Microsoft XBox “Elite” Controller

I play video games pretty regularly, primarily on a desktop PC but also consoles. I’ve spent plenty of time playing recently with an XBox 360 controller, a Steam controller, and a Playstation 4 controller. And honestly, none of them are half as enjoyable as the “Elite” XBox controller that was released last fall. Everything about the Elite controller feels
just right.

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The whole thing is sold as a pretty slick package. It includes a carrying case (its durability somewhere between a hardshell and softshell guitar case), a tweed USB cable if you want to use it wired instead of wireless, four optional paddles for the back of the controller, three sets of thumbsticks with varying heights, and two “D-pad” options. All of the paddles, sticks, and pads are metal and attach via magnets, which should be a disaster but actually works spectacularly; there seems to be no way to accidentally pull/push any of them off.

As a controller, it’s a dream. It has a light textured grip on the handles, is weighty but not too weighty in the hand, and feels solid. The standard sticks and octagonal D-pad are smooth, responsive, and satisfying to the touch. I didn’t think I’d care for the optional paddles on the back, but the ability to press them while keeping both thumbs on the analogue sticks is really useful. The triggers can even change from a full “throttle” style, perfect for racing games, to a quicker, shallower “trigger” style more appropriate for shooting games. The tweed cable never gets tangled and is more than long enough to sit back on the couch and play.

On top of just how good it feels to use, it also has a really simple software companion (on PC and XBox One; I haven’t looked for Mac), where you can quickly map the buttons however you’d like. For example, you can map a bumper to a button, or a stick press to trigger. You can map whatever buttons you’d like onto the four paddles. This means that you can set the controls however you’d like for any game you play. Even better, the controller has a switch so you can toggle between two stored configuration settings at any time. I find myself using the paddles on the back of the controller more and more for the face buttons, so that I need to take my thumbs off the sticks as little as possible.

The controller is $150, which is almost three times as much as a standard XBox, Playstation, or Steam controller. I’m not going to pretend that’s insignificant. But consider it against all the other money people spend on digital entertainment. Some people buy big-screen TVs; some people spend egregious amounts of money on Apple laptops; some people still buy discs of movies, which seems insane to me. $150 is not cheap, I admit, but the jump in quality is so large that if it disappeared tomorrow, I’d go buy a new one. In comparison, the Steam controller feels cheap and plastic-y, and the Playstation controller feels awful and built for squidgy alien hands. The standard XBox controller fares better and would be my go-to if I had all the other components to play games but money were really tight. But really, nothing compares to the way that fancy-ass controller feels in your hands.

You can get the Elite controller from the Microsoft store as a standalone product, or as part of a bundle with the XBox One, which is a decent deal. (Probably a good sign that the controller is often sold out.)

Jesus, I just prattled on for six hundred words about a thing you use to play video games. Another good sign, I guess (except for my dignity).

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