The performance of the Steam Deck has been tested against some more demanding games, with the handheld generally acquitting itself quite well – with some caveats as you’d expect.
Digital foundry (opens in new tab) (via Tom’s Hardware (opens in new tab)) conducted this round of testing, putting the Steam Deck to the test with some of the more challenging PC games out there, including A Plague Tale: Requiem, Gotham Knights, and more.
A Plague Tale: Requiem looks fantastic, and is a tough cookie to handle on both the GPU and CPU, which may be why the Steam Deck is struggling a bit. Digital Foundry, of course, chose it for this stressful nature, noting that all graphics settings should be pushed to the lowest level (except texture resolution), and that the game ran at an upsampled 720p (from more like 360p).
The net effect was still a decent looking game, albeit with some omissions (such as low quality foliage and indeed a fairly short draw distance) and visual glitches, and 30 frames per second (fps) was mostly achieved – just not without stuttering in some places, particularly in more densely populated locations. (The game is notorious for this though, even with full PC configurations there will be stuttering in some areas).
Gotham Knights is in a similar category, with inherent performance issues, and it’s a game that puts quite a strain on the CPU. Even when all graphics settings were dropped, Digital Foundry noted that the game was dropping well below 30fps in open-world areas, with profuse stuttering becoming apparent.
So this isn’t a great experience on the Steam Deck, but as mentioned there are wider performance (and stability) issues with Gotham Knights, so it was always going to be a tough nut to crack for the handheld.
Both games emphasize that in CPU-heavy titles, the Steam Deck can struggle more (although A Plague Tale: Requiem still ran well, albeit the visuals were far from ideal).
Digital Foundry further found that Need for Speed Unbound increased the Deck’s capabilities, but was a “good experience” overall, and The Witcher 3 (with the recent next-generation upgrade applied) ran well enough (and saw look good enough at the settings chosen), albeit with some stuttering in denser urban environments.
The Callisto protocol also worked well with reasonable levels for the graphics settings, with the caveat of enlisting the help of FSR 2 – AMD’s frame rate boost feature – in performance mode. Finally, Uncharted 4’s PC port performed admirably on Valve’s handheld, running at a steady and consistent 30fps (albeit again using FSR 2).
Analysis: shit? Not a little – besides, raw performance misses the point for many
Digital Foundry was quietly impressed with the performance of the Steam Deck in general when battling some of the more taxing games of the day – as long as the player doesn’t mind dropping the graphics settings appropriately ( and maybe put up with minor imperfections and visual artifacts here and there)).
The article concluded: “It is absolutely true that the Steam Deck can provide compelling experiences with recent big-budget games – but… it is possible to reach the system limits for major titles – even when everything is running at minimum settings.
“The AMD Van Gogh APU at the heart of the deck is an impressive portable chip, but it clearly has its limits – especially in CPU-constrained scenarios.”
We suppose the concern might be that with next year’s demanding games, the Steam Deck will fall further behind, and even tweaking and tricks (and FSR, if available) won’t get you anything playable going forward.
A concern that may be heightened for some people by what we’ve heard about the next iteration of the Steam Deck. Namely that it won’t improve performance, preferring a level playing field for all device owners going forward, instead focusing on the screen and battery life as the main areas of improvement. Only with the Deck incarnation after this can we (presumably) expect better performance.
Still, in some ways it misses the point of focusing closely on achievements for the Steam Deck. For a start we must remember that this is a handheld PC and will never give you the same experience as a full desktop setup, with a big old PC case that fits a giant discrete GPU for the latter – price is the other issue here, where the deck is of course a lot cheaper than a typical gaming PC).
The whole point of the Steam Deck is to create a device that can be taken anywhere, or let you have a short gaming session in bed, late at night – and pound for pound, it offers great levels of performance for what it is.
Plus, many owners (including Deck addicts at TechRadar) just don’t care about playing AAA or massively taxing games on the device. They use the Steam Deck to enjoy older (less demanding, of course) games, fill in the blanks and classics that went unplayed in their games library – or to play indie games, which will run just as well as a dream on the Steam Deck. (Or indeed, some people go for retro gaming with on-deck emulation, not that we condone the latter of course).
Arguably this kind of utility is really what the Steam Deck is all about, in many (most?) cases as an addition to a gaming PC. Because even if the Deck could (somehow) run visually complex and demanding AAA games smoothly without breaking a sweat, would you really want to play those on a small screen? No, you (ideally) want to sit in front of your big gaming monitor to enjoy those graphics and sweeping landscapes to the max.
That’s not to say a faster-performing Steam Deck wouldn’t be a boon, and such a model is bound to come, as Valve seems to have firm long-term plans for the handheld. Just don’t expect it any time soon (and apparently not with the next version of the Deck, from what we’ve heard so far, as mentioned above).