Baldur’s Gate 3 is a delight on Steam Deck — even though I sometimes can’t tell what’s going on.
I suspected that might be the case going in. Everything I had seen about Baldur’s Gate 3 before I downloaded it promised a vast, sprawling adventure, and all the streams of the game I watched on Twitch featured incredibly detailed characters and worlds. I’m sure most of those streamers were running the game on top-of-the-line rigs. I suspected that the Steam Deck, which recently had some troubles with The Last of Us Part I, might not be the best place for me to play Larian Studios’ new RPG.
That said, the game just looked like so much fun, and since it won’t be coming to PS5 until September, I really wanted to find a way to play it sooner. I was even more intrigued after reading my colleague Ash Parrish’s beginner’s guide. And then, a few days after Baldur’s Gate 3 officially launched, I saw that it was Steam Deck verified. I knew that wouldn’t necessarily mean the game would be beautiful to look at, but it was enough for me to jump into Baldur’s Gate 3 on my Steam Deck.
These were nonlethal knockouts, I promise. Screenshot by Jay Peters / The Verge
Here’s what I encountered after downloading the huge 122GB game:
Characters often had a fuzzy sheen, and when wandering around Faerûn, faces sometimes appear as amorphous, pixelated blobs.In battles, I occasionally had trouble distinguishing enemies from the environment. My Steam Deck’s fan blasts like a jet engine, and the back of the device gets extremely hot to the touch.Baldur’s Gate 3 chews through the Steam Deck’s battery; from a full charge, my Deck projects it will last about an hour and 40 minutes while playing the game. (Though that’s without me mucking with any settings to try and get more juice.)Sometimes, I play with the Steam Deck hooked up to my 55-inch TV, meaning that any visual issues are magnified on a much larger screen.I even found a way to turn on local co-op in the game on my Steam Deck — something that Larian specifically disabled on the platform — meaning the game has to work to manage both of our characters simultaneously. (And we always play on the TV.)
You’ll notice the screenshots in this article aren’t pretty, but for some reason, they’re seemingly worse than they should be. I promise I didn’t go out of my way to make the game look as awful as possible! After I first published this story, Sean Hollister and I may have found some inconsistencies with Baldur’s Gate 3’s default Steam Deck settings, and we think there’s something going on that made the game look worse for me. Possibly something to do with the AMD FSR AI-powered upscaling that can improve performance by running a game at lower resolution before blowing it up.
Both Sean and I originally began playing on Steam Deck with default graphical settings, and both of us remember the images looking blurry and / or pixelated like the screenshots in this story right from the get-go. But when Sean did a clean reinstall on Friday, he said the game’s “default” settings now looked way better than my screenshots. Sean noticed that those default settings did and still do have AMD’s FSR 1.0 set to “Balanced,” which his game still claims is the default as of today. But when I used the “restore defaults” option today while testing things, the default for FSR is off. But we’re both on the latest version, v184.108.40.20648072. (Yes, it doesn’t make a lot of sense — also my settings default to Ultra spec for some reason, while his default to Medium.)Despite Sean’s copy of the game claiming that it’s set to FSR 1.0 Balanced by default, when he manually switches the game away from FSR 1.0 Balanced and back again, the game looks blurrier than it does on first launch.
We’ve reached out to Larian to try and clarify a few things, including the default FSR mode for Steam Deck, and we’ll update if we hear back.
My screenshot (left) compared to a promotional image from Larian (right).
Despite all this, I’m absolutely fascinated with Baldur’s Gate 3 on Steam Deck.
I just keep marveling at how much game is packed onto a relatively small machine that I can hold in my hands. Even though it clearly struggles on my Steam Deck — it’s a graphically demanding game, and we’ve seen subpar results on lower-specced desktops as well — I’m impressed that it works as well as it does.
I’ve rolled four different characters already, and I’ve found new areas and conversations each time I go through the game’s early sections. Baldur’s Gate 3 is full of life, so even though I sometimes have to squint to figure out where I am, the characters are incredibly fun to talk to. To my surprise, I haven’t run into any major issues playing co-op, meaning my wife and I have spent hours howling at our ridiculous mishaps. (RIP, Barcus Wroot, the gnome we accidentally flung from a windmill.)
I also find that there’s something more personal when playing a game on a handheld — it’s one of the reasons I love the Nintendo Switch. Sure, it’s a lot of fun to share an adventure with everyone in the room on a TV. But some of my favorite time with Baldur’s Gate 3 has been sitting on the couch, Steam Deck resting on a pillow on my lap, and headphones plugged in, wandering through Faerûn. (It helps that the game’s gamepad controls, while a bit complex, have started to make some sense, though it’s sometimes hard to pick up objects that are close together.) I’m even thinking about bringing my Steam Deck on an upcoming vacation so I can play Baldur’s Gate 3 — what better way to relax than a cold drink and a successful persuasion roll?
My feelings could all change. With about 18 hours of playtime, I’ve barely scratched the surface of Baldur’s Gate 3, and I don’t know if later areas will look or feel worse on Steam Deck. (One colleague says some darker areas that show up later can be particularly hard to parse.) Larian plans to implement FSR 2.2, which could make things look better.
But overall, it’s been a surprisingly smooth ride so far. Even though I’m looking forward to picking up my adventure on PS5 with cross-saves, I bet I’ll still spend a lot of time with Baldur’s Gate 3 on Steam Deck.
Update August 18th, 7:41PM ET: Added details about the Steam Deck’s graphical settings.