Doom Eternal is the latest evolution of the grand-daddy of first-person shooters. Its "push forward combat" approach to gameplay throws a barrage of enemies, explosions, and pixels on the screen all at once which the Steam Deck handles with aplomb!  Thanks to some impressive hardware packed into the (relatively) tiny Steam Deck, as well as amazing optimization on the part of ID Software, the Deck handles this intense shooter with ease.  

Doom Eternal Performance

Right out of the box, Doom Eternal fires on all cylinders at a solid 60fps but at the expense of some higher temps (up to 89*C in my initial testing) and higher power consumption (23-24W, giving about 1.5 hours of battery life).  A little fine tuning of settings and limiting TDP gives you options for either high quality graphics with 60fps 95% of the time (Quality Build) or lower graphical settings but at a rock solid 60fps (Performance Build). I personally preferred the performance build as a consistent 60fps helped the feel of the action in Doom Eternal and lowering the graphics as noted in the performance build did not make the game visibly unpleasant at all. 

The really good news is that you can achieve both of these with greatly reduced temps and significantly more battery life. The quality build played at 50fps most of the time with minor dips to 48-49 fps for a split second. Without the Steam overlay, I don't think I would have noticed these moments, but they were most present when the screen got extremely hectic (mostly during glory kills which don't require player control in the moment). The performance build gave a rock solid 60fps, but with noticeable aliasing on some elements, like the targeting reticle, that took a while to get used to. This required lowering the resolution, turning on FSR, and adjusting the graphics settings as noted in the performance build.  The builds kept the GPU temps down to 73*C on quality and 68 for performance, while CPU temps were 75c for quality and 70c for performance.

The battery build, while does save some battery and temps, makes the game’s text very hard to read. It gets around 65c for GPU while CPU hovers around 68c-70c. FSR saves the day at the resolution used for this build, but the quality downgrade doesn’t really justify the battery that can be saved from this setup.

When using the quality build I played with motion blur on. Yes, motion blur - wait, put down your pitchforks, let me explain. Yes, I know motion blur is regarded as horrible, but with the help of DRS, it becomes much less horrible and adds to the quality of the game in the performance build. Basically, Dynamic Resolution Scaling (DRS) will adjust the game’s resolution as needed, often lowering it temporarily, in order to try and maintain a higher framerate at the expense of blurring the image some. Since motion blur seemed to be implemented on a per object basis. This made the DRS’s downscaling much less noticeable while still keeping the frame rate and temperature gains.. Turning off motion blur didn't dramatically increase stability or allow for major graphical setting changes, and even in the quality build, it added to the experience. This could be a Doom only setting, and I understand why motion blur is hated, but I feel it really helps this game shine.

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Custom Controls

Interestingly enough, one of the greatest pleasures running Doom Eternal on the Steam Deck was the ability to fully remap the buttons (an option available in the Doom Eternal setting as well, but greatly expanded with Steam). I used the back buttons for jumping, dashing, grenade switching, and flame belch which let me keep my fingers on the joysticks at all times and I enjoyed some fine-tuned gyro aiming with the capacitive right joystick.  I also set up the right track pad as a radial dial, giving each one of Doom Eternal's weapons its own spot for quick switching with a rapid light tap that just isn't possible with other console controllers. You can go even deeper down the customization rabbit hole by adding double tap weapon switching and action sets with controller chords to switch weapons even faster. It can take a little while to wrap your head (and hands) around it, but there is a very deep level of controller customization possible. I would definitely say weapon hot swapping and animation cancels are mandatory at higher difficulty levels. The controller scheme can be found in the Community Layouts and is called "Doc Jones SDHQ".

Conclusion

As a friend said to me when I talked about playing Doom Eternal on the Steam Deck: "That thing is so well optimized it could run on a toaster."  He may be right, but it doesn't short-change the Deck's impressive hardware. The ability to customize the button layout even more via Steam allowed me to create a layout that was much closer to keyboard and mouse precision.  There were also no game breaking or distracting graphical bugs/glitches that I noticed as I played through the main campaign and horde mode (which includes enemies from The Old Gods expansion). I ran a few multiplayer deathmatches and they ran very well with these settings. From all of my testing, I can easily say Doom Eternal is amazing and playing on Deck will be well worth your time.

Call of Duty: Black Ops 2 is the sequel of Black Ops and the predecessor of Black Ops 3 from the popular First Person Shooter franchise and is full of nostalgia for those of us raised on all the earlier COD titles. BO2 comes with a somewhat lengthy campaign that goes back and forth between modern and futuristic combat, a gratifying multiplayer experience filled with iconic maps, and the evolution of the well-received zombie gamemode introduced from World at War, Black Ops 2 gives players an incredible experience.

The 45 FPS build for me was the smoothest of them all, which is why it is my recommended build. I used native resolution since lower resolution with FSR was causing micro-stutters for me (1-2 fps drops consistently), but I had it tested with another person who didn’t get the micro-stutters so take it with a grain of salt.

