Posted Thu Oct 29, 2015 at 05:00 PM PDT by Brian Hoss
A huge hit for Microsoft.
This week, Microsoft released the Xbox Elite Wireless Controller, and if Amazon's current sold out status is any indication, the $150 controller is selling well. Really though, between all of the enthusiasts and industry people that I know, the controller has been hovering around must-own status in spite of the steep price.
After using a pre-prod version, getting ahold of the final iteration of the Xbox Elite Controller hasn't been a completely surprising experience, but there are nevertheless many small details that have changed or are otherwise worth noting.
For one thing, the controller ships inside of its nylon carry case, which is then placed in black Elite box packaging. All put together, this box, which is made of a strong cardboard shell, is much larger and heavier than a typical Xbox One Wireless Controller box.
While the soft shell (contoured) carry-case is meant to carry the controller, its pieces, and the included micro USB cable, there is a foam insert that goes under the controller. Presumably, this gives the controller some extra security needed for shipping.
Likewise, the braided micro USB cable has changed from a monochrome look in pre-prod form to a black with a thin Xbox One green stripe spiraling around from end to end version. (Unlike the micro USB cable from the Charge & Play kit, this cable has no charging LED on the micro USB end.)
Sadly, the plus shaped d-pad piece, which comes in its rubber storage niece in the case, is still a bit annoying to take out.
The circular d-pad comes attached (it's held in place by a magnet in the center of the green d-pad contacts. All four paddles come attached, and the standard Xbox One shape and height sticks come on the controller. Presumably, Microsoft thought this configuration would be the most popular, and so far, I have to agree. The convex sticks are attractive in terms of shape, but their taller length isn't something I'm ready to jump on. The other stick option is the taller concave shape, which is also less attractive right away.
The magnets that hold the sticks in place are much stronger than what I remember. Even so, I would (and will) be very careful with this controller in terms of children or anyone else who might pop off a stick and lose it. (I'll probably put this controller away when my nephews visit.) The bounce back (the return to center) on the sticks is amazing. This is part just a reflection of the components. Flicking the sticks produces a slight vibration in the controller that resonates from the spring tension to the metal inner stick, outer stick, and the ring that surrounds the controller stick.
The four paddles that reside underneath the controller are an ongoing challenge for me. I've used SCUF Paddle designs on the 360, but only sparingly in two paddle configurations. Although I've always had in mind the desire to use one or two paddles, I'm attempting to learn to use all four paddle buttons on the Elite controller. The paddles are held in using a slight hook shape combined with magnets. So far, while I've accidentally bumped the paddles several times, I've only knocked one out when grabbing the controller to show someone. The paddles come positioned for my middle and ring fingers, though they can be switched around, which I don't recommend at the moment. The lower paddles are the ones that tend to get bumped (usually when picking up or setting down the controller), so it takes some extra care when handling of the controller.
The Elite controller comes with regular batteries, but I'm going with the battery pack from the Xbox Charge & Play kit. After syncing the controller to the Xbox One via the familiar (and green) sync button on the top, I proceeded into the settings of the NXE and did a controller update. This is standard procedure for new Xbox One controllers and is even more important with the preview NXE. After updating, I proceeded to the Xbox Accessories app.
There the controller can be named, a short presentation of the controller's features can be watched, and most importantly, the controller's profiles and button mapping can be adjusted.
There are several profiles for Microsoft published games available, including 'Halo 5,' 'Forza 6,' 'Gears of War: Ultimate Edition,' and 'Sunset Overdrive.' 'The Forza Motorsport 6 – Manual' profile had exactly what I wanted for 'Forza' with the shift up (X) and shift down (B) being mapped to the upper and lower paddles respectively (and mirrored on both sides). I saved that to the controller's profile Slot 2.
