Steam Deck Is Reaching Its Limits in Games Like Plague Tale: Requiem

Steam Deck
(Image credit: Valve)

Oliver Mackenzie at Digital Foundry published an article discussing the capabilities of Valve's Steam Deck in the latest AAA titles that were launched last year. In particular, he wanted to see whether or not the Steam Deck could deliver a solid 30 fps gaming experience in very graphically demanding titles, such as the highly demanding A Plague Tale: Requiem, Callisto Protocol, Gotham Knights, and more.

To refresh your memory, the Steam Deck is equipped with a Zen 2 quad-core CPU that boosts up to 3.5GHz, and an RDNA 2 iGPU equipped with 8 CUs and running up to 1.6GHz. This APU is certainly not a strong chip by today's standards, but in the Steam Deck's application, it has proved to be a surprisingly adequate gaming APU- as our review highlights.

Plague Tale: Requiem showed impressive results on the Steam Deck. Mackenzie was able to hit a solid 30 fps gaming experience, with just a couple of minor dips in more demanding areas. This was accomplished with the resolution optimizer in performance mode, and all visual settings set to low, with the exception of textures that were set to medium settings.

Despite running on low settings, the graphics hold up well, being equivalent to an Xbox Series S. However, since the game is upscaling from an internal resolution lower than 720P, pixel popping and fizzling are definitely problematic.

The Callisto Protocol is up next and is one of the most challenging games here to run on the Steam Deck. In terms of graphical fidelity, Mackenzie was able to use a mix of low and medium settings that performed favorably against current and last-generation Xbox consoles. However, frame rates proved to be an issue due to CPU bottlenecking issues that saw fps drop into the low 20s sporadically.

Gotham Knights is another title that did not run well on the Steam Deck. Despite the use of low visual quality settings and FSR 2 in performance mode, Gotham Knights was constantly dipping below 30 fps in the open-world area. Again, this is probably due to CPU bottlenecking. However, when fighting enemies in interior space, the game picks back up to a perfectly smooth 30FPS. 

Need for Speed Unbound is the only racing title that was tested by Mackenzie. The game ran surprisingly well, hitting a mostly solid 30 fps with medium-quality settings at a resolution of 720P or 800P and a DRS target of 30Hz. But, hitching is still somewhat problematic in this title according to Mackenzie, with the game also being CPU bottlenecked in certain areas. 

On a more positive note, The Witcher 3 Complete Edition shows a different story, with the game holding a solid 30 fps in almost all areas. Graphical settings used were a mix of medium and high settings at native resolution (800P) with TAAU enabled. 

Uncharted 4 is the final game Mackenzie tested. This game ran the smoothest of all the titles, hitting a solid 30 fps. But this shouldn't be too surprising considering the game was originally made in 2016, only being released to PC later last year. Mackenzie used the medium graphical preset for this title, in combination with the FSR 2 upscaler in quality mode to hit his 30FPS target.

Plague Tail Requiem Running on Deck

(Image credit: YouTube- Digital Foundry)

As Mackenzie learned, the Steam Deck's hardware is definitely showing its limits in these graphically demanding PC titles. Almost all games tested required the use of a resolution upscaler at an already very low native resolution of 1280 x 800, making image quality borderline playable in some cases. CPU bottlenecking was also problematic in most titles, and was the sole reason for some games not hitting a comfortable 30FPS.

That said, the Steam Deck is still pulling off a playable gameplay experience where it seemingly shouldn't. The hardware requirements for most of these titles absolutely dwarf what the Steam Deck's hardware actually possesses. Yet somehow, the console is still able to run these games with a gameplay experience rivaling last-generation consoles.

It's hard to tell when the Steam Deck will no longer be able to play the most graphically demanding games the PC platform has to offer. But based on Mackenzie's findings, it could be soon. And that doesn't bode well for the company's claim that a next-gen device won't be focused on performance upgrades.

Game developers are beginning to switch to next-generation game engines such as Unreal Engine 5, and dropping last-generation console support in the process. This will undoubtedly make future AAA titles substantially harder to run on the Steam Deck's Zen 2 APU.

Aaron Klotz
Freelance News Writer

Aaron Klotz is a freelance writer for Tom’s Hardware US, covering news topics related to computer hardware such as CPUs, and graphics cards.

  • PlaneInTheSky
    The reason I never liked Steam Deck is the fact it was built around graphical performance.

    The Steam Deck is bulky, big, heavy, noisy and has poor battery life.

    When I buy a handheld I want:
    -long battery life
    -low weight and portability
    -no noise or loud fans

    ❤‍ my Switch.
    👎 Steam Deck.
    Reply
  • zecoeco
    PlaneInTheSky said:
    The reason I never liked Steam Deck is the fact it was built around graphical performance.

    The Steam Deck is bulky, big, heavy, noisy and has poor battery life.

    When I buy a handheld I want:
    -long battery life
    -low weight and portability
    -no noise or loud fans

    ❤‍ my Switch.
    👎 Steam Deck.
    You're absolutely right. Portability and Long Battery Life are top priorities for a handheld device.
    As for the performance, the main goal is efficiency, and to maintain a fanless design and a great battery. life.
    Dense, Efficient and Low Frequency Cores are the way to go for this application.
    Reply
  • Chantosp
    The steam deck is a wonderful device for these people like me that wants to play the library of old games from steam. I am not into the newest game available.
    Reply
  • atomicWAR
    I returned my deck for excatly these reasons. I could see real quick while totally awesome atm (july 22) it wouldn't age well for new games. Sadly I look like I made the right call, for now.

