The Elite Controller is the Controller We Deserve

A console’s controller is how you interact with your games. It’s often an extension of the character you’re controlling on screen. It’s how you physically feel connected to the games you play. So the controller should be of good, if not great, quality, right?

Aside from a junk d-pad, the Xbox 360 controller was widely considered the best of last generation, if not ever. Through the hundreds, potentially over a thousand, hours I spent playing games on the Xbox 360, I never got a new controller because the last one broke. In fact, after a decade I only had three 360 controllers; the one that came with my launch console, the one that came with my 360 S, and a wired one to play PC games. That thing was built to last.

I can’t say the same for the Xbox One’s controller. On paper it’s much better than the 360 controller. The d-pad finally looks and feels like a traditional d-pad. Microsoft also added this cool feature called impulse triggers, where the triggers are able to vibrate, and developers can program that vibration to give you feedback on how you’re playing the game. Anyone that has played Forza knows that this is now integral to the experience.

But, to put it plainly, the Xbox One’s controller is built like crap. It feels cheap in the hands, due to its lighter weight and probable thinner plastic mold. My first controller became unusable a little after a year due to the right stick drifting. And the one I got to replace it had a loose left back panel, and you can already see the left control stick starting to wear on the shaft.

Enter the Elite Wireless Controller, Microsoft’s premium controller designed with pro-gamers in mind.

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The Elite controller has a few things going for it, the first of which are the interchangeable parts. They all attach to the controller magnetically. The connections are strong enough that nothing will fly off while you’re playing, but still come off easily when you intend to swap something out.

It comes with three sets of analog sticks, a set of regular ones that all Xbox players will be familiar with, a medium height set with rounded tops, and a tall set. These are great for use in first person shooters as you can be more accurate with your movements with a taller stick. The tall one is still too different for me to use, but I’ve already grown used to using the medium one for Halo.

There are also two different d-pads; the standard cross, and an odd bowl shaped one. The latter of which would be useful in fighting games as you can more easily roll your thumb around.

Around the back of the controller there are a couple of things going on. The triggers have a switch that will stop them, giving them a shorter throw and stops them at their activation point. This essentially makes them digital inputs. As you can probably guess, this is once again useful for FPS’s so you don’t have to waste the fractions of a second to pull the trigger all the way down. I like this feature for Halo and going back to mushy triggers doesn’t feel right at all.

Finally, the most foreign addition, are the paddles. The Elite Controller comes with four of them, two short and two long, that go into the back of the controller. Any digital input on the controller can be mapped to the paddles. A pro-gamer would like this because they no longer have to take their thumbs off of the sticks while playing a game. But they’re still fun to use even if you’re not hyper-competitive. Halo 5’s default layout has the new dash on the B button, making it practically useless in a firefight. With it on one of the paddles however, there have been a few times I was able to dodge and still successfully pop someone in the head. It’s also kinda cool to have manual shifting on the paddles for Forza.

To map buttons to the paddles, or remap any of the buttons, there’s an app called Xbox Accessories. The app will walk you through how to do just that. You can also do things like change the dead zones of the triggers or adjust the sensitivity curve of the analog sticks, if you’re so inclined. As someone that has a family history of arthritis, it’s nice to be able to turn down the vibration intensity, rather that it just being an on/off switch.

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This app has since been opened for use with all Xbox One controllers, but the Elite Controller still has some advantages. The Elite Controller can have two different layouts, so switching between games with different layouts doesn’t mean going into the app every time. And switching between them is easy, as there is a switch on the front of the controller that lets you do that. It’s that easy because your custom layouts are saved locally to the controller. So, if you find yourself going to a friend’s house often to play some split-screen Halo 5: Guardians Master Chief Collection, your custom layout will come with you.

Then there’s the overall build quality of the Elite Controller. It’s SUPERB. The front has a matte finish, and the back of the handles have a grippy material. The d-pad, analog sticks, and triggers are made out of steel, so there’s no worry of them wearing down. The controller is definitely heavier than the standard one, but still comfortable to hold for hours on end.

And that’s what it really comes down to for me. The Elite Controller completely blows the standard one out of the water when it comes to build quality. It is significantly better. But is it a hundred dollars better?

The Elite Wireless Controller is $150. That’s 2.5x more than the standard controller at $60. Given that I was already on my second controller in two years, I think it was worth it. I like to play a lot of Halo multiplayer, so the additional bits are nice to have. If you’re playing a dozen or more hours a week playing Xbox games, especially if they’re competitive multiplayer games, then the Elite Controller is worth the investment.

As of right now, it's hard to come by. It's out of stock on Amazon, and it's not shipping until the end of the year on Microsoft's store. If you're in the market for an Xbox One, the new Elite bundle comes with this controller (Amazon, Microsoft).

If you have any questions, let me know!

And if you're interested in a video version of what I have to say...