Microsoft has an update for its premium controller, and it comes in the form of the Xbox Elite Wireless Controller Series 2 (see it at Amazon). This is a controller for the hardcore gamers, because it has a price that’s not for the faint of heart.
At $179, it’s nearly the price of a brand new Xbox One S, and costs more than the similar Scuf Elite and Scuf Prestige Xbox controllers. While it does offer a higher degree of versatility than the standard $59 Xbox One controller, it’s a lot to ask for a product that doesn’t scream perfection.
Xbox Elite Wireless Series 2 Controller Review
Xbox Elite Wireless Series 2 – Design and Features
The new controller visibly changes little about the previous Xbox Elite controller, with a few tweaks to the styling. Most of the body eschews the shiny, metal accents found on the original, going instead for a darker metal. Gone, too, are the green accents of the original. It’s a strictly monochrome affair for the Elite Series 2.
It does have a few new additions. Most notably, it adds Bluetooth connectivity, enabling the controller to work wirelessly with more computers and mobile devices, though the 3.5mm headphone jack won’t handle audio while connected via Bluetooth. It also has profile indicator lights and a USB Type-C connection. The controller comes in a carrying case and includes a wireless charging pad that sticks into the case and hangs onto the controller magnetically. The charging pad works both outside and inside the case, as there’s a small port to let a USB plug into the back of the case.
Shape-wise, the Elite Series 2 is similar to its predecessor (and the standard Xbox One controller), but the grips are different. The palm grips of the controller have a diamond-textured rubber material all the way around, an upgrade from the material that had previously only appeared on the bottom of the palm grips. The main body has a soft touch coating.
The Elite model, like its predecessor, adds a few extra buttons to the undercarriage of the controller in the form of four paddles. This gives everything but the pinky fingers something to do while playing games. It also has a profile switch button.
The Elite controller stands out thanks to its customization options. All of the buttons can be re-mapped, so if you don’t like jumping with A, you can jump with a bumper instead. The rear paddles, D-Pad, and thumbsticks are attached to the controller magnetically, and can all be removed with a simple pull. They come off almost too easily – I seem to have left the house this morning without noticing the left thumbstick had popped off.
The reason they all come off is so different ones can be swapped in. This has the added effect of allowing individual pieces of the controller to be replaced if broken, so one damaged thumbstick doesn’t necessitate an entirely new controller.
Though there’s no substitute for the paddles, both thumbsticks and the D-Pad can be reconfigured. Beyond the two standard, textured thumbsticks, which love to collect dead skin faster than almost any tech accessory I’ve used, there are two more “classic” thumbsticks without the textured rubber and groove to exfoliate and collect thumb skin.
There’s also a dome-topped thumbstick, and an extra tall thumbstick. Taking the thumbsticks off gives you access to a screw which can adjust the tension of the sticks to three different levels.
There are two D-Pad options. One is a simple, four-direction version like on the standard Xbox controller, while the other is a round, faceted version. Both are metal. The D-Pad seems to be one spot where production quality suffers. One Reddit user noted that “after pressing up on the D-pad there is a very plastic/cellophane sound that sounds like an adhesive or the membrane under the D pad is off a little.” Sure enough, I noticed the same thing, exclusive to pressing up on the D-Pad.
The main triggers have a slider that can shorten their travel, allowing a long-, mid-, and short-range travel for different game types and play styles. The paddles on the bottom actually can be swapped around, but the result is one paddle being hard to use and the other paddle depressing both buttons at the same time.
Unfortunately, Microsoft has left the ABXY buttons seemingly unchanged from the standard controller – in other words, kind of mushy. What’s worse, they have issues. I experienced some minor sticking when rapidly pressing the A or X buttons, and users online have made similar reports (with some even experiencing unresponsive buttons). The paddles are a handy addition, and the switches underneath them are poppy and responsive. But they don’t make up for troubled ABXY buttons, especially since some players may not assign those inputs to the paddles.
These issues are concerning on a product that costs three times as much as a standard Xbox controller.