    I want a hand held portable PC experience but one that will last a good 3-4 years before going belly up on new AAA games. Until Valve or another pull this off... my switch will have to make due for now.
    Reply
  • HaHaYeahNo
    PlaneInTheSky said:
    The reason I never liked Steam Deck is the fact it was built around graphical performance.

    The Steam Deck is bulky, big, heavy, noisy and has poor battery life.

    When I buy a handheld I want:
    -long battery life
    -low weight and portability
    -no noise or loud fans

    ❤‍ my Switch.
    👎 Steam Deck.

    It's not built around graphical performance? It's built around utility. Just because it has better graphic performance as a byproduct to help it do it's job doesn't mean that's what it's built for. It's clearly built for being able to use it however you want. As a handheld, a computer, an emulator, and those are just the ways I've used it. The Switch can't have that utility based on it's lack of graphic output-- it's the limiting factor. The switch is purely for real portable gaming (while I still think its a mediocre for being a portable device alongside of Steam Deck. Sorry, it's no comparison to older portable Nintendo devices) and lacks in any form of utility.

    You're missing the entire point of the steam deck if you think it's for taking with you on the go like the Switch. You don't buy a Steam Deck for that. They're for taking your PC games to the bed or couch without having to sit at your computer all day. Somewhere comfortable. You can take it on the go, but as you said, who wants to carry something that size around? (Still more comfortable to hold than the Switch, though) It's extremely convenient in that regard. I can play thousands of games wherever I want.


    The fan is also not loud at all and that's simply never been an issue. I'm lucky if I can hear it at all unless it's silent in my room and I have the sound all the way down (which I would never do while gaming). Maybe you have a faulty device, because this is simply not true.

    Battery life is of course an major issue if you're playing AAA games or anything graphically intensive, but we're still in the first iteration of the handheld. Did we forget the battery woes of first generation switch? It was awful as well. In fact, it was the same as the Steam deck and offered zero of the pros other than than being lighter and smaller. (2.5-6 hours) I can easily get 6 or so hours with the Steam Deck. Not fantastic, but if I stay away from AAA gaming the battery life is satisfactory, comparable to most Laptops.

    Both handhelds have their ups and downs, sure. As an adult that doesn't need to "game on the go" anymore (never does that opportunity present itself) the Switch does absolutely nothing for me anymore. Not when I can play my Switch games more reliably on a different console, which is just ludicrous.
    Reply
  • Nolonar
    HaHaYeahNo said:
    You're missing the entire point of the steam deck if you think it's for taking with you on the go like the Switch.
    Then Valve was missing the entire point of giving the Steam Deck its form factor, and so did you when you bought it.

    If you didn't buy a Steam Deck for taking it with you on the go, then you should've bought a desktop instead. It would've offered you significantly more utility and power for less money.

    You clearly like your Deck, and that's perfectly fine, but please don't avert your eyes from reality. If you feel like you made a mistake buying a Deck, feel free to admit it. Pretending it's a good device despite being bad at what it was designed for, just because it's good at what it wasn't designed for, is called a sunk-cost fallacy.
    Reply
  • drivinfast247
    I want to play all games available at 1080p/60fps for hours on end.
    Reply
  • ezst036
    Nolonar said:
    Then Valve was missing the entire point of giving the Steam Deck its form factor, and so did you when you bought it.

    Not really? Honestly, the place I want to play games most is laying on my back right there on my best aged/comfy couch, or on my adjustable bed.

    How does the Steam Deck miss that point? Seems like a dead on hit of the target.
    Reply
  • Nolonar
    ezst036 said:
    Not really? Honestly, the place I want to play games most is laying on my back right there on my best aged/comfy couch, or on my adjustable bed.

    How does the Steam Deck miss that point? Seems like a dead on hit of the target.
    I've actually done that before, both with my Switch and with a smartphone. It's not an enjoyable experience. While you're lying, you'll need to lift your arms so you can see the screen. This will tire your arms very quickly and can be quite painful, too. Try to put your hands down, and you're going to hurt your neck instead. It works fine for ~10 minutes depending on the weight of your device, but any longer is no good, and the Deck is even heavier than the Switch.

    If I had the means, I'd much rather mount a TV or screen above my bed/couch, so I can play with a regular gamepad in my hands resting on my laps or stomach. Until then, I prefer sitting. And placing a TV or screen in front of the bed or couch is easy.

    Heck, even for that specific use case the Switch is still superior to the Deck. I can detach the JoyCons from the main unit and use a smartphone holder to keep the screen in front of my eyes. With the Deck, I'd have to invest in an additional gamepad to do that, and that's assuming I can even find a smartphone holder that can support the weight of a Deck.
    Reply
  • PlaneInTheSky
    You're missing the entire point of the steam deck if you think it's for taking with you on the go like the Switch. You don't buy a Steam Deck for that.

    what kind of baloney is that

    https://i.postimg.cc/hPRyWnFc/Capure.jpg
    Reply