Gaming Review: Xbox Elite Series 2 Controller (Accessibility)

Review: Xbox Elite Series 2 Controller (Accessibility)

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I admit that I am very late to the party with the Xbox Elite Series 2 controller but I have kept an eye on it since it launched in November 2019 and especially since getting my hands on one and talking to the team behind it at XO19 last year. I like to consider myself a ‘hardcore gamer’ though I despise that term, I game a lot and for long sessions across different platforms and whilst I feel my skill level is above average, I have never felt compelled to try and gain an additional advantage via my controller. I was able to test out and try the original Xbox Elite controller and after a week of using it as my main controller I was just left feeling it was not worth the asking price for what it offered. The asking price for the Elite series 2 is also very steep at £159.99 and features rarely in retailer sales windows since it launched. However, as the saying goes, things change, and real life has a way of changing one’s mind and it did when it came to the Elite Series 2 Controller and why I suddenly found a need for it outside of just trying to have competitive edge.

In late 2018 I was diagnosed with an autoimmune disease called Antiphospholipid Syndrome (APS) and a side-effect in men is that it can cause arthritis and joint issues which early last year led to me also being diagnosed with degenerative arthritis in my hands, which as you can imagine as a gamer really sucks. Reality means that gaming for just two hours will leave me in pain for up to five hours after and I needed a solution as it stopped me enjoying the very types of games, I have loved playing for years such as fighting games and FPS titles. Horror stories about the build quality of the first Xbox Elite controller with the rubberised grips constantly coming away from the controller just scared me off dropping money on it even though I felt the paddle system could actually help in my situation. When it was announced that a brand new refined and improved Elite controller was coming in the form of the Series 2, well it more than had my attention, even at the high asking price.

So, what do you get for the £159.99 exactly:

What’s in the Box:

  • Xbox Elite Wireless Controller Series 2
  • Carrying case
  • Set of 6 thumbsticks: Standard (2), Classic (2), Tall (1), Wide Dome (1)
  • Set of 4 paddles: Medium (2), Mini (2)
  • Set of 2 D-pads: Standard, Faceted
  • Thumbstick-adjustment tool
  • Charging dock
  • USB-C cable

Even just holding the box the controller comes in, you get the weight of the money you have just spent on acquiring it for the box itself is heavy compared to a regular Xbox Wireless controller and is really a hint at the actual weight of the Elite Series 2 which is also, much heavier than a regular controller. But I love how the level of presentation that comes with this controller, everything about it just feels top tier and “Elite” and reflects the pricey cost buying this requires. Opening the box reveals the superb carrying case that the controller rests in, and I love the design of the case as well, it is perfect for keeping all the pieces for the controller, the four paddles, six thumbsticks as well as the thumbstick adjustment key all together nicely, will come back to those pieces a little further on.

The best feature for me with the carry case is the way the Charging dock fits neatly on the base, fixed by magnets which also carries over into the controller itself. A sneaky opening has been added to the back of the case which the USB-C Cable can fit through enabling he carrying case to also serve as a docking station and protection for when the controller is not in use. The charging dock can be removed as well and positioned as the user wishes but for me, I have the cable connected to a USB port on my main Xbox One X console and cabled managed to hide it leading into the carry case so when I am done with gaming for the day, the controller simply goes into the carry case and it begins to charge. A very common sense and simple solution which I very much appreciated. Of course, the purpose of a carrying case is to protect the controller so you can take it with you and the shell is very sturdy with an extra pocket net in the lid in case you need to bring anything extra with you.

Naturally, it is really the controller itself you are really emptying your wallet for and similar to how the presentation of the box and the carrying case reflect the top tier pricing, the moment you hold the Elite 2 controller itself you can instantly feel all the weight of the tech inside this thing. Now a lot of that weight is from the internal battery which is part of the controller and cannot be removed which I have no problem seeing how I simply place it back on the charging dock in the carrying case when done with my gaming session. The batter has up to 40hrs of charge which of course is impacted when in use depending how much impact the rumble/vibration feedback of the games you play can have, but this can be turned down or even reduced to nothing via the excellent Xbox Accessories App, something that is the essential factor for this controller, but more on that further on.

Before this, for me the absolute gold standard and best gaming controller I have used is the Xbox 360 with its high tension thumbsticks that were quite simply lush to have, something that up to now, the Xbox One wireless controller lacked. But the features of the Elite Series 2 bring that magic back for me thanks to how you can use the thumbstick tool to select one of the three tension mode for both right and left sticks. You can even set them individually to your needs or preference as well. You simply remove the thumbstick cap, which is held up by magnets…I love science…to reveal the slot for the key. I have tested each setting and the medium settings does feel comfortable but the third setting is the most Xbox 360 controller feeling for me.

The Elite Series 2 also has hair trigger settings thanks to switches on the back for each trigger and they can be set to lower the amount of pressure or how much of the trigger needs to be pushed down in order to “fire”. You can really set them so that very little pressure is required but I found it is very dependent on the type of game you are playing for how effective these are such as a hair trigger is great for an FPS game but for acceleration in a vehicle based game like Forza Horizon 4 you might find it a little OTT to use this feature.

