A promotional photo of the ROG Ally handheld console

The ROG Ally is my new best friend

All your favourites, on the go, all the time.

11 mins read

I guess I like PC gaming now.

For context, I’ve never actively disliked PC games, of course. It’s just that I spend so much time working on PCs that I struggle to enjoy them as gaming devices. Perhaps it’s a mild form of OCD, but I compartalize my devices. If I’m playing games on my PC, I feel a mild level of anxiety that I’m not looking at a Word document or (worse), a spreadsheet. I don’t enjoy feeling that way, but PCs are for work.

So it’s not that I don’t want to enjoy my Itch.io, Steam and GOG libraries. As a game critic, they’re all quite large. It’s just that if I want to relax with a game, a console is a far better option for more.

Enter the ROG Ally.

A photo of the ROG Ally in use.

It’s taken me a while to pick one up. In Australia, at least, stock levels have been terrible (despite Asus swearing black and blue at a media event that there were plenty of them). But I finally have one, and I absolutely love it. Actually, to clarify, I’m playing Final Fantasy XIII on the go. I absolutely love it.

For those that haven’t been following, the ROG Ally is Asus’ take on the Steam Deck, essentially. Only it looks better than Valve’s device (which isn’t the most important thing in the world, I know, but still). It’s a Windows-based handheld designed to feel like a console. You’re not even supposed to see the desktop, because as soon as you turn the device on, up pops Asus’ overlay, with all your gaming apps (including Steam Big Picture) right there.

This isn’t as elegant as what console manufacturers do with the interfaces on their devices. There’s the occasional moment where the interface bugs out (for example, using the control stick to cycle through the apps just stops working entirely), but that’s never frustrating enough to dampen the experience, and it’s better than trying to navigate around the desktop. The Ally has touchscreen support and a virtual keyboard, and the screen is big for handheld gaming. But for Windows navigation, it’s both tiny and a pain.

A photo of the ROG, highlighting the interface

But this is a good thing, for me. This here is a Windows experience where I feel like the point is to play games (because that’s exactly what it’s there for). So, in a beautiful reversal of my OCD, or whatever it is, pulling up a Word document or my email on this thing would feel really odd.

With that being said, the screen really is gorgeous and big in the hands and so, above and beyond the gaming capabilities, the ROG Ally has a useful secondary purpose as a general entertainment unit, if you want to kick back with some Netflix or Crunchyroll. The in-built hard drive isn’t massive (500 GB, minus the space dedicated to Windows), but there’s both an SD Slot and USB 3.0 port, which is used for charging but (I believe, but haven’t tested) can also be used for external hard drives. You can easily fit large amounts of content on this device.

That’s just a side-note though. The ROG Ally is all about gaming, and for the games I like to play, it is more than adequate. This is a genuinely powerful unit, and so long as you’re not looking to push recent AAA-games to their limit, you can enjoy pretty much anything that is controller-supported on this. I decided that Final Fantasy XIII would be the first game that I play on this. It was long overdue for a replay. It has run flawlessly so far. Final Fantasy XIII is no slouch in terms of its aesthetics or technical requiements. At the preview event, I also tested various more modern games (for example, one of the Halos and some Hitman) and it too worked fine, in my view. There’ll be some frame drops when you get to AAA level, but while it’s not perfect, it’s adequate. And for those lower-tier games that I spend my time playing, the performance was flawless. I loaded up Trails of Cold Steel to test (replaying that comes after FFXIII) and it was exceptional. As was, uh, Honey Select 2 at maximum settings. That’s not a game to play on the train, but it’s nice to know the Ally can handle that kind of graphical fidelity.

A photo of the ROG Ally handheld console in action.

All of the above more that justifies the ROG Ally purchase, and that’s before I’ve even started delving into emulation, which was a big reason that I bought the console. I love my little emulation handhends and have amassed a big collection of them. However, they cap out at handling the PlayStation 1, PSP, DS and, to an extent, the GameCube. It seems like it will be some time before they begin offering an optimal PlayStation 2 experience. And I really, really want to get back into PlayStation 2 games. I have no idea how irritating it will be to set up the emulators and optimise the device for them, but once I’m going, having Project Zero 2, Chaos Legion, Drakengard, Shin Megami Tensei: Digital Devil Saga, Rule of Rose, and all those other games I loved from back in the day playable on the go will be Holy Grail-level stuff.

