The Xbox One Elite Controller Series 2 is the best Xbox controller that a person who just found £160 on the street can buy.
I reviewed the Xbox One Elite Controller Series 2 based on 25 hours of testing it with games such as Call of Duty Modern Warfare (2019), Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night, and Forza Horizon 4. In this video, I compare it heavily against the Xbox One Elite Controller Series 1, which I have used for around 3,000 hours since purchasing it in 2015. For example, I hold the buttons up to microphones so you can hear the differences in this new model’s actuation distances.
I go pretty deep in the video, so I’ll use this post to summarise:
I like everything about the Series 2 better than the Series 1.
The Series 2 bumpers don’t click as heavily as the Series 1's did, which I, a mechanical keyboard lover, disliked at first. However, as I used them more, I enjoyed that they were more sublimely accessible to the hammy parts of my index fingers. Previous Xbox One controllers’ bumpers have all eluded that part of my finger, which might be why I ended up mapping the shoulders to the rear paddles for some games.
The analog sticks are heavier and have a nice dark chrome finish. The controller’s internal software, in tandem with the Xbox Accessories app, apparently predicts and preemptively compensates for analog drift, though I probably would need to play a couple hundred more hours to say anything concrete about that. Something tells me this steel analog stick isn’t going to drift as much as a Nintendo Switch Joy-Con.
The triggers are heavier and have a nice grippy texture. The Series 1 offered a hair trigger lock that reduced the throw distance by 25%. The Elite 2 offers a third trigger distance, which effectively turns the analog trigger into a Super Nintendo shoulder button. And I gotta say, I love that sometimes. Also, the controller’s software automatically adjusts the bottom of the trigger pull to meet the new hair lock configuration. The Elite 1 didn’t do that.
The face buttons are nice. I cut my fingernails pretty short, though even I sometimes caught the edge of the Elite 1's buttons between my thumbnail and skin. The angle of approach has been made more gentle on the Series 2.
The d-pad is excellent. I argued for years that the Elite 1's cross-shaped d-pad (not the weird, optional, pre-installed disco ball one) is the best for any 2D retro-style platform games. I played Hollow Knight with that d-pad! The Elite 2's d-pad felt a little stiff and sticky to me out of the box, and at the time I filmed this review I reported that it bounced a little uneasily beneath my thumb. As of this writing, I’ve put in an additional four hours with the controller, and I can say the cross-shaped d-pad now sits better on the controller than it did to begin with. I make many allusions to seasoning a cast-iron skillet in my video, and this sort of thing is why.
The texture of the controller is wonderful. I feel it slipping less in my hands. I used my Elite 1 primarily with my forearms resting on my thighs, hands held out straight, elbows mostly straight though not locked. With the Elite 2's stipply, grippy texture, I feel more encouraged to press my palms together, firmly locking it in place. Thanks to this new grip texture, my fingers don’t feel as tingly and dangly as they did on the Elite 1.
My favourite improvements are to the paddles. The Xbox One Elite Series 1 paddles were a little too hair-triggery for some people’s tastes. Many Elite 1 owners I’ve talked to over the past couple of years have told me that they remove the paddles because they’re afraid of accidental inputs.
Microsoft might have had microphones in my house, because it seems like they have listened. The paddles now have a much heavier, more mechanical pull to them. You can hear and feel a clicky tactile bump with each pull. Together with the grip texture, these heavier paddles result in fewer accidental inputs.
I love them.
I also love the software side of the Elite 2's paddles: using the wickedly robustified Xbox Accessories app, you can now assign Xbox One system-level functions such as “record that” and “take a screenshot” to a paddle or button. This blows my mind. I’ll reiterate: you can now record a video clip on your Xbox with the press of a single button. Not a press and a hold and a let go, not a double tap, not a press-and-select-an-option-in-a-system-menu. I could see this feature helping me make videos.
(Wow, if I bought one of these things, I could write it off on my taxes.)
Maybe the biggest game changer, however, is the option to map a paddle or a button to a “shift” command. You can assign a “shifted” value to every other button on the controller. Now with the shift button or paddle held in, your roll button might become your Estus Flask button.
All of this helps you play games without changing the locations of any of your fingers. When paddles originally came about on video game controllers, it was primarily to combat “The Claw,” a curious way of gripping a PlayStation 3 controller so that you can both jump and control the camera at the same time. Paddles arrived to eradicate the claw, allowing players to jump with a button on the back of the controller.
Controller makers life Scuf and Microsoft have honed this idea in wonderful directions. With refinements such as the shift button, the Series 2 further minimises the repositioning of fingers necessary when playing a game.
(Mouses and keyboards are still better for shooters, though.)
I noticed way too many other details about the Elite Series 2 and its lovely companion software, all of which I painstakingly point out in this video. I even run down a list of common defects of the Series 1 and try to discern if they’ve been addressed in the Series 2.
I leave you with this: fancy controllers are good. They are better than stock controllers. If you think you like games now, wait til you play a game with a fancy controller. If you love your Xbox and you’re curious about fancy controllers, this is the best one. If you already own an Xbox One Elite Controller Series 1 and you want to upgrade, well, I can’t speak for you, though I can speak for myself: after almost 3,000 hours with my Elite 1, I feel the strong urge to upgrade to an Elite 2.
Now I just need to find £160 on the street.