More than ever gamers are looking to diversify their ways of gaming. With evergrowing libraries across multiple platforms, this problem was abundant in yesteryears. Now, with handheld PC gaming devices entering the market more and more, players finally have more viable options in removing themselves from their desks and taking their PC gaming experiences out in the world. The ASUS ROG ALLY is but one of these devices, not quite annihilating the competition nor the need for traditional PCs entirely, but still remaining a nifty device.
Opening the floodgates
The ASUS ROG Ally’s entire draw is the ability to play just about every PC game ever. When they say every, they mean every. Opting for a Windows 11 OS rather than Linux or a unique operating system means that not only can you play games from your Steam library, but from Epic Games, Game Pass, Ubisoft Connect, EA App, itch.io… I could go on!
With such open and free use, the possibilities of different ways of play are bountiful. I cannot tell you how much it feels like you have cracked into the Nexus when you are playing games that absolutely do not feel like they should be playable portably. Yet, they are. From Fallout New Vegas to The Sims 4 or XCOM, games that feel so essential to a desktop or at the very least a couch console play, were all enjoyable, smooth experiences. Particularly seeing XCOM, a game with great technical horsepower behind it coming into fruition here after a disappointing Switch port for example is incredibly heartening.
“…It’s going to be a certifiable backlog killer.”
However, it’s worth noting there will be some asterisks with some games. Like a PC, you may have the awkward situation of a game launching in windowed mode or the wrong resolution. Playing older games that load up a booting screen prior to launch will remove some of the sleek, immersive gaming experience the device otherwise offers.
Additionally, the ROG Ally’s controller setup is very similar to that of an Xbox controller with the same face buttons and familiar feelings for the triggers and bumpers. With additional back buttons to boot, these controls can all be mapped game to game inside and outside of the app itself via the pre-installed ROG Armory Crate interface. Old DOS games where their gameplay is intrinsic to a mouse and keyboard will be much harder to rig, however, and certainly come with some work. Alas, I’ve yet to get Commander Keen running.
The device’s biggest secret? It’s going to be a certifiable backlog killer. Some games that are stuck on the PC after being lost to time simply don’t feel good being played at a desk. Visual Novels are perhaps the number one genre that falls into this boat. With the ROG ALLY, gone are the days of meagerly progressing dialogue with a mouse click. Now, I can cosy up in bed or on the couch with a cup of tea, and experience some literature in game form all within my fingertips.
Getting the thing in your hands
The ROG ALLY is immensely comfortable to wield in your hands, even with its 608g weight. For context, that’s about a third heavier than the Nintendo Switch. While I certainly found myself conscious of the difference and need to adjust to it when I switched out my play, you inevitably sink and settle into the Ally really nice. Your palms rest on the subtle textured engraving on the back and front of the device, providing a real grip.
While I don’t normally go for the sleek white design in my hardware, its design is undeniably striking and flashy, distinguishing itself well from the RGB lights that emit underneath the twin sticks. Rounding out the design is a very familiar console setting with not only the typical face button setup but an asymmetrical stick positioning. The dual front-facing speakers are some of the flashiest bells and whistles on the device, providing some of the best speaker audio I’ve found in a portable gaming device so far.
I also like how unobtrusive the cooling vents are, situated at the slant at the top of the console, rarely noticing how warm the device in my hands occasionally can run. In the marketing for the ALLY, ROG (Republic of Gamers) has spent a lot of time honing in on just how much investment went into creating a form-fitting device. Frankly, I see it. Subtle curvatures, pieces of flair and the like make it all the more evident comfort is at the device’s forefront.
That comfort will reach its limit when you consider its limited battery life. I typically ran around 2-3 hours of battery life depending on how graphically intensive the game is and whether I’m playing in the preinstalled turbo, slow or performance modes. I can easily see that number reaching upwards of 5 on more modest games and lower on even more involved titles. However, it’s not all that bothersome when you’re reminded of the modest beast of a mini-PC you have in your hands. I managed to play Elden Ring on a domestic flight with this thing. There’s no way I can be mad with that.
Getting the best out of your gaming
I’ll be blunt with you now. The ASUS ROG ALLY cannot wholly substitute a desktop or laptop gaming experience. I tried about two dozen games in my time with the device. The more intensive of the bunch included: Dying Light 2, Far Cry 6, Elden Ring, Doom Eternal, XCOM: Chimera Squad, Resident Evil 4 (2023), Hitman 3, Sims 4, Yakuza 0, Everspace 2, Returnal, Metro Exodus and Bright Memory Infinite. The latter four of that bunch are the only games I ran into issues with, each struggling to maintain a consistent 30FPS. Though the aforementioned turbo, slow or performance modes for the device help some, it’s not quite the fix you’d want in already troublesome games.
Inside the console are quite the beefy specs. For instance, the brand new AMD Ryzen Z1 Processor in its shiny glory is built into the device. 16gb RAM with 512GB SSD storage means response times and speed for the device will be fast and this does in fact show in high-performing games. Visually, games pop too. Having the device run games at 1080p resolution within its 7-inch display already puts this a stretch above other market competitors like the Steam Deck. Add to that the impressive lighting projecting off the screen (less glary than you’d think in the sunlight!) and I’m coloured impressed by the flashy experience the Ally offers.
Still, I can’t help but come back to some of the performance issues in some of those games. I’m not envisioning the Ally being my be-all and end-all PC gaming device, though I do like to seamlessly pick up where I left off in games. It won’t ruin your entire time with it, but it will sour those looking for a truly elite handheld gaming console. Those nerds especially more tech literate than I may find good fine-tuning methods that work for them to make their time more enjoyable. Rest assured, some mileage may vary.
The final verdict
The ASUS ROG Ally is an incredibly ambitious device that has entered the portable PC gaming market somewhat in its infancy. It’s only natural then that there are some quirks and rough edges that can come with the console. Performance issues in some higher-end games and the expected PC oddities and jank are some of those, to name a few. Considering that, I’m honestly really glad this is a device I do not have to score while having some of these mixed feelings. On the one hand, it’s hard not to feel the sting of some games not quite reaching up to the stuff. When you consider the fact it costs $1299AUD, that’s something that’s going to be a tricky pill to swallow.
However, as a supplementary gaming device to most PC games, the Ally is superb. I’ve gotten to play games in new contexts previously inconceivable as recent as a few years ago. The device feels good to hold and play with, experimenting with a wide array of games in any genre. With some exceptions, it mostly holds its own in that regard and that’s something that can’t be understated or undervalued. This is a flashy, pretty device that lets me play goddamned Yakuza 0 comfortably on the go. On a selfish and very personal note that alone makes this a god-like device.
The ASUS ROG Ally releases worldwide on June 13. Whether that’s a device gamers are eager to invest in? Time will tell.