Friday November 6th, 2015

I’ve spoken with a number of people before about the Xbox Elite controller, and they all rolled their eyes and ranted about how ridiculous it was to have such an expensive controller. However, many of those same people had the same reaction when they first held it in their hands: “Wow, this thing is really nice.”

I, too, was in the same camp. I couldn’t fathom anyone shelling out that much money to buy a controller, but as I got my hands on one and had some time to extensively test it, my viewpoint shifted. After all, controllers are pivotal to the gaming experience, and when you’re able to use something that truly feels “elite” compared to anything else out there, you feel different.

The first thing you’ll notice when you pick up the controller is the rubberized grips. They feel great in your hands and really do help you get a better grip. While I’ve never had an issue with controllers slipping out of my hands, one of my colleagues here at Sports Illustrated has said that he drops his on a fairly regular basis and I know there are many out there that do as well. If these grips help to minimize or even eliminate drops, Microsoft is off to a good start.

The next thing you’ll notice are the paddles on the back of the controller. They, like almost all of the other pieces on the controller, are removable and customizable. You can assign different buttons to each paddle, and for games with more complex or unintuitive control schemes, they can really help to simplify the experience. I was able to pull off complex pre-snap audibles in Madden quicker, and those precious seconds can make a world of difference.

Using magnets to hold the joysticks, D-pad and paddles in place, you’re able to swap the different parts in and out, depending on your preferences. One set of joysticks may be better suited for a shooter, while others may be more comfortable for, say, a fighting game. Simply having the option to choose is a tremendous and welcome change. The omni-directional D-pad makes the standard D-pad seem archaic by comparison, and it wouldn’t surprise me if it becomes the new standard for controllers in the future.

First-person shooters seem to dominate the gaming world, and that’s where you’ll get the most bang for your buck with the customizable triggers. Not only are you able to adjust the sensitivity of the controllers through the app that you use to customize the buttons, but also you can also flip the switches on the back that shorten the release point to allow you to shoot quicker.

The app that you use to fine tune the different aspects of the controller is pretty straight forward, and being able to save different profiles for different games, which you can quickly swap on the fly using the switch in the middle of the controller, is useful. You’ll likely spend a lot of time in the app tinkering with the settings early on, but once you get a better feel for how everything works, you’ll be in and out whenever you need to dive back in to tweak things.

Should You Buy It

Everything about the Xbox Elite Controller feels like an ultra-luxury experience, and you should at least try to keep an open mind before you dismiss it. From the custom carrying case to the look and feel, it really does stand out from the rest of the crowd. The Xbox Elite Controller is the best controller ever created, but it also costs $150. That price tag is nothing to sneeze at, and many will simply never be able to experience it because of the cost.

If you’re a hardcore or pro gamer, buying one of these is a no-brainer. For those of you that want or need to squeeze every last ounce of performance from your controller, you should get one of these – there’s nothing better out there. Whether it can improve your performance is a separate conversation.

Casual gamers, on the other hand, face a different scenario. If you’ve got the disposable income and don’t mind shelling out the money to purchase the best controller money can buy, go for it. It’s a durable, high-quality controller that seem as if it’s built to last, and it feels really great in your hands when you’re playing. If you’re on a budget or only play games every so often, save your money – the standard Xbox One controller is still one of the best in the business and will more than suffice.

The next question is can you even get your hands on one. There are already reports that the controller is completely sold out at some retailers and that there will be a limited supply through November. I think that alone speaks to the demand out there for what was previously considered to be a niche accessory that only pro gamers would buy.

The Xbox Elite Controller was reviewed while playing Halo 5 (review), Forza 6 (review), Madden 16 (review) and Rise of the Tomb Raider (review coming soon).

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