What surprised me the most was the use of the four paddles on the pack and each paddle can be used to replicate any of the face buttons, thumb clicks or even an action such as taking a screenshot or making a clip. The paddles cannot be used to add new buttons so as a fighting game fan, I am unable to set a paddle to do a X + A combination for a throw, but before I began using the Elite Series 2, I never truly appreciated how helpful it is to have the paddle system. For example, I have two paddles on the back set for both thumbstick clicks, so instead of clicking in the left stick to sprint or right stick to do a melee or lock on function, I can simply have a paddle assigned to each one. When playing an FPS game, I can set the paddles for jump and weapon switch so I never have to take my thumb off the left stick so I can always have my aim without lifting my thumb. There is such a versatility to the paddle system I have really come to never want to not have on a controller.

Where the customisation comes to life the most is via the excellent Xbox Accessories app that I mentioned before and if this is the first time you have heard of this app, trust me when I say it is worth checking out even if you only have a regular Xbox One Wireless controller, especially if you want to keep your controllers at their best as yes, even your controller can be updated to perform better and sometimes if you are experiencing stick drift, updating your controller via the app could resolve this in some cases. But for the Elite Series 2, the Accessories App is the brain behind the tech in the controller. With the app you can further fine tune and customise the performance of the controller by adjusting dead zones on the triggers and even the thumbsticks. You can even create profiles for the different games you play as the Elite Series 2 can store up to three profiles as well as a default one. You can have setup the paddles for a shooter with one profile and have one setup for a racing game on another and using the profile select face button on the controller you can instantly switch between any stored profile with a nice light to indicate which profile is currently active, holding the profile button for a second will return the controller to a default profile. The controller will also remember your profiles so should you need to travel to friend’s house all you will need to do is sync your controller to their controller and your stored profiles are still ready to go.

You can even set “shift” functions so using a paddle as a shift button allows you to set a second function to a button on the controller, something that users of the original Elite controller had been calling for. It is truly staggering just how much you can customise your own gaming experience with the Elite Series 2 and even after a month of using one, I am still finding way to make small adjustments with the Accessories App to improve the games I play. The only thing I feel is missing from this is the ability to have multiple devices saved to the controller as currently it only syncs to one device at a time. I happen to use one Xbox One X as my main gaming console but also an Xbox One X as my streaming console, so in order to use my Elite Series 2 on both I have to resync the controller to the controller I am using.

Hopefully the above will start to explain how the Elite Series 2 is helping with my degenerative arthritis. The weight of the controller made me realise just how much effort I was putting into just gripping the standard Xbox One controller but with the Elite Series 2 I feel it is just resting in my hands rather than using grip strength which is where some of the pain I have when gaming comes from. The paddle and hair trigger systems means I am using my right thumb far less than using it on the right stick and using the face buttons and now with the way I naturally grip the controller, those same functions are now at my finger tips with the paddles on the back of the Elite Series 2. In short, it takes less effort with my hands to use the Elite Series 2 than it does a regular controller which for now and hopefully if my condition worsens, will still allow me to game in relative less pain when gaming on my Xbox console.

Not only is the Elite Series 2 the best controller you can buy, but the high price is justified in my eyes even if you are just using it for the competitive advantage it will give players but in my case especially, it has already improved my quality of gaming from an accessibility point of view with many functions how having a more ergonomic option I would not have without the Elite Series 2. For most of the lock down period we have all had to endure in 2020, gaming has been a huge way to stay sane through it all. My health issues made this hobby I am passionate about difficult at times and the Elite Series 2 has solved a lot of those problems as well as just being a fantastic bit of kit that anyone with similar hand issues or an injury might face.

It took me quite a while to find a retailer with stock of the Elite Series 2, but the wait was worth it and I am even more impressed with how this controller performs because of my particular situation as well as it as a high-end controller over all. As an Xbox console controller there is nothing better for customisation right now on the market and the additional bonus that it can work with a Windows 10 PC via Bluetooth or USB cable connection keeping all the customisation options intact makes this super versatile in almost every way. Not to mention that it will also work day one like all Xbox first party accessories with the Xbox Series X and S come November.

The Xbox Elite Series 2 is so impressive that I doubt I could ever go back to using a regular type controller again, I even give a little huff when I pick up a normal Dual Shock 4 controller for my PlayStation 4. The price is very steep but you do feel the value of the tech in the controller and in everything that comes with it so it really comes down to what you need from your controller. In my case, both my gaming performance and my accessibility needs have been improved vastly thanks to my Elite Series 2 controller.

 If you are looking for a fully customisable controller, then this really is the best option out there for you.

Sean McCarthy
Freelance writer but also a Gamer, Gooner, Jedi, Whovian, Spartan, Son of Batman, Assassin and Legend. Can be found playing on PS4 and Xbox One Twitter @CockneyCharmer

1 COMMENT

  1. I can relate to your story. As a 50 something gamer, without my elite controller I would have stopped gaming a long time ago. I hope MSFT keep improving it and making it more available.

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