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The First Descendant is playable on Steam Deck, despite some temporary compatibility confusion

Dude, where’s my Microsoft Visual C++ Redistributable?

The First Descendant running on a Steam Deck OLED. The RPS Steam Deck Academy logo is added in the bottom-right corner.
Image credit: Rock Paper Shotgun

Besides giving The First Descendant the ol’ benchy marks on desktop, I was curious to see how this gleaming looter shooter would run on the less flexing hardware of the Steam Deck. The answer: it didn’t, at first. Luckily, a semi-quick fix was enough to get me in, where I found a game that for all its ray tracing inclinations, is comfortable with life on the Deck. Reasonably. Most of the time.

With any luck, my issue could be purged completely by the time The First Descendant releases on July 2nd. Partly because I was using a technically non-final preview build, and partly because the problem itself was a silly one: launching was blocked by a case of missing Visual C++, something that the Steam Deck’s Proton compatibility witchcraft usually takes care of. Come on, Proton lad, you’re kinda dropping the ball here.

If this ever happens to you, in The First Descendant or any other game, I heartily recommend YouTuber JD Ros’ video tutorial on fixing it. The method boils down to installing the latest C++ versions via the Steam Deck’s Desktop Mode, then adding their executables to the game’s launch options. This worked a treat for me, and I didn’t suffer any further compatibility headaches from there on out.

I even got a clear run at The First Descendant’s graphics setting menu – not a given after previous testing on a low-end RTX 4050 laptop revealed the game will lock you on the Low preset if it thinks your hardware isn’t up to snuff. If anything, that would have made more sense here than on the RTX 4050, though the Deck could still land safely in the 30-40fps range when running Low in tandem with Quality-level FSR upscaling. Faster settings for the latter are available, but Quality produces a picture that’s by far the closest to native 800p resolution.

The First Descendant being played on a Steam Deck OLED.
Image credit: Rock Paper Shotgun

FSR 3 frame generation is available on top of this, and works even on the Deck’s dinky APU, upping the framerate to 40-50fps. It’s not an entirely convincing implementation, however: the input lag it adds is palpable, and even during the more 50fps-leaning bits, it still feels a tad skippy. You can tell, in other words, that the algorithm-generated frames are fake, even if they’re not clearly showing any errors in picture quality. We’ll go over The First Descendant’s actual best settings to use on the Steam Deck a few paragraphs down, but you can probably pass on the frame gen.

At the same time, you will want the 'real', traditionally rendered framerate to stay above 30fps as much as possible. The First Descendant is ruthless with kicking players from online games at the first sign of technical instability, which means big FPS drops risk you being booted from a mission well before getting your hands on its loot. This has happened to me on a couple of occasions, specifically on the Steam Deck, so it is vital that your settings don’t tax the APU too much. Not just for the sake of smoothness, but to appease the game’s paralysing mistrust of suboptimal performance.

That’s not ideal, clearly. But it’s also a rarity – much more often, The First Descendant feels fine on the Deck. The default controller binds, in particular, are sensible and keenly considered, managing to fit a range of sci-fi magic powers/grappling hooks/melee moves onto a small selection of buttons without demanding any inhuman finger-twisting.

Battery life is firmly in "could be better" territory, judging by my 2h 15m of playtime on the Steam Deck OLED and 1h 17m on the original LCD Deck. Missions tend to be quite short, mind, so it’s unlikely that you’d ever get caught out by a flatlining battery mid-sortie.

A dialogue scene with The Guide in The First Descendant, running on a Steam Deck OLED.
Image credit: Rock Paper Shotgun

The First Descendant Steam Deck settings guide

On desktop hardware, enormous performance gains can be had by simply flicking a few Ultra settings down to Medium; the majority of graphics options don’t take much to run maxed-out compared to their lower equivalents. The Steam Deck, on the other hand, is a lot more sensitive to these settings, and since we want avoid that online kicking measure as much as possible, a mixture of Low and Medium seems like the best compromise:

  • Ray tracing: Off
  • Additional options: FSR on Quality
  • Visibility: Medium
  • Anti-aliasing: Medium
  • Post processing: Medium
  • Shadows: Low
  • Global illumination: Low
  • Reflections: Low
  • Textures: Medium
  • Effect: Low
  • Vegetation: Low
  • Shader quality: Medium
  • Object: Low
  • Physics: Medium
  • Motion blur: Off

Simply going with the Low preset might sound like the safest option, but I honestly couldn’t see a performance difference between that and the better-looking settings above. You’re still getting 30-40fps in the most demanding areas, maybe mid-forties in tight interiors.

And again, frame generation isn’t as useful as it sounds. Even if it didn’t have the slightly sluggish, paradoxically choppy feeling to it, it shouldn’t even help with the ‘instability detected’ issue, as the generated frames are slotted in outside the GPU’s normal rendering pipeline. In very untechnical terms, this means they’re largely invisible to the system, so won’t be taken into account when the game thinks your Steam Deck isn’t running fast enough.

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