I launched 'Forza 6,' but was met by and update, so while that downloaded I hopped onto 'Forza Horizon 2.' (Oh the marvels and pitfalls of digital games.) I had ANNA map me to the nearest Bucket List Item, which turned out to be a challenge to pass a certain traffic camera with a McLaren F1 at 140 mph. I won't lie, my hands are used to shifting using X and B, and my thumb just wants to hover above the controller when playing 'Forza.' At the same time, however, the feel of the pressing the paddle to shift is pretty exquisite. I've tried paddle shifters on racing wheels, but they usually feel mushy or are else missing a tactile feedback. With the Elite controller paddles, the tiny click feels mechanical in a good way. Switching over to 'Forza 6,' and in effect turning up the difficulty, I experimented using the right and left paddles to shift. I'm right handed, and I'm used to driving manual cars with left side drive (and the stick on the right of the driver). Ultimately, I did all the shifting with the right side paddles, but even then, I had to fight muscle memory. At one point, doing an Autocross event, I even decided to just pull out the left side paddles. Trying to learn two new shifting positions while doing an Autocross is a bit much, and I put them back afterwards.
What came as more of a surprise was the trouble I got in 'Forza 6.' I happened to grab a McLaren P1 (the one that comes in the anniversary pack) at Road Altanta, but I was having a surprisingly tough time controlling the car. Eventually, after suffering through a lap or two, I realized that the right trigger was more sensitive than I was used to. When I was hitting the gas the way I would on a normal Xbox One controller, it was too much too fast. Applying less force with index finger, and the car began to behave more like I would expect. There are settings for the trigger sensitivity in the Accessories app, but I'm leaving them on their default max for now.
For 'Halo 5,' none of the four stock profiles were what I wanted. Thus, I went ahead and made my own custom profile, which I named 'Halo 5 Hoss.' The powerful app can look a little unfriendly with its stark UI. Once I started messing with button mapping, however, it was much easier than it had first appeared.
The key thing I wanted was to be able to sprint without having to use the left stick button, so I mapped the left stick command to the right upper paddle.
I mapped B, which is the boost command, to the right lower paddle. On the left, the upper paddle is jump (A), and the lower paddles is (X). I can see swapping in crouch, melee, or grenade, but this is good for now. I've always wanted to have sprint on the underside of the controller, and with 'Halo 5' I'm trying to learn how to best use the boost. I saved configuration to profile Slot 1, and I also set this profile to lower the brightness of the Xbox button the controller. That way, when playing in a dark room, I know when the button is dim that I'm on profile 1 and when it's bright I'm on profile 2.
Of course, I'll wind up with a lot more than two profiles on the Xbox One. I've already created a different one for 'Destiny' and I think 'Call of Duty' will need one as well. Though the controller holds two profiles, the Xbox One can hold plenty more, and it's smart enough to swap them out. Since I'm probably always going to want to have sprint be on a paddle in FPSs, I can just copy an existing profile of mine and change the other settings as needed. This will keep the dimmer button setting in place as well.
Before firing up 'Halo 5,' I went into 'The Taken King,' and got distracted by the Halloween festivities. I consider 'Destiny' to be notorious when it comes to sprinting. (I have a bad habit of wanting to hold the sprint button down, and the stick button feedback on a normal controller is fairly weak to me.) Aside from enjoying the sprint paddle and toying with adding other commands to the paddles (like melee and reload), the feel of the sticks is extremely satisfying for me. I played so many hours of 'Destiny' over the past year that using the Elite controller with the game reveals much of its nuance. Without even touching the stick sensitivity (either in game or in the Accessories app), aiming is sweet. The control I have when sniping is crazy. It could be a one-way thing for many users. One issue for 'Destiny' and for 'Black Ops III' is that the RB + LB command (for a special attack/move) is not something that can be remapped right now. (No macros or button combinations can be remapped in app, however, games with more robust input options, such as fighting games, can work around this limitation.)
I ended up playing a few hours of 'Halo 5' with the Lunar White controller before using the Elite and that same sense of crazy precision when sniping caught my attention. The closest comparison I can think of is a computer mouse. A decent mouse will have a precise feel, while a cheapo can be a little loose. The weight and tension of the sticks of the Elite controller offer a bit more precision than what I'm used to on the Xbox One. It's not going to turn me into a pro or anything, but it is pretty gratifying.
