The first thing you’ll see upon cracking open the box containing Microsoft’s new $150 premium modular Xbox One controller is a carrying case. You’re going to want to keep that.
The care and handling of video game controllers in the Fahey household generally involves trying not to leave it on the floor. Packaging is torn open and tossed. Any included cables are relegated to the cable drawer, a dark and dangerous place from which there often is no return.
I’ve got video game controllers on my desk. Some feature a fine coat of dust. Others have torn analog stick caps I’ve not seen fit to replace. There are controllers under the couch. One lives on top of the washing machine. There are a pair of PS3 controllers under my bed that I’m certain are spawning more while no one is looking. I use them when needed, then I set them down wherever I might be and forget them until next time.
The Xbox Elite Wireless Controller will not be joining their ranks. It will be released reverently from its cloth case, played with the utmost care and respect, wiped down with a dry cloth and returned to its resting place until its powers are needed once more. Unless it is in my hands, it will look like this:
Announced at E3 earlier this year and mocked viciously for its high price point, the Xbox Elite Wireless Controller (let’s just call it the Elite) is an exquisitely engineered nod to the console’s hardcore gaming audience. Folks picking up the Xbox One to watch Netflix and play Frozen Free Fall don’t need three sets of interchangeable thumb sticks of different heights and shapes, two different directional pads or four detachable metal paddles.
If we’re being reasonable, no one really needs any of these things. The standard Xbox One controller has been just fine for the past couple of years, and it will continue to be perfectly acceptable until people stop giving a damn.
Unless they spend any significant amount of time with the Elite. It makes the original controller feel like a hefty toy.
With its impressive weight and the luxurious, velvety feel of its outer housing, the Elite oozes premium quality from the moment you take it in your hands. It’s housed in plastic, but it’s that buttery sort of plastic that feels almost as if it’s slightly fuzzy to the touch. The rubber grips are strong and reassuring. The only unsure surface is the metal paddles on the back of the unit—they take a little getting used to. Or you can just take them off while not in use.
What’s amazing to me is that the interchangeable components are held to the controller’s face with magnets. Pull straight up and they come off easily.
Yet when in place they’re just as strong as the connected parts on the traditional controller, if not a bit stronger. The analog sticks snap to center position with more authority. That strange directional disc registers movement more tactfully than anything Xbox d-pad before it.
I’ve been using the Xbox Elite Wireless Controller for several day now in all sorts of situations. I’ve played through a sizable chunk of Halo 5’s campaign using it—I had to, as it’s the game Microsoft is launching the controller with—and I am incredibly pleased with its responsiveness.
The hair-trigger switches on the back of the unit were particularly helpful here, halving the distance your pointer finger needs to take a shot.
The Xbox Elite Wireless Controller does not however, make one immortal.
Meanwhile in Forza 6, those little metal paddles on the back of the unit acted as gear shifters, something I am becoming increasingly familiar with these days.
And all of this is without any additional configuration. Should you choose to go deeper, there’s an Xbox Accessories app available that let’s you do all sorts of technical things with the Xbox Elite Wireless.
For starters, you can name it.
The app comes preloaded with multiple configurations for the most popular games, up to and including next week’s Halo release.
Incredibly picky players can go deeper still, adjusting the reaction times and behaviors of pretty much every input the controller has to offer.
Those who look at the screenshot above and feel their hearts start to race will get the most out of the Elite. The ability to fine tune, tweak, and modify everything and then save it to one of two custom profiles stored on the controller itself is one of its biggest strengths.
The feel. The comfort. The heft. The snap. The click. The included braided USB cord. Okay, maybe that last one is just me.
It’s not for everyone. Anyone who plays with younger kids should enjoy the controller until they figure out how to take the sticks and directional pads off. It’ll be neat finding them in the couch years from now.
And then there are the folks who look at $150—a little bit under the price of three standard gamepads—and wonder why anyone would bother paying more for what is technically less. They do have a point. One controller is significantly less than three.
The Xbox Elite Wireless Controller is a luxury item. It won’t completely transform the way you play Xbox One games, though it may tweak it significantly. No one needs metal and rubber and magnets and satiny plastic. No one needs the extra paddle buttons, or the ability to fine tune every input on the controller. No one needs a zippered carrying case packed with interchangeable parts.
But damn if having those things isn’t lovely.