I’ve used the Xbox One Elite controller and now I can’t go back.
No, seriously – I really can’t. I own three Xbox Ones – two at home and one at work – and I’ve resorted to taking my Elite controller back and forth to each console as I use it. If its battery runs dry, I rip old controllers apart for their electric insides. I will never go back.
Available in theory in Australia – but not in practice, ‘cause the things are sold out across the world – the Elite controller is Microsoft’s answer to a pro kit. A whopping $200 AUD, I’d daresay its worth its cost, coming with myriad improvements on the already solid Xbox One controller. Best yet, it’s hard for me to choose just which new feature I like best.
The Xbox One controller made slight refinements to the already near-perfect Xbox 360 controller, but people really didn’t have much to say about it when it was first released. I feel that’s because Sony’s DualShock 4 was a ridiculously massive improvement upon the ultra-flimsy DualShock 3. In the same vein, the Elite controller is Microsoft’s response to that actual, marked improvement.
For the longest time, I was convinced the controller’s rubberised grips would be its biggest selling point. Don’t get me wrong: they’re great, but so too are its interchangeable joysticks, d-pad options, paddles, toggles and opportunities for further customisation. In the end, I’ll go on record to declare my favourite bit about the Elite controller is its new satellite d-pad. It locks into place with ease and offers a range of movement that’s deliberate and noticeable. While it’ll serve fighting games the best, I like using it for everyday tasks because it’s comfortable on my thumb. The default d-pad, on the other hand, feels like a chore to use now, especially when using an on-screen keyboard to type.
Interchangeable joysticks offer the standard Xbox One controller fare alongside a raised option and a rounded-end option. I’ve gone for the latter as they’re again the most comfortable option, but the biggest thing to take note of in the joystick department is just how good they feel. Here, I’m not talking the interchangeable ends, but the actual sticks themselves. The Elite’s sticks glide around, effortlessly, and with a real satisfying weight that you don’t get with the normal controller. The way they move, and even sound – no, really; they make a powerful thud as compared to a high-pitched click as they hit the sides of their housing — make you feel like you’re pro no matter what you’re doing.
Moving to the top of the controller, the bumpers feel largely the same, though they have that same slightly more weighted feel. Triggers have been tweaked to suit different game modes. For racers, the triggers act the same as they would on a normal controller. For shooters, you can click a button on the back of the device to switch to hair triggers, firing quickly and with barely any fuss. The latter mode proved invaluable in Halo 5: Guardians multiplayer – and now in the game I’ll be playing for months, Fallout 4.
The use of the newly included paddles will divide gamers – I played using them alongside a specially configured Halo 5 multiplayer control scheme and was basically decimated. I have huge hands, but I just couldn’t get them to work on the underside of the controller as intended. I managed a bit better in Forza Motorsport 6, using them to for shifting rather than for split-second reaction-style things. In the end, I think I’ll largely give paddles a miss.
The Xbox Accessories app is a welcome addition to the Xbox One UI, allowing for customization of the entire controller. A 1-2 toggle underneath the Menu and Options buttons is used to switch between two saved control schemes. You can customise those on the app; it has several pre-built schemes for the likes of Sunset Overdrive, Forza and Halo. You can make your own profiles too, mapping buttons around, applying inverted controls and the like. You can even do things like dim the Xbox light and change vibration intensity.
Sadly, customisation ends at the point where Microsoft won’t concede its failings. This would have been the perfect opportunity to launch a dedicated Share button, or at the very least, a macro. “Xbox, take a screenshot” exists as a Kinect command, but you’re still unable to use a button-based equivalent on a customised profile. It’s a no-brainer that Microsoft has somehow overlooked; let it be known that double-tapping the Guide button is awful.
Sound coming through headphones plugged into the controller’s new 3.5mm jack is quite low by default. Strangely, this can’t be changed from within the Xbox Accessories app, but from Settings > Devices & Accessories instead. It’s indicative of Microsoft’s improved-but-still-fractured UI, making things unnecessarily difficult to find and amend. Finally, the stupidest decision on Microsoft’s part was to sell the controller without batteries of any kind. The (admittedly) expensive controller doesn’t even have two AAs, let alone the play-and-charge kit that should have been included. (Correction: I completely missed that two AA batteries and USB charge cable are included, but are hidden. Oops.)
Apart from those few niggling concerns, it’s hard to fault the Xbox One Elite controller. It’s not just for pro gamers, but for those of us who don’t mind throwing a little extra cash for something comfortable. An Xbox One controller is in my hands for at least four or five hours a day (I wish I was joking) – I might as well enjoy the experience, eh? Though they’re sold out at the moment, I’m watching stock levels like a hawk, ready to pounce and buy a second one so I don’t have to cart my current one back and forth between home and the office.