Pre-ordered a Steam Deck? Here’s how to find out which games will run on it

Steam Deck console from Valve
(Image credit: Valve)

Valve shook the gaming world when it revealed the Steam Deck, a handheld that’s essentially a portable PC. The Steam Deck console lets players access their Steam libraries on the go, and looks positioned to give the Nintendo Switch a serious run for its money when it releases sometime during December 2021.

But with some reports that certain games might not be able to run on the Steam Deck, including Destiny 2 and Apex Legends, how can you be sure your favorite go-to games will be playable at all?

Fear not, as there’s a relatively simple way to find out ahead of time if your most beloved Steam games are compatible with the Deck, and it lies within the fact that SteamOS (the Steam Deck’s operating system) is powered by Linux.

Enter Proton DB

Valve actually has an official tool, Proton, aimed to help players migrating from another OS to Linux maintain compatibility with the majority of their Steam library. And while Proton is still in beta, it’s currently being used to enable play on Linux for games that otherwise might not be compatible with the less commonly used operating system.

Linux playability for Steam games is handily catalogued on Proton DB, the tool’s official database that tracks how compatible games currently are with Linux. One glance at Proton DB’s homepage shows that while thousands of games are compatible with Linux, the majority do have issues that need to be ironed out.

A screenshot showing Proton DB's search functionality

(Image credit: Future)

Looking up your games on Proton DB is as easy as using the site’s search function to check their overall compatibility. On the Proton DB homepage, simply click on the “Search games” search bar in the top left corner of the page. There’s another search bar directly under that, labeled “Search for a game” which accomplishes the same thing.

Each game is collectively assigned a rank by the Proton DB community, with “native” being the best possible result, and “borked” (i.e. a game that flat-out doesn’t work, or has significant playability issues) being the worst. In between are ratings like “silver” and “gold” to help gauge overall performance.

As an example, we searched for Guilty Gear Strive, a recent and popular multiplayer fighting game. Currently, the game has a “gold” rating on ProtonDB, meaning that it works perfectly after some tweaks are made. At this point, the community submits reports on exactly what changes need to be made in order to facilitate play on the Linux operating system.

(Image credit: Future)

A community effort

The improvement of Proton is largely being handled by the community, who are currently posting robust, easy to read reports on a per-game basis. These reports highlight how well a game is running on Linux, as well as issues currently facing the game and potentially how to circumvent them. However, Valve is aiming to make every Steam game compatible with the Steam Deck before launch, which it mentions in this official video (skip to 2:16).

At the time of writing, there seems to be significant issues with multiplayer-specific titles like Apex Legends, Rainbow Six Siege and PUBG, all of which are currently rated as “borked” on Proton DB. 

The common thread? Anti-cheat software seems to completely prevent Linux devices from running such titles. Here’s hoping this is something that can be addressed ahead of the Steam Deck’s launch, as being able to play multiplayer-centric titles on the go is certainly an enticing proposition.

Proton DB is an incredibly useful resource, then, especially if you’re one of the lucky few who managed to pre-order a Steam Deck. And it’s an important tool to have, as it can help Valve and third-party developers better optimize their games for Linux ahead of the Steam Deck’s first wave launch in December 2021.

Rhys Wood
Hardware Editor

Rhys is TRG's Hardware Editor, and has been part of the TechRadar team for more than two years. Particularly passionate about high-quality third-party controllers and headsets, as well as the latest and greatest in fight sticks and VR, Rhys strives to provide easy-to-read, informative coverage on gaming hardware of all kinds. As for the games themselves, Rhys is especially keen on fighting and racing games, as well as soulslikes and RPGs.