Another feather in Asus’ cap is just how pleasurable it is to play the ROG Ally. I have never used more flawless control sticks. Without feeling loose, they glide without friction. From that micro-second when you put some pressure into them to start moving them, they feel like you’re an Olympic skater on ice for the total control you have over essentially no resistance. The shoulder buttons are much firmer, but that’s how they should feel, and the other face buttons and D-pad are soft and tactile, and have a beautifully low profile for rapid response. Even the two buttons on the back of the console, which allow you to easily map functions like screenshots, are in a position where they’re comfortably accessible without accidentally pressing them while playing, and I rarely enjoy the presence of buttons behind devices like that. Truly, Asus has woven some magic into the Ally engineering.

The only real downside is that the actual portability of the ROG Ally isn’t all that. Firstly, the screen’s so damn large that I’m terrified that if I take it anywhere with me I’m doing to do something that scratches or smashes it. A carry case is only going to reassure me so far, given I’ve seen what happens to my laptops when I carefully pack them into bads sometimes. Meanwhile, the control sticks are glorious to use but they also protrude far from the device, meaning that it’ll be quite easy for them to catch in bags or transit and get damaged. Most critical of all, though, is the battery. It sucks. Final Fantasy XIII wears it right down in less than an hour. Given that I plan on using it on the couch or bed, so I can plug it into a power outlet (and get a performance boost from doing so anyway), this terrible battery doesn’t really bother me, personally. However, if you were looking at one as a commute time-killer, then you’ll be better off sticking with a Switch or one of the better emulation consoles.

A Photo of the ROG Ally set-up

Any of the small issues I have with the ROG Ally are vastly outweighed by how much I totally enjoy using this device. It makes my PC game library accessible in a way that the most powerful computer would fail to by making playing them a console-like experience and, backed by more-than-adequately powerful hardware, glorious engineering in the controls, and a spectacularly large screen, the sheer versatility of the ROG Ally is going to ensure that I get more than my money’s worth back out of it.

Matt S. is the Editor-in-Chief and Publisher of DDNet. He's been writing about games for over 20 years, including a book, but is perhaps best-known for being the high priest of the Church of Hatsune Miku.

  • Doesn’t this thing overheat so much it damages memory? I remember reading about some technical issues other than the battery life. And I’ve heard about people putting other OS on it because Windows chokes on it. Like in theory it’s more powerful than Deck, but other components throttle it so it ends up performing worse.
    I am leaning towards Steam Deck myself. But I’m not financially comfortable enough just yet.

    • It’s barely got warm from the games I’ve played so far. I’m sure that if you push it really hard it will be happy to overheat, but I’m looking at this as a Japanese game player, not so much for the AAA stuff :-).

      That said this really was just a first impressions. I’ve only been playing around with it for a few days. I hope it doesn’t have those kinds of issues. I left myself $50 in the bank for the next two weeks in order to buy it <_<

  • Curious about your thoughts on it now! I’ve been considering the Steam Deck myself but this one doesn’t look too bad either. Is the battery life really that bad though? That would definitely be a deal breaker for me

    • I play with it daily. It handles every PlayStation 2 and GameCube/Wii game perfectly. It also plays Baldur’s Gate III flawlessly, which has been a real thing for me over the last couple of weeks.

      The battery really does suck, but at the same time there hasn’t been a circumstance where I’ve been playing it somewhere where I haven’t got access to a power outlet long enough to care. And there are power banks if you do want to use this as a portable console, rather than a “move it around your home” console.

      Also I don’t think the Steam Deck has much of a better battery life, and the Steam Deck isn’t compatible with a huge bunch of games that the ROG Ally does play (like Blue Reflection, for instance).

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