How well does Valve’s new Steam Deck hold up against Steam’s own library?
The announcement of the Steam Deck in July 2021 introduced Valve’s latest excursion into the complex world of gaming hardware. No doubt inspired by Nintendo’s success with the Switch console, the Steam Deck aims to let you take your entire Steam library wherever you go. Well, most of your library, anyway (more on that soon enough). But how will the Steam Deck handle Steam’s current most popular games? Will they run like a well-oiled machine, or break down faster than a 3DS running Crysis?
Let’s look at Steam’s current top 10 games on Steam Charts, and do a little predicting! We’ll be looking at the 10 Steam games with the highest player counts in August 2021.
How We’ll Judge the Steam Deck
While the specific hardware that the Steam Deck uses is known, the actual performance of the full system is not. As such, the following list is largely conjecture. However, we can make some educated guesses based on the graphical intensity of each game, combined with what we know about the Steam Deck already. For the sake of this comparison, each game will be evaluated based on how well it runs on a GTX 1050 GPU paired with a Ryzen 3 3300X CPU; those are two pieces of hardware that are roughly equivalent to the Steam Deck’s potential performance.
It’s also notable that the Steam Deck’s native resolution in handheld mode is just 1280 x 800, although when docked it can run games on higher-resolution screens. Both will be considered below, where relevant. While these comparisons will not be perfect, they allow us to gain a rough idea of what the system will be capable of.
But First, A Major Pain with the Steam Deck
Unfortunately Steam’s current top 10 games include a few titles that will not run on the Steam Deck at launch. The Steam Deck’s operating system, called SteamOS, runs on a modified form of Linux which plays Windows games through a program named Proton. While this is a fine way to play single-player games, it introduces severe issues in some multiplayer games. Proton can’t run some online games because they include anti-cheat software that works exclusively on Windows.
If a multiplayer game isn’t accompanied by its corresponding anti-cheat software, it simply won’t be able to run and will not be available on the Steam Deck. Below are the currently known games that may run into issues running when the Steam Deck fully releases, according to gameinformer (using data from ProtonDB):
- Apex Legends*
- Black Desert Online
- Dead by Daylight
- Destiny 2
- Fall Guys
- Hunt: Showdown
- Player Unknown’s Battlegrounds*
- Tom Clancy’s Rainbow 6 Siege
While it’s sad to see so many titles on this list (two of which are even in Steam’s current top 10 games, marked with asterisks above and below), we can hope that some form of fix will arrive at some point, whether that’s a Windows-based Steam Deck or some type of software solution. Losing so many big-name games will surely turn many potential buyers away from the Steam Deck unless/until a solution can be found.
Nevertheless, we must proceed, so let’s begin! Here are our predictions about how well Steam’s current top 10 games will run on the Steam Deck.
The Steam Deck vs. Steam’s Top 10
#1: Counter Strike: Global Offensive
Counter Strike: Global Offensive, like a handful of other games among Steam’s current Top 10 list, is a highly competitive game based on pixel-perfect aim and reaction time. If you’re able to effectively play this kind of game on a mobile device like the Steam Deck, not only am I impressed, but I also thoroughly fear you and whatever else you are capable of. That aside, the Steam Deck will be all but guaranteed to easily run CS:GO at maximum settings without any issue, even when docked and outputting at higher resolutions. The inherent age of CS:GO and relatively small playing area of multiplayer maps suggest that this game will run smoothly on the Steam Deck for hours on end.
#2: DotA 2
Estimated graphical settings: Max
Much like CS:GO, you’ll likely be able to run Dota 2 maxed out with little to no issue on the go, as well as at higher resolutions when docked. Considering the simple and top-down graphical style of DotA 2, you can expect to be able to play this title cranked up without any dips below 60 FPS. If anything, this game will be more of a test of the CPU rather than the GPU portion of the APU—but considering the fast speeds and large memory bandwidth, DotA 2 shouldn’t have any issues regardless.
#3: Apex Legends*
Estimated graphical settings: Low – Medium
One of the newer games on this list, Apex: Legends will likely need many of the graphical settings turned down to run at a consistently high framerate, likely due to the size of the map and the modern graphics. Upscaling on a TV to see distant targets better will add stress to the system, as it will have to render at a higher resolution (meaning Apex may not be the best choice for the Steam Deck). Anticipate this game turning the back of your Steam Deck into an effective griddle during long play sessions! Well, if it even runs, that is. Apex: Legends is one of two games on this list that may not run at launch due to the multiplayer debacle currently looming over the Steam Deck.
