It’s been a pretty crazy year for Steam Deck. From the moment it first went on sale, it was obvious that it was going to be a success. Even now, despite recent production speedups, Valve still hasn’t fulfilled all pre-orders for its Pocket PC.
Despite being large, the hardware is fantastic. I was really amazed at how much performance you can get from what is basically a handheld game console. Playing Marvel’s Spider-Man on the go with similar graphics and performance to the initial PS4 launch, but, well, nowhere does it ever get old.
However, a large part of the experience is software. Valve has managed to turn SteamOS into something easy to use on this type of device. Those who care know Linux is underneath, but those who don’t have to will never know. And SteamOS has come a long way, even in Steam Deck’s short life so far. But there’s still one key trait that just doesn’t hit the mark; offline mode. Something essential for a handheld game console.
Offline still isn’t good enough
Simply put, offline mode is necessary because without a data connection your Steam Deck cannot ping servers when and when it needs it. Of course, multiplayer is not available, but it just affects your ability to play games. Traditionally, Steam didn’t have to worry so much about the lack of a data connection because, well, PC gamers quite often have that connection.
Recently, Valve has tried to fix this with a SteamOS update, but it just failed. At least not yet. My experience so far has largely been to hotspot my Steam Deck from my phone to get around offline mode which is a pain. But I haven’t tried this in a while. But the segment on the recent one Linux Game Cast the episode mentioned that it’s still not good and, low and behold, it seems to be so.
The problem is not that it doesn’t work because it works, it just doesn’t work very well. I know from my own experience that even just enabling offline mode can be a pain, resulting in a mixed understanding of whether it is enabled or not. As long as you forgot to manually go offline while you still have a data connection, you might just forget. Consequently, it will try to connect to the servers even if there is no data connection, and it will take ages to start the game. It usually works in the end, but I’ve lost track of the number of times I’ve given up and put down my Steam Deck because I just can’t care.
An underestimated but important trait
The main purpose of a handheld game console is that you can take it anywhere. Problems like battery life can be fixed with outside help, but problems like pronounced offline jerky can’t. And honestly, it really stifles the sensation. Perhaps we were spoiled by the fact that the Nintendo Switch does not have such problems.
But the Switch is also the gold standard. Unless it’s actually playing requirements data connection is just not a problem. How it shouldn’t be. The workarounds are not what we need, and I guarantee that on my next trip I will forget to go offline and will probably get my phone detected again to keep everything running smoothly.
The Steam platform is already so good that Valve should be commended for the speed with which work on SteamOS lasted throughout 2022. And clearly, the company knows offline isn’t good enough. But the latest fixes don’t seem to be enough. I really hope that as the last batches of pre-orders start rolling out this feature will finally get what it needs.
Valve’s first portable gaming PC, Steam Deck is one of the hottest devices of 2022 with a huge library of games to play on