The reasoning behind not capping the wattage is mainly due to the game not using a high wattage 90% of the time anyways, except for certain cinematics that require the wattage to not stutter throughout. For the setting used in this build the game would reach up to 68fps at times if not capped which does give the player wiggle room if you prefer better shadows or something of that nature.

Fair warning though, there will be select heavy parts of the game where you might get around 40 instead of 45 fps due to this. If shadows are necessary for you, I would lower the 8x MSAA to 4x MSAA. But for me, the 8 times was easily worth the shadow loss. I felt the scopes on turrets or snipers would look blocky, but in 8x that was not the case. With this build, the battery length is 4.5 hours depending on the mission at hand.

I didn’t encounter any big issues in Black Ops 2 except on some cinematics where the game will not have a stable fps, likely due to the game’s cinematics not optimized for Linux. If you are looking to play multiplayer and zombies, you are going to need Proton GE 7-22 or above installed. For zombies and multiplayer, all the settings will need to be on low all, while leaving the TDP Limit at 15W to try to help against the lag/stuttering. With that, it is currently possible to get a stable framerate if you change the refresh rate and cap to 40 FPS. Playing solo works well, but I experienced a lot of lag during any connection to a server in multiplayer and zombies, so I can't recommend playing them at this current state.

Call of Duty: Black Ops 2 Conclusion

In the end, Black Ops 2's game’s campaign worked perfectly and it was great to re-experience it, but any multiplayer modes left something to be desired. While I could play Zombies alone without issues at 40 FPS, it was not enjoyable to play online, which I believe will deter a lot of players. If you are wanting to play through the Bo2 campaign, the deck would be a great way to do so. Otherwise, I would put more hope on the other CoD games for a better multiplayer and zombies experience. While I could play Zombies alone without any issues whatsoever at 40 FPS, it was not enjoyable to play online due to overwhelming connection issues.

Need some help understanding how we got to our score? Check out our Guide to Steam Deck HQ.

Tiny Tina’s Wonderlands is the newest entry in the Borderlands series, but with a unique DND twist. The game retains its looter shooter DNA and rolls in some stat building and a full overworld with random encounters and secrets to explore. This kind of one-off encounters and dungeons are a perfect fit for the Steam Deck’s pick-up and put-down style. Coupled with the Borderlands charm, this is one of the best Borderlands yet!

Configuring Tiny Tina's Wonderlands on Steam Deck

Gameplay aside, I was astounded by the ease of configuring the game. Due to the graphical style, upscaling through SteamOS FSR brought the 1024x640 resolution looking close to native, while saving a significant chunk on performance and battery.

To change resolution, go to the cog wheel for the game and under the general tab, change the resolution to 1024x640. With my test of FSR 2.0 though, I felt it didn't make a significant enough difference for the recommended build, but helped stabilize the 40 FPS build.

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The text is a little blurrier at 1024x640, but the sharpness is noticeably better with a fantastic saving to battery and temps.

30 FPS lock was very stable on Tiny Tina's Wonderlands. I did test 40 FPS a couple times, but my Deck shut itself down from overheating while trying to test it, do not have TDP limit off for 40 FPS.

I also ended up turning the in-game settings to medium, anti-aliasing off, and draw distance to low. I didn’t feel these inhibited the look of the game and ended up saving even more battery while keeping temps to around 65c - 70c.

Proton GE is also required simply due to the videos in the game being broken trying to use regular proton. I also checked DX11 vs DX12 and felt there was minimal difference, so either or can be chosen. Multiplayer did end up increasing battery by 1W, but temps largely remained the same and it still felt stable.

Throughout gameplay, I didn’t really feel any huge bugs or glitches that inhibited my playthrough. I did encounter one bug where when I paused the game and tried to scroll down on the menu, my first button press downwards would bring me back up. I did also have 1 crash trying to go into a mirror in a town, but so far that has been an isolated incident. This is a UE4 game as well, so expect some temp and battery spikes when loading environments in.

Conclusion

Tiny Tina's Wonderlands runs significantly better than I could have expected. For a game that really just came out not long ago, it runs cold and stable most of the time. Other than the spikes from loading the environment in, fights are stable and looking gorgeous. With multiplayer being so easy on the system, this is a perfect fit for a portable device.

If you need help understanding how to use this guide, don't forget to check out the How to use SDHQ tutorial!

Hitman 3 is the newest game in the rebooted hitman franchise. Taking the role of Agent 47, a man with a barcode slapped on the back of his bald head, you head to exotic places to assassinate elusive targets however you can. Feel like shooting them? Go ahead. Poison them? Be my guest. Throw a can of spaghetti? Oh you’ll be making Chef Boyardee proud. Using their new engine, each location is beaming with beautiful vistas and creative gameplay. And if you own Hitman 1 and 2, you can import the missions and campaigns into Hitman 3 for no extra charge! With all 3 games in 1 package, this is an incredibly fun game to screw around in.

