It all clicked into place while playing the punishing Baldur’s Gate: Dark Alliance on my Steam Deck. After being continuously slaughtered by giant spiders somewhere deep within the Thieves Guild, I realized my control scheme could be better optimized. Taking my thumb off the left stick to switch between magic spells or my two weapon loadouts on the neighboring D-Pad? Well, that meant one agonizing second that I couldn’t dodge a deadly acid attack. I needed to stay agile to avoid death, and that meant switching between my ranged and melee weapons without taking my finger off that movement stick.
Fortunately, Valve designed an elegant solution for that, and for any other control scheme conundrum: the Steam Deck’s four user-assignable grip buttons. They’re so dramatically transforming the way I play and enjoy video games, that my expensive 4K gaming PC is gathering dust.
(Don’t worry, the monitor is being put to good use in Deck’s Desktop Mode.)
Getting A Grip
In my initial Steam Deck review, I praised the quality and utility of these grip buttons, but another two weeks of nonstop gaming has only amplified that praise.
No, it goes beyond mere praise. It has introduced a fundamental shift in my gaming habits. I’m completely hooked on playing this way. Which has honestly surprised me since I’m 46 years old and admittedly very “stuck in my ways.”
A quick disclaimer that I never owned a Steam Controller or an Xbox Elite Controller, but I absolutely understand the appeal now! Although, in this gamer’s opinion, Valve’s implementation on Steam Deck is far more elegant and customizable.
My solution for the aforementioned Baldur’s Gate: Dark Alliance problem was mapping the left two grip buttons to cycle up and down between magic spells, and the right two grip buttons for quick-switching between my bow and my battleax. (Ordinarily, these are all mapped to the D-pad.) This is far more effective in the heat of combat.
And just in case my controller mapping is useful to someone else, I shared it with the wider Steam community in a couple of clicks. Piece of cake.
Paddle Shifters For The Win
I’ve always been a fan of racing games (remember when they were a staple of new console launches?), and the Steam Deck has rekindled my love for Dirt 4 and Need For Speed: Shift. Whenever I played these games on my PC, I mapped the manual transmission shifting to either the right stick, flicking up/down to gear up and down respectively. That felt kind of immersive, and far more natural than pressing any of the face buttons.
But racing fans, listen up. It’s pure joy treating your Steam Deck’s rear grip buttons as paddle shifters. Not only is more comfortable and more intuitive, it just feels awesome. It’s one subtle but meaningful layer closer to achieving that level of immersion and escapism I’m seeking when I fire up a game.
I also appreciate the way Valve has positioned these buttons. I can either push them in with my fingertips where they align with the flat backing, or gently “pull up” where they curve into the Steam Deck’s, well, grips!
Grip All The Games
Now with every new game I launch, I fire up my imagination for a more precise, more comfortable, or simply more immersive and fun control layout utilizing the 4 grip buttons.
In God of War, I use one for Kratos’ quick-turn ability. In Death Stranding, for zooming in and out of the map. Clicking my flashlight on and off in Firewatch. The list goes on, and I’m eagerly anticipating using them with more complex games like Microsoft’s Flight Simulator. Hell, I’m just as excited about rediscovering games that are decades old to see how they feel on Steam Deck with these enhanced control options.
I guess you can teach an old dog new tricks. . .
Anyway, what’s more important is how you choose to use them. If you come up with something clever, do me a favor and share that layout with the Steam community. And let me know about it on Twitter!
(Sooooo hey, can we use the Steam Deck as a controller for Xbox and PC games yet? I don’t want to shell out $150 for an Elite.)