Xbox Elite Wireless Series 2 – Software
Tweaking capabilities of the Xbox Elite Wireless Controller Series 2 are fairly extensive through the Xbox Accessories app, which is available on both Xbox One and PC. It allows button remapping, thumbstick deadzone adjustments, vibration control, and more. The thumbsticks especially get nuanced control, with the option to edit response curves and choose “calculation,” which I can’t make heads or tails of. There’s also an option to set up a Shift, which can give buttons and controls additional functions when another designated Shift button is held down. Those Shift functions are still limited to the standard controls available though, so no macros.
Xbox Elite Wireless Series 2 – Gaming
Microsoft would hope that the Xbox Elite Wireless Controller Series 2 substantially improves your gaming experience compared to the basic controller. Anyone who threw down $179 for the controller would hope so, too. And, in some ways, it can.
The most immediate benefit I found is the ability to shorten the trigger travel. While playing The Outer Worlds, scoping in and firing at an enemy happened that much faster, and that’s not even a fast-paced game. In a fast-paced shooter like Call of Duty: Modern Warfare, the hair triggers could make the difference between shooting first and being shot. It also saves my fingers some added strain when trying to rapidly fire a semi-automatic weapon.
Other little customization tweaks proved convenient for different gaming experiences. I enjoyed swapping out the standard left thumbstick for the domed one while playing Dead Cells, as the inside edge of the standard one got uncomfortable after wildly changing directions in my fight to stay alive. The faceted D-Pad also felt better to use in most cases, especially where any fighting game’s quarter turns were concerned. It was also responsive in Dead Cells, but I preferred the softer feel of the thumbstick.
The palm grips are comfortable while playing, and could benefit some players during tense gameplay, but I haven’t personally had issues with a standard Xbox controller sliding out of my hands to make me feel like the extra grip is necessary (and I played most of Dark Souls 3 and Sekiro on an original Xbox One controller).
Playing Dead Cells is where I started to notice issues with the ABXY buttons, though. Frantically mashing X to kill my enemies and A to jump around them did not prove as dependable as I’d expect from a premium device. This is where the buttons started to stick, preventing me from landing the follow up blow or manage a double jump. I never noticed my first presses fail to register, but a rapid series of presses wouldn’t always lead to a rapid series of actions. That’s a critical failure in a game where timing is key (which includes Dead Cells and damn near any game that isn’t a text adventure or turn-based.)
I tried on occasion to switch over to the paddles on the bottom for some of these actions, as the switches feel less mushy and more dependable, but I struggled to use them for fast, repeated presses. There’s definitely a learning curve to the paddles, but it’s one worth taking advantage of. The ability to keep my thumb on the right thumbstick for aiming while still being able to press any of the ABXY buttons, such as to jump and aim at the same time, offers unquestionably superior control. It helped in Ori and The Blind Forest as well, letting me more easily jump and attack at the same time.
The thumbsticks themselves also offer some advantages for a keyboard and mouse user like myself. In particular, the ability to attach a longer thumbstick and increase the tension. Both offer ways to counteract my inclination to slam the thumbstick all the way to either side, as the tension can resist my untrained thumbs, and the long thumbstick makes for easier nuanced control. I forced my roommate to give it a try as well, and the increased tension appeared to help his aim. For me, the long thumbstick helped me perform notably better in Sniper Elite 4’s firing range than I had previously with the standard Xbox controller setup.
There are definitely perks to the Xbox Elite Wireless Controller Series 2, but for the price, it doesn’t show that much refinement over the standard controller. The 40-hour battery is solid, never dying in my testing period, and the Bluetooth connection for Gaming PCs is responsive. The case, charging pad, and USB-C are also worthy inclusions. It’s just the controller itself that still leaves something to be desired. When paying a large premium, it’s reasonable to demand perfection or something near it. I previously used the Victrix Pro FS fight stick, and for its painful $350 price, it was near flawless. In this case, Microsoft takes the money, but doesn’t go nearly as far toward delivering perfection.
The Xbox Elite Wireless Series 2 controller retails for $179, which is $30 more expensive than the original $149 Xbox Elite controller this peripheral replaces.