You finally got your hands on the Steam Deck, the hot item everyone's been talking about for the past two years. But as you look at all the options available for the portable, you think to yourself — what now?
Valve shook up the portable gaming market with its Steam Deck. It reset the bar for handheld gaming. A little beast of a portable that can not only run indie games but some of the most graphically-demanding games that have come out in the past few years.
It's also turned out to be quite the emulation- and software-running machine, with countless ways to customize it and even more programs and applications to download for it. You can even get other digital gaming storefronts running on the Steam Deck. If that wasn’t enough, there are plenty of accessories to purchase, too, from micro SD cards to headsets, to keyboards, to docks, and more.
But all these options can be quite confusing, which is why we put together this guide that showcases the cream of the crop. You’ll be able to pick out which of these programs, products, and games work best for you, and come one step closer to decking out your dream Steam Deck.
The best games
There are plenty of the best PC games that are verified for the Steam Deck, while many more that haven’t still run just fine. But naturally, there are some games that truly stand out on the handheld.
Spider-Man Remastered somehow manages to shrink down the incredible performance of both the PS5 and PC versions and make it run on the Steam Deck with little lost in the process. The game uses AMD’s FSR 2.0 (FidelityFX Super Resolution), which upscales graphics from lower resolutions, and on Medium settings strikes a solid balance between visual fidelity and performance, remaining consistently around 30FPS.
Sonic Mania is an excellent old-school-styled 2D platformer in its own right, with creative level design and enemy placement as well as gameplay that balances breakneck speeds with thoughtful environmental puzzles. Not to mention that it’s genuinely one of the best Sonic games, and Sega games in general, that have been released in the past decade.
Plenty of other titles showcase what the Steam Deck is capable of performance-wise, like God of War and Elden Ring. And other games that are just excellent to play on the go such as Cuphead, Tunic, and Hades, or even lesser-known indie titles like Sucker for Love: First Date, Silt, and World of Horror.
The best software
Of course, if you plan on taking full advantage of your Steam Deck, there’s software out there that will enhance your experience with the flexible portable system.
The first software you’ll want to install is Windows 10 or 11 OS, which will fully transform your Deck into a computer and allow you to download additional software like the Office suite (such as LibreOffice). And if you’re sticking with the Linux OS that comes with the Deck, you can download photo editing and card capture software.
With Windows installed, you’ll also be able to install other non-gaming programs, browsers, and apps. For instance, you can download browsers like Microsoft Edge, Google Chrome, or more, then get Xbox Game Pass running on your Deck. Discord is another great app to install on your handheld, since you can use it to chat with friends and fellow gamers, and OBS is great for streaming.
For those looking into emulation, one of the best is called the EmuDeck app. It’s a robust emulation application that configures aspect ratios and hotkeys, downloads the right box art for the ROMs, and integrates all these features into the Steam library. It’s by far one of the easiest and best emulators out there for this portable.
The best accessories
Along with games and software, Steam Deck accessories are necessary to get the most out of your Steam Deck, especially if you plan on taking advantage of the aforementioned games and software.
Before anything else, you need to get your hands on a Micro SD card. This extra storage will allow you to save games and software galore because you’ll run out of space on your actual portable very quickly. There are plenty of brands to choose from like Samsung Evo Plus, Samsung Pro+, or the SanDisk Extreme Plus, but regardless of your needs, it’s best to spring for the larger capacities of 256GB and above, so you won’t be forced to constantly purchase new cards.
There are plenty of other accessories that complement the Deck for your hardcore gaming needs, including the best gaming keyboard (especially the ultra portable 60% keyboards), the best gaming mouse, headsets or earbuds, and HDMI cables.
And if you’re playing performance-intensive titles that drain battery life in no time, power banks are an excellent way to get some extra juice into your portable. Some recommendations include the Razer Huntsman Tournament Edition keyboard, the Roccat Burst Core gaming mouse, the 1More Triple Driver in-ear headphones for earbuds, and the SteelSeries Arctis 9 Wireless for headsets.
In terms of docks, Valve has finally released its own Steam Deck dock, but the price isn’t right for what you get and the company is still working out technical issues. There are plenty of third-party options available like the UGreen USB-C Multiport Adapter, the j5create USB-C Docking Station, or the Anker 341 USB-C Hub.
A good start
The Steam Deck is quite an interesting and, so far, a successful experiment from Valve. It was the company’s first real crack at creating a handheld system that could balance performance and portability. And while it’s by no means perfect, with lackluster battery life and a high price point, it’s still an excellent gaming machine that's able to handle the vast majority of the Steam library.
Even so, Steam Deck needs complementary software, games, and accessories to truly make it shine. And that’s where this list comes in.
While by no means comprehensive, as the number of options is staggering, this should serve as a beginner’s guide to offer you the best overall Steam Deck experience.
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Named by the CTA as a CES 2023 Media Trailblazer, Allisa is a Computing Staff Writer who covers breaking news and rumors in the computing industry, as well as reviews, hands-on previews, featured articles, and the latest deals and trends. In her spare time you can find her chatting it up on her two podcasts, Megaten Marathon and Combo Chain, as well as playing any JRPGs she can get her hands on.