Many eyebrows were raised at E3 this year when Microsoft announced a prestige version of the controller for the Xbox One dubbed the “Elite Controller”; their intent was to provide a higher quality version of their existing controller aimed specifically at the “pro gamer” segment; a demographic willing to spend money on peripherals that could give them an edge in games.
The result of Microsoft’s work is a controller that is hellishly expensive on face value but provides the kind of features and quality that may just make it the only Xbox One (and PC) controller you will ever need again. Ever.
The packaging for the controller isn’t that much different to the standard one until you see what’s inside; a closed controller casing with the Xbox logo. It’s a solid and professional looking case that looks like it could be holding a camera or headphones so won’t look out of place in anyone’s bag.
Opening that will reveal the new controller in its glory. Already attached to the controller will be the default sticks, the paddles and the new faceted directional pad attached but the additional parts are housed snugly in a rubber mount inside the case.
In total you get three sets of thumbtacks consisting of one set of default sized sticks with a concave top like the old controllers and two sets of taller sticks with both concave and convex tops. The taller sticks can take some getting used to but might be helpful in games requiring more precise movement. The classic cross directional pad is there too for games that rely less on diagonal movement (ie. not fighting games).
Removing the parts is literally a snap as magnets hold everything in place yet can be removed with minimal effort. The paddles take a little more work to reattach but the mounting holes on the controller’s underside help to guide you.
Rounding out the package are a set of batteries, Duracell no less, and a two meter long braided USB cable. If there is one thing I wished more from the cable was that the plug could pivot at right angles; the USB port on The Xbox One is on the side of the unit and space can be a bit tight if you’ve placed the console inside a shelf of an entertainment unit.
Another criticism that’s been raised by many is that the wireless controller dongle is not part of the package. Considering the price you’re likely to want to use it on PC too to get the most benefit from it so having to pay extra for the dongle is a bit of a sting to your wallet if the USB cable doesn’t suffice.
Configuration of the controller is via apps available on both Xbox One and Windows 10 PCs. On the console, you’ll be able to update the firmware (wirelessly like the newer controllers) as well as remap the buttons. The process of assigning buttons can be a little confusing at first thanks to odd wording and UI design but once past that it’s a quick process.
On top of creating your own profiles, there is a limited set of predefined ones (Halo 5 Guardians, Forza Motorsport 6, Gears of War Ultimate Edition and Sunset Overdrive). When more become available it will go a long way to simplifying the process. Two profiles can be stored at any time and accessed via a toggle switch under the guide button.
I gave the Halo 5 profiles a go, both campaign and multiplayer versions, and I will admit that having the grenade switch, jump and boost buttons mapped to the paddles do help those of us less nimble on the controllers be a little more nimble in the game. And with Forza 6 it almost seems obvious to map the gear shifts to the paddles.
Not only can the buttons be remapped, but sensitivity of the sticks can be adjusted and even the vibration motors and guide button light can be tweaked too. In my case I found it useful to have one profile’s guide light setting turned up and the other down so that there was a visual indicator on my controller as I tend to play the games in a darker room.
So, how does it feel in games? I’ve got to say it feels great. The controller is solid in your hands with little flexing in the casing. It also grips nicely in your hands thanks to a rubberised coating around the edges. The sticks seem to have more tension to them but that could be also that it’s new. Time will tell there. The trigger switches are fantastic allowing the left and right triggers to have reduced pull distances which is great for shooters where you want to fire off shots in quick succession.
All this might be for the benefit of “pro gamers” but for regulars like me the extra buttons provide some really useful alternative control schemes that can help improve your game playing simply through improving your button bashing ability. In Halo, I always had trouble jumping and aiming with the default scheme due to having to remove my thumb from the right stick to the A button but now with the button assigned to a paddle it makes that kind of manoeuvre a LOT easier.
In the end, you’ll have to decide whether putting the extra dollars down is worth it but if you do you’ll find yourself with the ultimate Xbox controller that outperforms its predecessor in every way by providing you with a huge number of customization options. You may also find it spends a lot of time safely packed away; not only to avoid losing all of the attachments but because you’ll be wanting to keep this baby to yourself.