Can a $150 Xbox Controller Really Up Your Game
The Xbox Elite Controller is absurd. Great, but absurd. With a price tag of $150, the tricked out and customizable bad boy costs roughly three times as much as what you'd pay for a normal controller. A normal controller that, for all but the most hardcore and ultra-competitive gamer, will be functionally identical. After spending over two weeks with the Elite, I can tell you this: If there is even a tiny part of you that thinks that maybe Elite Controller might not be for you, it's not.
But oh man you'd love it.
With its multi-textured body, arsenal of swappable components, and extra mechanical features for the the impossibly discerning gamer, Microsoft's Elite Controller has three main things going for it to help justify its high, high price tag. First and foremost, it's just a beautiful object that's pleasant to look at and lovely to hold. Second, it's malleable; you can transform it to your specific preferences. And lastly, it literally has extra buttons. Extra buttons that do whatever you want them to do.
Microsoft's default Xbox One controller is no slouch. It's a fine-tuned improvement Xbox 360 controller that reached total ubiquity in the past five years or so, having become the de facto controller for everything from PC games to laser turrets. The Xbox One controller improved on that design by leaving it mostly the same, but adding small, important touches like thumbsticks with a wonderful patterned grip texture and triggers that can rumble independently.
The Xbox Elite Controller takes this basic strategy even further. In design, it's only subtly different from the standard Xbox One controller, but in fantastic little ways. It's pleasantly and slightly heavier than a normal controller. Instead of glossy plastic, its D-pad is cool metal. The rounded parts that slip into your palms are lightly rubberized and textured where a normal controller's are matte plastic. It's the game controller equivalent of a leather steering wheel.
IT'S THE GAME CONTROLLER EQUIVALENT OF A LEATHER STEERING WHEEL.
Until you start tricking it out. When it comes to the way you traditionally interact with your controller—more on those funky paddles shortly—the Elite controller comes with some options. There are two extra sets of thumbsticks you can swap in, as well as an extra D-pad. On top of all that, you can flip a pair of mechanical switches that turn one (or both) of the triggers into "hair triggers" that require a much shallower pull to "fire."
As far as I'm concerned, this is the coolest part of the Xbox Elite controller by far. I spend a lot of time holding a controller, so of course I want to make it special. I want to make it specifically mine. And sure enough, after fiddling with all these options for hours on end, I arrived at my very own unique setup. Extra long left stick, normal right stick, disc-style directional pad, hair-trigger on the right but not the left:
Why'd I wind up with that? Can't tell you because I really have no idea. Two of the thumbsticks have slippery, rounded edges and I hated those, but beyond that, no specific combination of components really inspired any strong feeling in me. Sure, the first few minutes—even hours—after a changing the setup felt a little like breaking in a new pair of shoes, but all variations eventually just melted into the background. I think the combination I settled on was the just last one I tried before getting board of messing with stuff.
Which isn't to say that these customizations don't actually have value. The disc-based D-pad makes hitting diagonal directions easier (I think), hair-triggers are quicker to pull (by fractions of fractions of seconds), and the tall thumbsticks probably have some sort of effect on…leverage or something?
This must be the case since high-competitive professional gamers have been making (and spending a fortune on) similarly modded controllers for years now. And hey, I've been playing a lot of Metal Gear Solid V and Fallout 4, so I had thought Yeah, maybe these tweaks can Up My Game. In reality, I'm just junior-varsity benchwarmer showing up a basketball game in $300 shoes and still missing every free throw (again). Chances that you will be too.
The matter's only compounded with the removable paddles on the back. These function as four extra buttons that you can customize to be a second, easier-to-press version of any button elsewhere on the controller. Again, these are modeled after tried-and-true professional-grade modded controllers, designed to give gamers millisecond advantages on especially crucial button presses.
I found them to be worse than useless. The paddles are extremely easy to press—by design, of course—so when they are installed, the controller requires a ginger, tactician's grip to avoid accidentally pressing all of them all the time. Meanwhile I have a long-day-at-work-lets-play-Halo-and-drink-one-too-many-beersman's grip that I am quite fond of and have little interest in changing.
I'm sure that I could have eventually gotten used to them. but it simply wasn't worth the effort (for me). They not only required me to pay persistent attention to how I was holding the controller, but also offered no real benefit. I tried using just one or two paddles instead of four, and even tried mounting them backwards, but I found no situation where using them was easier than just pressing the normal buttons.
Ease is what it ultimately comes down to. I found the Xbox One Elite controller's wide array of customizations can make using a controller different and theoretically slightly better, or harder and theoretically slightly better, but never easier. And so I just ripped off the paddles, stuck with a few arbitrary customizations, and left it at that. Worth noting, I was and still am having a ball with this thing.
I JUST RIPPED OFF THE PADDLES, STUCK WITH A FEW ARBITRARY CUSTOMIZATIONS, AND LEFT IT AT THAT.
Of course, everyone isn't like me. There are seriously competitive gamers who might want this stuff. You know who you are, and if there's any doubt in your mind, you're probably in my boat.
Even with most of its customizations stripped away, the Elite controller is a beauty, and I far prefer it to my normal control; I'm sort of afraid of going back. If the Elite controller were just $25 more expensive, or even $50, I'd snap it up in a heartbeat. But for me—and likely for most of you—the Xbox Elite controller is just a wonderful piece of design that you'd love, but certainly don't need.