Review: Xbox Elite Controller

Xbox's new controller is an exercise in electronic badassery.

We’ve used every imaginable game controller out there. From joysticks to D-Pads to analog sticks and triggers, first party or third, we’ve never encountered a gamepad as impressive as what Microsoft has accomplished with the new Elite Controller for Xbox One. 

First and foremost, the Elite is about customizability. The Elite looks like a military grade version of the current Xbox One gamepad, but there are secrets tucked away all over it. Four optional, additional paddles that can hot-swap onto the back mean you can map four normal controller buttons to the paddles, allowing for new functionality in FPS games or adding a genuine paddle-shift to racing games. Above those paddles are two switches that let you independently change the feel of the right and left triggers, giving a full range of pull when you need it (like in a racing game’s accelerator and brake controls) or hair triggers for shooting. Furthermore, the controller comes with interchangeable analog sticks and D-Pad that can be changed out on the fly because they’re all magnetized. Don’t like an indent in your thumbstick? Switch to the concave version instead. Don’t like the traditional plus-sign D-Pad? Swap to the one that we, lovingly, have been calling the disco-ball instead for a 360 range of motion instead of just up, down, left and right.

Those are just the physical hardware customizations. The Elite controller also comes with an app that can be installed on both your Xbox One or your Win10 PC for further tinkering with the controls of the Elite. Major changes can be made here, like switching something as broad as your A button with your B button, a handy trick even in games like Halo 5 that come with a huge range of control-style options built-in. Going deeper, fine-tuning options here are staggering with sensitivity controls for analog sticks or precision control of optimal pull of the triggers. We couldn’t ever imagine having the time or patience to worry about the degree of the axis of the sticks but the app has a huge variety of preset configurations that are already available, and game developers will be adding them as more games come out to make the most of the Elite controller. The Elite’s app also lets you add your two most used configurations to a toggle on the front of the Elite controller itself. If you know that Destiny and Madden are you two most played games, and you have customized configurations for both, you can easily switch between the two without ever visiting the app.

While the purpose of the Elite controller is certainly one we can get behind, we were simply blown away by the build quality here. Ruggedized materials, rubberized cushions, metal triggers and surprisingly strong magnets are employed throughout the cleverly designed device. It’s weighty, solid and feels great in your hands, especially during long gaming sessions, like wrapping your fingers around the trigger of a Glock or your fists around the steering wheel of a sports car. At $150, it’s a pricey entry fee for a better gaming experience but it genuinely does deliver a better gaming experience and feels like the materials used, especially compared to how dinky the old standard controllers feel in retrospect, justify the price.