There’s a minor bombshell tucked into the latest Steam Deck OS preview update, which is mainly about fixing Wo Long: Fallen Dynasty issues. With this update installed, you can enable proper, full-fat ray tracing on the Deck for the first time, specifically in Doom Eternal. Nice!
So far it’s just ray traced reflections, as that’s the sum total of what Doom Eternal got in its ray tracing patch back in 2021, though that’s still more than I certainly ever thought I’d see running on the Steam Deck’s modest APU. That skepticism wasn’t just born from the hardware either – the fact that the Steam Deck’s OS is Linux-based makes it difficult to go the usual route of using Microsoft’s DirectX for RT effects, even with the Deck’s Proton compatibility layer.
Valve engineer Pierre-Loup Griffais says full DXR is “in the pipe, just not quite ready yet”, meaning Doom Eternal’s fancy reflections are being beamed into your eyes via the more Linux-friendly Vulkan API. I appreciate that’s a lot of nerdy words for the first half of a news post so before someone pushes me into a locker, let’s move on to how ray tracing actually performs on the Steam Deck.
It’s not bad, for a device that starts at just £349. After installing the OS preview update and booting up Doom Eternal, I could see that the latter never dropped below 30fps with a combination of RT reflections and the Medium quality preset. That’s with dynamic resolution disabled, too, so the screen didn’t need to get fuzzified to maintain that playable frame rate.
All that said, it rarely climbed above about 35fps either, and the difference between this level of performance and a solid 60fps – which Doom Eternal can easily achieve on the Steam Deck without ray tracing – is felt quite keenly in a shooter than moves at such a clip. The reflections do look nice, with accurate environmental details and/or the glow of demonic fireballs mirrored on shiny surfaces, although avoiding an even bigger framerate drop means having to lower most of the other graphics quality settings. You’re making the game look worse to make it look better.
None of this is to say that ray tracing on the Steam Deck has suddenly become offputting; just that it might make more sense in slower-paced games that can sit more comfortably on the inevitably reduced performance. And speaking of those reductions might not be so bad when true native support comes with DXR compatibility. Interesting times for the Steam Deck, then, a full year after it started shipping.
If you want your own portable button of Doom Eternal’s ray tracing, make sure you’re got the Steam Deck OS 3.4.6 beta installed. To download it, press your Deck’s Steam button, go to Settings, then System, then select ‘Preview’ as the System Update Channel. Hit the ‘Check For Updates’ button above, and you should be offered the 3.4.6 patch.