The Steam Deck is the hottest PC hardware. It’s also incredibly difficult to get your hands on, both literally and figuratively. After the initial pre-orders were claimed, wait times for Valve’s portable PC gaming machine rose to weeks, then months. Right now, the earliest you could get one in the US (without resorting to scalpers) is after the third quarter of the year.
But as cool as the Switch-style laptop is, we all know that part of the desire for cheesy new tech is novelty. With that in mind, I want to provide an alternative for PC gamers hungry for something new and different. Take the $400 (minimum) you would have spent on a Steam Deck and buy a Meta Quest 2 instead.
Listen to me.
The Quest 2 is the cheapest way to experience virtual reality
You have a few choices of VR headsets on the market. And starting at $300, the Quest 2 is by far the cheapest of them. The standalone Android-powered headset essentially plays mobile games, not the more intense PC-powered VR games seen elsewhere. Since VR isn’t for everyone, jumping the whole hog in the $1,000 Valve Index might not be the best bet, even if you have the hardware (and the hardware). space) needed to use it.
The second most popular VR headset still sold is HP’s Reverb G2 on the Windows Mixed Reality platform, still twice as expensive as the Quest 2. If you want to get into VR gaming without spending an arm and one leg is pretty much the only choice.
The Quest 2 works great with Steam
Here’s what a lot of gamers don’t know: despite being a standalone headset tied heavily to the Oculus/Meta platform, the Quest 2 works brilliantly with Steam. In fact, it’s by far the most popular VR headset among Steam users, occupying almost half of the user base with more than three times as many Steam users as Valve’s own Index headset.
It’s because of Quest 2’s killer Oculus Link system. You can directly connect to your gaming PC to access desktop VR programs through the Oculus Store, or directly connect to Steam VR. This effectively gives you access to all VR games on Steam – even high-end games like Half-Life Alyx, Skyrim VR, and boneworks. Games run on your PC and display on the Quest 2, giving the inexpensive little headset access to the kind of PC power it can never have on its own.
Even better, if your local Wi-Fi is fast enough, you can access the Oculus Link desktop system wirelessly. This gives you a new degree of untethered freedom that desktop-based VR systems don’t have without expensive add-ons.
The Quest 2 is portable
With its built-in Android software and internal battery, the Quest 2 is more than happy to hop in your backpack and accompany you on your travels. While not a truly portable gaming system in the same sense as the Steam Deck, it is capable of playing video content or browsing the web from a car or airplane seat. And thanks to its built-in cameras for environment tracking, it only takes a few seconds of setup to start playing games in a hotel room. The fixed barrier system means you can play most games with just a few feet of free space.
When not connected to your PC, the Quest 2’s app library is limited to Android games that you can download from the Oculus Store. But it’s still a pretty impressive library, and you can further augment it by loading it from third-party repositories like SideQuest. The VR games aren’t as varied (or, frankly, polished) as the huge library of Steam games available on the Steam Deck, but it’s still more than enough to keep you busy during a layover.
The Quest 2 is a novel
Let’s be honest: a big part of the appeal of the Steam Deck is the novelty of having the power to run real, full-featured desktop PC games in a new format, one you can stick in a pocket. (At least if your pocket is in one of those huge ’90s JNCO jeans. Most people probably use a bag.) At $400 to $650, the Steam Deck isn’t exactly an impulse buy for the most people, but it’s cheaper than both a gaming laptop and most alternative Switch-style PC gaming machines on the market.
But the thing about novelty is that it comes in many forms. If Valve’s official stab at handheld gaming is denied you by its own popularity and the continued global shortage of chips, the Quest 2 might scratch that same itch in your brain. After a brief period of pandemic-related shortages, it’s now back on electronic shelves often enough that trying to find one shouldn’t take more than a week or so.
There’s one major downside to Quest 2: it’s a Meta product, AKA a Facebook product. Despite promising to allow new users to access the Quest 2 without a Facebook account this year, that hasn’t materialized, and frankly, I wouldn’t be shocked if Facebook drags its feet as much as it can.
You could object to any system in which Facebook has access to your data, and you would be more than justified in this objection. While it’s certainly possible to use the Quest 2 without giving Facebook more money than the purchase price, cutting yourself off from the Oculus store severely hampers its effectiveness as a gaming machine. (Especially a handheld.)
In short, if you’re trying to engage as little as possible with Facebook, the Quest 2 is still banned. Unfortunately, there really isn’t an alternative in its price range.
A new point of view
I’m not here to advocate virtual reality as the next frontier in gaming. nowhere so soon. But virtual reality is much more interesting and engaging than I thought just a few months ago.
The immersive aspects of true 3D perspective and motion controls cannot be overstated. Even a decade old game like Skyrim takes on a whole new dimension—literally—when you feel like you’re occupying a physical space that responds to your presence and your movements. It’s something worth experiencing, especially as more games launch exclusively in the format.
The Steam Deck is cool. But it will only play games that, as a PC gamer, you already have access to on your primary machine. The Quest 2 opens up a whole new type of game to portable and PC gamers. And, of course, it is currently available. Give it a shot.