onto the Deck.
I’ve been asked on the Skywind server if I intend to mod Morrowind. Answer: definitely.
However, the same note as previous applies. I don’t know yet if trying to mod Tembriel’s playthrough partway in would screw things up, but I’m kind of inclined against it. I will be asking the Skywind Discord folks what they recommend.
Let it also be noted though that I did find OpenMW available as a download right inside the Deck’s Discovery app, so it was very easy for me to get that version of Morrowind onto the device, along with the official Steam one. So what’s likely to happen here is that my second Morrowind playthrough will be in OpenMW on the Deck, and may or may not also involve mods. More on this later.
Switching between Gaming and Desktop modes
It took me a little bit to figure out how to get into Desktop mode on the device–it’s a thing you can do by hitting the Steam button on the left, then hitting the Power option, then Switch to Desktop.
So that was reasonably easy. This Desktop mode drops you into a modified version of Linux, so it wasn’t entirely unfamiliar.
I did, however, find it kind of clunky to manipulate using only the Steam Deck’s controls. Dara actually discovered that you can use the two trackpads to manipulate the on-screen keyboard, which did make it somewhat easier! But I found tapping on things on the UI to be unpredictable on the touchscreen, which slowed me down figuring out my bearings.
I will need to be comfy with the Desktop mode, though, because right now this is the way I’ll need to get at my screenshots that I’ve been using for my playthrough posts. See last night’s post for in-depth details on how I had to get that to work.
(Or this link for anybody who might happen to be reading this on Dreamwidth.)
Actually playing Skyrim!
YOU GUYS. YOU GUYS.
This was the amazing part. <3 I was able to set up Skyrim with Ultra graphics, which was the exact far end of the spectrum of graphical quality from what I’m used to on my PC, where I have to play on Low.
I think it’s kind of hard to convey this in static screenshots. I took several during last night’s play, at least one of which was Shenner in her stalhrim armor, just so I could compare to an earlier, similar screenshot from a few sessions back on the PC. In terms of what detail I could see in those screenshots, they’re very similar.
But where the difference comes in is when I’m out moving around in the environment. Everything is crisper and cleaner and has zero problems rendering. There’s a lot more depth to everything as I move, and I’m pretty sure I have a lot more clarity for things viewed at a distance, too. Frame rate performance is bounds ahead of what I get on the PC, where I regularly struggle to clear 20 in exterior locations. I was regularly getting over 40 on the Deck, and semi-regularly made it to 60, too.
(Side note: I did figure out how to turn on the frame rate counter in the Deck’s UI, but was vaguely disappointed to discover that I could not customize its location. Right now my option for that is only on the upper left corner of the screen. Given that that’s where Skyrim also drops important messaging for me to keep track of, that’s distracting. I wish I could configure its position!)
And even more importantly, I no longer have to struggle with reaction time. I ran Gyldenhul Barrow last night, where you go to find the Deathbrand treasure hoard and fight a bunch of pissed-off pirate ghosts. That was multi-opponent combat, and I was delighted with how fast and precisely I was able to move from opponent to opponent in that fight. I kept finding myself overshooting my swings, though! Possibly because my muscle memory is still oriented to the PC’s response times. Hopefully this will improve as I adjust to playing on the Deck.
Similarly, I got a dragon attack in Raven Rock, like you do. On the PC, I find Shenner’s ability to use a crossbow similarly hampered by response times. As a result, for most of her playthrough I’ve been whipping out regular bows (usually the Bow of Shadows, for its improved draw speed) if I need to hit something with arrows.
I did not have that problem here. 😀 I was able to whip out the crossbow and pelt that dragon with crossbow bolts quickly and precisely. Delightful.
The one thing I found so far that I was underwhelmed by was that while I am able to launch the debug console, it appears right behind the onscreen keyboard. Which makes it damned difficult to actually see the debug console.
So far in Shenner’s playthrough I’ve had to get into the console only a few times. But I have needed to. This is suggesting to me, moving forward, that a teeny keyboard may be a handy accessory to have for the Deck just for the rare occasions when I do need that debug console.
Immediate term gaming plans
I still have Faanshi’s playthrough in progress on the Switch, and I will not abandon that. My Khajiit is not going to be denied her chance to take down Miraak and Alduin!
Once I finish Faanshi’s playthrough there, though, that’ll probably be the last Skyrim I do on that device unless Nintendo actually releases a port of the Anniversary Edition. I have highly enjoyed Skyrim on the Switch, but the lack of ability to mod the game there, as well as the lack of the debug console, means I can’t get everything out of Skyrim there that I want.
But I have other games on the Switch that I’ll want to play on that, so it’s not like I’m going to stuff it into the closet! What’ll likely happen there, moving forward, is that I’ll shift over to playing games on that that I can’t get on the Deck–the main immediate contenders there being, Zelda: Breath of the Wild and Pikmin 3.
I have the BioShock games and the Portal games on the Switch as well. I know those are available on Steam, though, so I may or may not want to play those on the Deck instead.
All further Elder Scrolls action, though, is definitely going to be on the Deck. I’m going to finish Shenner’s playthrough with the current configuration. Once she’s done, though, my next Skyrim action after that will be to start exploring what mods I want to tackle.
Likewise with Morrowind. I am actively interested in modding Morrowind, as well as running OpenMW, and I need to find out if modding OpenMW rather than the official Steam build is a recommended approach.
I haven’t played Oblivion at all yet, so I’ll be able to start completely fresh with that game on the Deck. Looking forward to that. <3
Aside from a few bumps in the experience, so far I am absolutely delighted with this device.
Would I recommend it for other users? So far, yes, just with the caveat that if you have the same screenshot needs I do, just be prepared to jump through additional hoops to handle it. And if you think you might need to get into Desktop mode, be prepared for that to be a bit bumpy as well. Some level of technical savviness will serve you well there.
So far though, the playing experience is top-notch. And I am very much looking forward to seeing what Sovngarde looks like once Shenner gets there. 😀