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Cities Skylines 2 made my Steam Deck hotter than it’s ever been

With the settings at their lowest, Cities Skylines 2 chugs along at 20fps on the Steam Deck, with the GPU consumption at a whopping 95%.

An in-game screenshot of Cities Skylines 2 running on the Steam Deck, on the screen of a Steam Deck.

The Steam Deck remains a high-powered PC gaming handheld, more than capable of playing some of the biggest AAA games of the year. However, all technology has its limits, and the cracks have already begun to show in the handheld’s ability to play Cities Skylines 2, and other big releases of the year.

Since the release of the Steam Deck, its ability to play some of the best PC games has been called into question. While Valve itself puts AAA releases and indie games alike through its vetted compatibility process, numerous games get classified as ‘verified’ for the handheld, only to be slated for their poor performance, and a myriad of issues when attempting to play on the go. Cities Skylines 2 is no exception, and while its performance on PC has failed to meet even the developer’s expectations, things are worse when it comes to the Valve handheld.

When first booting up Cities Skylines 2 on the 512GB version of the device, there are instant signs that the Steam Deck is going to struggle. The game’s launcher runs at a measly 12fps, chugging along as best it can, waiting for any signs of gameplay to start. If you don’t instantly change the in-game settings to make up for the fact you aren’t playing the city-builder on a high-end desktop PC, the heat of the Steam Deck gets astronomically high. Temperatures of the GPU reached up to 95°C in my tests, and it began to give off an odd plastic smell, with the fan whirring away frantically as it did its best to keep things cool.

Even by turning all the graphical settings to ‘low’, and disabling additional effects like the Volumetric Quality Settings, the game still only runs at 20 fps on the Steam Deck. While the battery of the device isn’t the best anyway, with the settings at the lowest they could possibly be the Deck only survived around one and a half hours of stagnated gameplay. Frame rate drops are still prevalent, with the game stuttering along while you do your best to shape your would-be sprawling metropolises.

It’s not entirely unexpected for a game as detailed as Cities Skylines 2 to not perform well on the Steam Deck, but it is surprising given its predecessor’s performance on the device. Cities Skylines, the first game in the series, performs well enough on the handheld that Valve has officially identified it as ‘playable’, and the Cities Skylines 2 system requirements aren’t too demanding despite their increase close to launch. Although city-builders themselves don’t lend themselves to being played on the handheld small screen, especially with there being so many minuscule menus to navigate through, there aren’t any egregious issues that appear when running the first game.

Sadly, the same can’t be said about Cities Skyline 2. Its performance is a stark reminder that even just nearly two years into its lifespan, the Steam Deck may not be able to keep up with some of the next big PC releases. Upcoming games, like Alan Wake 2, have system requirements that are bound to make even high-end rigs sweat, making it likely that the Valve handheld may struggle to play the game at all. With rumors that Valve is cooking up a Steam Deck refresh, I can only hope that the possibility of a Steam Deck 2 is on the horizon, and that it’s better equipped to cope with all the graphical demands of next-gen PC games.

Check out the best Steam Deck games, for a comprehensive list of titles that lend themselves to be being played on the go. If you already have plenty to play, picking up one of the best microSD cards for Steam Deck will give you plenty of storage space to download whatever you see fit.