Reviewing Hitman 3 was tough. This game actually runs really well on the deck out of the box, but there are a few caveats like high temps and battery usage. Through my testing, I found two efficient ways to play the game, a focus on temp/battery and one on quality. The main difference for these ways is the in-game FSR settings. Turning FSR on ultra quality blurs the resolution a little, but saves on battery a LOT while turning it off keeps everything sharp at the cost of battery.

The game can run 40 FPS pretty consistently at medium settings, 30 FPS lock actually kept temps and battery life down a chunk. This was most apparent when there are crowds of people. At 40, crowds could bring temps up to 80c and battery to 22W, while 30 would spike it to 70c and 17W generally. Medium in-game settings felt like a good balance of quality while still keeping temps and battery in check. I also found limiting TDP can mitigate some spikes, but it comes in most handy when shooting for higher framerates.

I didn’t experience any audio issues, but there were a few glitches I encountered. The mildest one would be some random black boxes appear when turning the camera too quickly, but they also disappear near immediately. When the in-game FSR is turned on, there is sometimes a visible halo around Agent 47 and there’s some ghost trails when walking.

I also have been noticing some framerate lag, but it isn’t picked up in the system so I believe it is the game’s engine and not the frames it brings out. I see this much more when FSR is turned off as well. I also noticed that, even though the game is verified, some steam deck button icons don’t show up in game.

There is a launcher for this game as well. You have to either use the touchscreen or set one of the trackpads to control the mouse. Though all of the settings from the launcher can be changed in-game, so I would just hit play and change settings after the game is launched.

Hitman 3 - Conclusion

Overall, the game runs surprisingly well. This is a new-ish release that still takes a lot to run, but the Steam Deck handles it like a champ. Being able to play Hitman 3 in a stable environment on the go, albeit with some compromises, still astounds me. This was a game I never imagined I could play on a portable device, yet here we are.

Need some help understanding how we got to our score? Check out our Guide to Steam Deck HQ.

Horizon Zero Dawn is an open-world action game taking place on an Earth recovering from a terminator-like event. Developed by Guerilla Games, you play as Aloy, the girl wonder with no parents, who has been tasked to save the world from a corruption taking over the rampant machines roaming the wildlands.

Throughout the journey, you will have to fight, craft, and explore your way to saving this world and figuring out who you are. With a beautiful setting, enjoyable combat, and a unique story, this game is definitely worth your time. I am a sucker for post-apocalyptic settings and open-world games in general, so this already checked so many of my boxes before playing. Just based on the game’s content, I would say it is a worthwhile purchase, but what about the performance on deck?

Horizon Zero Dawn on Steam Deck

After my initial testing, I ended up feeling that 30 FPS was the way to go. While it’s possible to increase it, I felt a much more stable 30 still plays really well and keeps temps and battery further down than I expected. There were some drops still, but they were few and didn’t impact gameplay. Game settings wise, I ended up feeling a slightly lower than native resolution with low settings, shadows at medium, and FSR turned on in-game to Ultra Quality, was the best medium for stable performance and quality visuals. This also kept battery life around 2.5-3 hours with around 14W - 16W usage.

I did see some performance and battery spikes under certain situations though. The biggest one that spiked both was when traveling around the world fast. When running, the world would render more and this would cause spikes in battery, usually up to 17.5W, and some performance hiccups. The only other one I really noticed was when walking around crowded cities, but leaving the immediate area remedied that.

There thankfully wasn’t too many game-breaking bugs that I encountered, though there were two that stick with me. First, when loading into the game, I opened my quick access menu, the button with the ellipses, and it froze on that screen. The game kept playing in the background and I had to power cycle the device since no buttons worked to close it. Second, there was one time I was running around and fighting robots, but my right analog stick randomly stopped working.

I could still press down on it and it responded in game, but I could not move it around. I had to close and re-open the game to fix that one, and luckily, I had just saved the game. Both of these only happened once though and I don’t expect it to be a huge issue. There was some minor audio stuttering at a few points, but that could have been the speakers and wasn’t anything of significance.

Overall, Horizon Zero Dawn ended up running better than I anticipated. Getting around 2.5 - 3 hours of battery life while temps staying around 70c. Framerate was stable 95% of the time at 30 FPS and still looked wonderful with FSR on and resolution slightly under native. It was a blast to play this game as much as I did on the Steam Deck and I cannot wait to see how Horizon Forbidden West and even Marvel’s Spider-Man will fare!

Side Note: For those who have Power Tools installed through the plugin manager, make sure CPU Boost is turned off. When it is turned on, temps and W usage jump a lot due to the CPU overclocking. This is not necessary for the game though and just adds unnecessary temp and battery usage.

Need some help understanding how we got to our score? Check out our Guide to Steam Deck HQ.

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