Okay, so it’s NZ$200. But hot damn if Xbox’s new Elite isn’t the best controller I’ve used, ever. Aimed at the pro end of the market, it is likely to nonetheless find its way into the gaming setup of many a filthy casual too. It’s so good that by comparison, the standard Xbox One controller – an excellent device in its own right – feels cheap and nasty.
Part of the reason for that is looks, with the Elite’s two-tone paint job and dark rather than brightly coloured face buttons immediately lending it an air of sophistication. But it’s mostly in the feel: the Elite is a whopping 348 grams compared to the Standard controller’s 281 grams (and the PlayStation 4 controller’s 209 grams), and this extra weight makes it feel sturdy and substantial. It’s also easier to grip thanks to the rubberized diamond grip on the underside of its handgrips – something I never realised I needed until I had it.
The Elite solves the main issue I have with the Standard Xbox One controller. The switches on the its bumpers feel more responsive and reliable than the click-y ones on the Standard. Overall, the build quality is much higher, with low-friction rings circling the analogue sticks and a smoother plastic coating the top of the controller – the latter allowing for easier hand adjustment where the base of your thumbs meet the device. The thumbstick shafts and d-pads are all stainless steel. Honestly, the build quality alone (and the presence of a much-needed 3.5mm stereo headset jack) is a pretty good reason to get one of these things.
However, the splashier selling point is the Elite’s modular design, which allows its thumbsticks and d-pad to be swapped out for variations thereof, and also for up to four paddles to be added to its underside. I prefer the d-pad on the Xbox One controller to that on the PlayStation 4, but the Elite’s is yet another step up. Its higher-quality switches make me much more certain of the direction I’m pressing, and the new faceted face actually makes the d-pad a viable, accurate option for many games. In particular, I can imagine those playing competitive fighters or twitch platformers absolutely loving it, as it will surely provide a edge in speed and accuracy over analogue sticks in those genres.
How much you enjoy the two additional sets of thumbsticks is more down to personal preference. One set is substantially taller, allowing for finer but movements but also fractionally slowing response times. I mostly use these in Halo 5, and they certainly calm my tendency to panic and fling my reticule past an opponent. I have large hands, and with the taller sticks I definitely feel more in control. The other set is a pair of mid-height domed sticks, which provide a nice middle ground between the other two.
As for the paddles, they take a bit of getting used to, but are a terrific addition – especially once you get your ring fingers used to using them. The obvious application of these is to change gears in games like Forza, but they are even handier in action titles, as each paddle can be assigned to one of the controller’s face buttons, removing the need to lift your right thumb from the stick completely. That seems a small thing, but it makes a massive difference.
I used this setup in frantic platformer/shooter Sunset Overdrive, and after an adjustment period, I could use the game’s traversal systems much more effectively while simultaneously firing much more accurately, because I wasn’t moving my thumb to the jump button every second or so. Brilliant. And somehow, Microsoft has designed each of the Elite’s modular components so they snap into place quickly, feel completely sturdy when connected. and can be removed in seconds. It’s a real feat of design.
Lastly on the hardware side, the Elite has hair trigger lock switches, which when activated limit he travel of each trigger to about 50 per cent of its usual throw. The application here is obvious, particularly in first-person shooters, and for those that yearn for the days before triggers had such long throws, the locks provide a nice middle ground.
On the software side, things are equally impressive. The Xbox Accessories app allows for custom mapping of any of the controller’s 14 buttons to any other in any combination (every button can be jump!), or to the paddles. (It’s worth noting that some games don’t support this, but I haven’t struck any yet.) The sensitivities of both thumbsticks can also be adjusted, and dead zones can be mapped on to the triggers, in case you want to prevent accidental pressing, for example. You can also tweak the strength of the four motors in the controller that provide haptic feedback, swap the left and right sticks, invent the y-axis on each, and more.
Then, all of these settings can be saved under any name you like, and two of these settings profiles can be transferred to the controller. You toggle between them using a switch on the controller, and this allows you to swap between, say, a sniper setup and a melee setup on the fly. All of your settings can be saved to the cloud as well, so they follow your Xbox Live profile wherever you go.
If you can’t be bothered creating your own settings, some developers will create their own presets for you. There are already a handful available for games such as Halo and Forza, with additional ones expected for the likes of Black Ops III and Battlefront.
All-up, the Elite is exactly that. It’s build quality is outstanding, it does everything you’d hope it would and then some, and it’s an absolute breeze to use and modify. It even comes with a nice zip-up case that has mounded slots for each component, as well as space for its USB cable for when your batteries go dead. (In 12 days mine are yet to do so, so I’m unable to comment on battery longevity.)
The problem, of course, is that price tag. Is it worth buying one controller for the amount that would normally net you two? That’s a difficult question to answer, and of course will vary from individual to individual. I personally feel that the Elite is perhaps NZ$40-50 too expensive, but I love it. A lot. Enough that I can see myself picking another one up when my secondary Standard dies.
However, another thing I know for sure is that no-one will be using it without signing a disclaimer, giving me a deposit, washing and disinfecting their hands in front of me, and then donning surgical gloves. And if they drop it? Let’s just say I hope I can do this job from prison.