Xbox One Elite Controller: Six Months Later
In October last year Microsoft brought out an Xbox One controller for the 'serious players'. A photographer needs a solid and reliable camera. Closer to home, tournament-level fighting game enthusiasts play with fightsticks. It only makes sense that gamers have something above and beyond the average controller.
Despite an asking price of $150 USD or $199 here in Australia, Xbox fans everywhere were clamoring for their chance to own one of these weighty beasts, and so there were shortages worldwide due to unprecedented demand. Phil Spencer himself said he was blown away by just how much the controller was sort after. It wasn't until March I was able to get my hands on one, and so six months later here I am reviewing it.
The first thing you'll notice when picking up one of these bad boys is the aforementioned weight. It makes other controllers feel like the toys that grandparents still think they are. As a huge fan of the Halo franchise, I had bought one of the Master Chief controllers months earlier and since getting the elite controller all it has done is collected dust (much like my copy of Halo 5, but that's another story).
The weight of the controller adds some heft that I didn't realise I wanted in a gamepad until I had one. Now it's hard for me to go back without feeling like I'm going to break some part of the now very noticeable plastic casing of the previous controllers.
Thinking back to around March, what game could I possibly have used to very thoroughly stress test the elite controller? Rocket League, pure and simple. If the controller could handle that then it could handle anything, and I'm very pleased to say that it did.
In the past I've had some bad experiences with Xbox 360 controllers where you get that grinded dust ring around your thumbstick, or worse yet the rubber padding on top comes off in little pieces that make putting your thumb on it uncomfortable. No such case here as Microsoft have very smartly made the sticks themselves out of a metal material and the tops are made of a rigid rubber that doesn't feel like it's ever coming off.
I've put some photos below to show what the elite controller looks like after six months of use and no cleaning, so excuse the crud but I thought it would be interesting to see how it held up. Overall it appears a lot cleaner than some previous controllers, especially the dreaded white Xbox 360 controller that would build up in every crack or seam. Notably you'll see the outline of where my thumb sits on the thumbsticks, which is something we haven't seen before due to the textured grip on the elite controller.
One of the main selling points for the elite controller was the customisable physical buttons and button mapping function that was easily available to the general public for the first time. The button mapping is a godsend with a switch to easily change between two profiles that you can setup yourself. For instance, I have one profile that tells the Xbox I'm pulling the triggers as far as they'll go even when I might not be, which is handy for some circumstances but a hindrance in others.
The set of alternate buttons that are provided are beautifully presented in a sturdy carry case for your prized possession, but in my case I would barely ever use the new underside paddles that were now an option. I'm a person who tends to put my controller down on my leg or the arm of the couch when not actively playing, but doing so means that several of the paddles are pressed and so my Xbox starts freaking out and scrolling through menus or any number of things depending on what buttons I have assigned to them. If you tend to use a perfectly flat surface like a coffee table then this won't be a problem for you. Just something to consider.
My other issue with the paddles is that I have large hands and can't quite hold the controller 'the right way' if the lower (and larger) paddles are in. I tend to grip the underside of controllers pretty hard and so if I can't do that (because then I would be pressing those lower paddles), it makes me feel 'off' when holding it. The upper paddles are fine for me, but honestly there aren't too many occasions when I need easier access to buttons.
The best use I've found for the underside paddles of late has been in GTA's Cunning Stunts and Rocket League's Rumble modes. I only use the upper left paddle in these cases because it's more comfortable for my hands and the way I hold a controller. What I've done is simply mapped pushing in on the left thumbstick to that paddle, so now I can use one of the random power-ups in Rumble without moving my thumb that's controlling my direction.
Alternately in GTA V, and this is my favourite use of the paddle, I can very comfortable hold down the customised looping horn that I've put on at least one car in every category while driving around every new race track. It might be petty, but I get A LOT of joy out of the reactions I get.
I do have a couple of minor complaints about the elite controller though. While pretty much everything feels extremely solid, responsive, and tight, the D-Pad (and to a lesser extent the thumbstick housing) is loose to the point where it can move vertically a few millimetres before you even start pulling at the magnet.
I've tried to demonstrate below what I mean. It's not an issue that will affect your gameplay experience, but it does slightly detract from the overall customer satisfaction. Note that I also use the eight sided D-Pad which is more elevated and likely to make it seem worse.
As I mentioned before, the controller went on sale in October and was sold out world wide in no time at all. Microsoft had underestimated the demand for a product such as this one and every time they pushed new shipments of elite controllers to retailers they would sell out again immediately. Even over the major holiday period the big brands such as GameStop and Amazon were simply sold out. Just think of all that lost revenue!
Such was the success of the new controller that Microsoft began selling an Xbox One Elite Bundle which came coupled with the elite. Some people were even buying the bundle just so they could have the controller.
As of June this year Microsoft had sold 1,000,000 units of the thing. That's $150 million USD for a controller, and that number must have grown in the months since. There's a reason for all of the success, and that's because this is easily the best Xbox One controller you'll ever own.