Estimated graphical settings: Low
A very large game that may put the power of the Steam Deck to the test. Rust will certainly run, but at varying degrees of success. Playing in handheld mode will likely see high framerates due to the low resolution of the screen, even at higher graphics settings, but playing while docked may be a different story. To stay at a consistent 60 FPS at 1080p during docked gameplay, the graphics will likely have to be toned way down.
#5: Grand Theft Auto 5
Estimated graphical settings: Medium – High
Another large game, GTA 5 is another title that is likely to see decent performance in handheld mode, but may struggle while docked and outputting at a higher resolution. The Steam Deck should have no problem running this game at medium or even high settings in handheld mode thanks to a combination of the reduced screen resolution and the age of the game. However, while connected to a TV and playing upscaled (even to just 1080p) will easily drop the FPS considerably. In order to play while docked at 1080p, particularly in multiplayer, the graphics will likely need to be tuned to medium or even low.
#6: Player Unknown’s Battlegrounds*
Estimated graphical settings: Low – Medium
Like both GTA 5 and Rust, the Steam Deck should have no issue running PUBG on medium settings (or maybe even high) while handheld, but will need the graphics toned down considerably if playing while docked and outputting in 1080p. PUBG remains a very poorly optimized title, which means higher settings and higher resolutions both put large strains on hardware. And sadly, this massively popular battle royale game is the second of two games on this list that may not be playable on the Steam Deck at all. Hopefully, fans of PUBG will be graced with a solution before the Steam Deck launches, but unless that happens they’re out of luck.
#7: Back 4 Blood Beta
Estimated graphical settings: High
Guessing how a game runs on an unreleased system is difficult enough, but a beta of an unreleased game on an unreleased system? Now this is some real guesswork here. A GTX 1050 Ti can run this beta at an excellent framerate even in 1080p on high settings. While a 1050 Ti may be a bit beefier than the Steam Deck, this likely indicates that the game can be run at max settings while handheld and at medium or even high settings when docked and displaying at 1080p. Only the future can tell how this game and the Steam Deck interact, but the performance during the beta seems promising!
#8: Team Fortress 2
Estimated graphical settings: Max
Call it a hunch, but something about a beautifully optimized game released 14 years ago suggests it’ll run just fine on the Steam Deck. Whether you want to take pot shots as a sniper using joysticks and trackpads is up to you, but just know that you’ll likely never see a framerate dip during this game in handheld mode. The Steam Deck can also likely output any reasonable resolution in TF2 when docked as well, making for a well rounded experience in this legendary game.
#9: Football Manager 2021
Estimated graphical settings: Max
Football Manager is a relatively simple game that won’t demand too much from the Steam Deck (certainly not from its GPU, at any rate). Football Manager 2021 will likely run very well in both handheld and docked mode. Framerate drops and low settings will be easily forgotten due to this game’s low system requirements, making the Steam Deck excellent for managing your football teams on the go. And for the game’s considerable amount of menu navigation, the device’s touchscreen may make a natural ally.
#10: Final Fantasy XIV Online
Estimated graphical settings: Medium-High
Final Fantasy 14 Online will most likely run great on the Steam Deck in both handheld and docked mode. The graphics should pose no real threat to the performance of the Steam Deck, allowing you to enjoy FF 14 Online anywhere you go. Previously, the only way to play this game on the go was with a Vita running PS4 remote play (or a gaming laptop, of course). Neither of those are ideal options for most mobile MMO players. With the introduction of portable play and the probably great performance of this game on the Steam Deck, fans of Final Fantasy XIV Online will likely find that the system pays for itself in no time.
Unsurprisingly, there’s a fair number of games that will doubtless run well on the Steam Deck; some due to their older age, others due to their simpler nature and smaller scope, and still others due to the stellar optimization work done by their development teams. You may have also noticed that one category of games which was not highlighted here because of the specific angle we chose for this article is indie games, the vast majority of which should run beautifully on the Steam Deck. Nor have we discussed emulation, for which the Deck is likely to end up being terrific as well.
At the end of the day, just about anyone looking for a gaming experience on the go could probably find a pretty good reason to drop ~$400 on the lowest-tier Steam Deck variant. Even compared to the mid-tier $530 model, a similarly performing PC would run a much higher price right now—and that’s before even including necessary peripherals like a monitor, keyboard, and mouse. Now, do remember that the list above is largely guesswork; but by examining how games run on similar hardware, we can get of idea of how the Steam Deck may run each of these great titles.
You can check out more information, and even pre-order a shiny new Steam Deck to arrive (probably) next year, on Steam’s dedicated page about the device.
Have a question or comment? Let us know below. Thanks for reading!