The Elite controller has trigger stops that can be toggled on the bottom of the controller that turn the triggers into buttons. I have to admit, I haven't yet been very tempted to do this. Some of the guns in 'Halo 5' require more trigger pulls than I would like. That might be something to try, but I'd rather mess with the sensitivity (trigger start and stop can be adjusted). In a fighting game, where the trigger makes sense as a just another button, I might make the switch. (Update: I started using the right trigger stop in 'Halo.' It works great.)
It's worth noting that the paddles can be disabled quickly by a double tap of the Sync button. The controller will vibrate four times. The paddles can be re-enabled by another double tap of the Sync button, which the controller will answer with a long vibration.
So far, I'm loving the circular d-pad. I basically disregarded it when it was first revealed, but this is the first Microsoft d-pad design that I even like. It's underpinned in a clicky way just like the normal Xbox One controller (but with a slightly stronger response), but where the circular design is interesting, is in its raised concave shape. Again, this is sort of like the depression in the normal d-pad, but more pronounced with a fine edge that is easy to catch with a thumb. It remains to be seen if I'll still love this design after something like 'Super Meat Boy,' but I have some real hope now. (Update: I've spent some time 'N+' ninja-ing around using the circular d-pad. So far, so good.) I'm not sure the normal plus d-pad will be coming out the case anytime soon, and that is big surprise for me.
For anyone first grabbing the controller, it will likely feel heavy. It's roughly two ounces heavier than the normal controller. Microsoft has stated that the idea was to get the weight of the Elite controller without batteries to match the normal controller's weight with batteries. (The idea being that pros would use the Elite with the included micro USB cable and without the included batteries.) Of course, if you add a cabled headset via the 3.5mm port or an extra ounce via a chat adapter, the weight changes. Even my battery pack from the Charge & Play kit is 25% lighter than two AAs. (Thanks to the fluctuations of the NXE preview playing hell with wireless headsets, I've had plenty of opportunity to use the Elite controller's 3.5mm port and various chat adapters.) So we're talking about a range of 10 ounces to 14 with a chat adapter accessory and batteries. There's more to the weight than just an increase. The Elite controller is more balanced than the normal controller. That is, a normal controller has most of its weight in the center, with the left and right feeling pretty light. The Elite controller feels weighty throughout. During use, the weight is hardly noticeable.
After three days of on and off use in racing games and FPSs, one would normally expect to see the some wear on the neck of the analog sticks. This is not so with the Elite controller as the metal bits are getting along well. I suppose that if they do wear, or more likely the thumb contact area wears, I can easily turn each stick to even out the wear. (Kind of like rotating tires so it won't wear through, which has happened to me on 360 sticks.) I also imagine that replacement sticks will be a thing.
As much as I love having sprint be on a paddle, it occurred to me that wear on the paddle might be a concern. After all, the paddle is just pushing a tiny button with an extremely short travel distance. I hope Microsoft thought about this and worked it into the design. Time will tell.
Compared with the Lunar White controller, the Elite controller also has a nice slightly rubberized black matte texture. The trigger material seems the same, but where the Lunar White has the familiar glossy black plastic on the bumpers and center Xbox button area, the Elite's bumpers and Xbox button area have the same texture as the triggers. This means that that the Elite controller doesn't have the IR lights that work with Kinect, which is not a feature I ever cared for.
I was ready to state this controller was a premium item that 99% of players don't really need in any way. This is mainly because there are so many features and refinements that are "in the weeds" so to speak. Someone who plays a single franchise year in and year out will appreciate being able to constantly refine how that one game controls. For those of use that are moving from game to game, that depth can feel superfluous. Further time with the controller, however, has shifted that impression. Going back two years to when the new consoles debuted, many users were understandably looking from more from the new controllers, especially in the build quality department. Well, the Elite controller isn't a game-changer, but it is a major upgrade on par with a better TV or Home Theater set-up. The Lunar White Controller has improved bumpers, the 3.5mm jack, rubber grips on the bottom inside, and remappable support through the Xbox Accessories app, but I doubt users with the Elite controller will ever forget the difference that comes with Xbox Elite Controller. It's there every time you pick the controller up, move the sticks, the paddles, the triggers, etc. If you can find an Elite controller in stock, take it for spin.
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