The controller that came bundled with your current-generation console is pretty good regardless of brand, but better versions always exist. When you see the asking price for these “elite” controllers, though, you might wonder, are they really worth it?
What Exactly Is a High-End Game Controller?
High-end game controllers are specialized gaming controllers that are designed to offer a more premium gaming experience. They usually come with a higher price tag than regular controllers and are often targeted at serious gamers willing to invest in top-of-the-line hardware.
Features of high-end game controllers can vary, but they generally include the following:
- Customization options: Some high-end controllers allow you to customize the layout and feel of the controller, such as by swapping out thumbsticks or adjusting the controller’s weight.
- Precision components: High-end controllers may have more precise and accurate components, such as more sensitive thumbsticks or more responsive triggers, which can improve performance in certain games.
- Durability: High-end controllers are often built with higher-quality materials and components, making them more durable and long-lasting.
- Specialized features: Some high-end controllers may include specialized features designed for specific games or playstyles, such as paddles or extra buttons that can be mapped to different in-game actions.
There is no strict definition of what constitutes a high-end game controller, and the features and capabilities of different controllers can vary widely. Some high-end controllers may offer a wide range of features and customization options, while others may focus on a specific aspect of gaming performance, such as accuracy or responsiveness.
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Who Gets the Most Out of Premium Controllers?
Before spending hundreds of dollars on a souped-up game controller, you’ll want to weigh the pros and cons carefully. These controllers are not aimed at the average gamer, and yes even self-identified “hardcore” gamers would probably be better off sticking with the standard models. However, if any of these use cases match your needs, you may want to consider an upgrade:
- You play competitively and want any fair edge you can get.
- You often have to repair or replace your standard controller.
- You need more control over controller layouts or button placement.
- You often travel with your controller.
- You find standard controllers uncomfortable to use.
If, on the other hand, you mainly play single-player games without any control or comfort issues, it makes little sense to buy one of these expensive controllers. Their primary advantages just don’t translate to enough value for anyone who doesn’t feel held back by a standard controller.
Will a High-End Controller Make Me a Better Gamer?
It’s sort of taken for granted that these controllers will improve your performance as a player, but is that really the case? The thing is, it’s not just about the controller, but about you as a player.
Think about it like this: If you aren’t being limited by the performance and handling of your minivan, then swapping it for a Ferrari isn’t going to do you any favors. In other words, if your standard controller wasn’t holding you back a fancier controller won’t necessarily allow you to do better.
In fact, higher levels of sensitivity and precision can have the opposite effect, where the sharpness of your instrument no longer smooths over your own rough edges. However, if you put in the time to take advantage of the extra precision and accuracy you’ll undoubtedly do better than before. It’s just not as simple as buying a better controller; how you play matters.
The First-Party Options
Now that you have a good overview of what these expensive controllers are all about, let’s look at some first-party high-end controllers and what they each offer.
The Xbox Elite Series 2 is a high-end game controller for the Xbox One and Xbox Series X/S that has improved button response, an adjustable tension thumbstick system, four paddles on the back, a redesigned d-pad, and a rechargeable battery. It’s customizable and designed for hardcore gamers who want the best performance and control.
The Elite controllers pioneered this product category, and it’s a prime option for Xbox and PC gamers who want the best possible controller experience. There are third-party alternatives, such as the Razer Wolverine, but the Elite controllers are a hard act to follow.
The Sony DualSense Edge controller, released in 2022, offers similar features to the Elite Series 2. This includes easily swappable and replaceable thumbstick modules, special function buttons to access PS5 menu options quickly, better comfort, back paddles which can be swapped with buttons, and a novel cable lock to prevent a connected cable from slipping out.
This is the first time that Sony has thrown its hat in the upper-tier controller ring. The standard DualSense is very well regarded, but in general the Edge is an improvement in every area, with a focus on benefitting competitive gamers most of all. The battery life of the Edge is moderately worse than the standard controller, but as the inclusion of a cable lock suggests, for competitive gamers playing in battery-powered wireless mode isn’t the way to go anyway.
The Nintendo Switch Pro Controller is a game controller designed specifically for the Nintendo Switch video game console. It was released in March 2017 along with the Switch and is an optional controller that can be used instead of the Joy-Con controllers that come with the Switch.
The Switch Pro Controller has a traditional gamepad layout, with a directional pad (D-pad), four face buttons, two analog sticks, two shoulder buttons, and two triggers. It is designed to be comfortable to hold and use for extended periods and has a rechargeable battery that can last up to 40 hours on a single charge.
That said, the Pro controller is the “odd one out” here for a few reasons. First, it’s not particularly expensive, and second it really only brings the controller standard for the Switch on par with standard controllers from Sony and Microsoft. However, unlike the Elite Series 2 and DualSense Edge, the Switch Pro controller is something every Switch owner who plays docked should consider. It may be “optional,” but it’s such a large upgrade over the standard Joy-Cons that it feels essential.
Beyond these first-party options, there’s a whole universe of third-party controllers promising something better than the pack-in controller that came with your console. It’s a jungle out there, so take your time when zoning in on the perfect controller for you.
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Alternatives to High-End Game Controllers
While an “elite” or “pro” controller packs several advantages over standard controllers, you may only value some aspects of the experience they bring to the table. In that case, more affordable alternatives offer some of what high-end controllers do.
This might sound a little strange to some console gamers, but a keyboard and mouse can be a great alternative. Some players prefer a keyboard and mouse setup for certain games, as they can offer greater accuracy and precision. A surprising number of console games support keyboard and mouse control, and since many console gamers are using desktop monitors for competitive gaming as well, it’s a good option.
The caveats here are that your specific games may not support a keyboard and mouse, or that the game may segregate players using controllers and mice. If you play competitively, there may also be restrictions on using this solution.
Many third-party controllers on the market offer a range of features and price points. These controllers can be a good alternative to high-end controllers if players want something more affordable or customizable. For example, some cheaper third-party controllers may offer better accuracy or paddle controls but have less durability or build quality. If you don’t mind a somewhat lower-quality device, it’s a viable option.
Some players may be attracted to high-end controllers because they offer lots of flexibility, which is great for accessibility. However, adaptive controllers are explicitly designed for players with disabilities and offer a range of customization options and specialized features. They can be a good alternative to high-end controllers for players who may have difficulty using traditional controllers. Not to mention, devices like the Xbox Adaptive Controller are priced aggressively.