Microsoft’s Xbox Elite Controller immediately established itself as an essential peripheral for hardcore players when it first launched back in 2015, its supreme build quality and extensive range of features more than justifying its monolithic price tag.
Now, Microsoft is expanding upon its vision for expert pads with Xbox Elite Controller 2, a direct successor to its hugely popular first entry completely with a vast selection of improvements and new features. Set to support Xbox Series X, Windows 10 and all other Xbox consoles moving forward, this is a must-have peripheral for those who can afford it.
Price-wise it sits between the Astro C40 and Razer Raiju Tournament Edition which are two of the current top dogs in the gaming controller market. But even against its stiff competition the Xbox Elite Controller 2 is an excellent device in almost every regard, with it only falling short in a few small areas.
Its premium quality, range of different customisation options and astounding battery life ensure it stands proudly among the competition, and in some regards, easily surpasses them. Even compared to the original Elite, this is a bold step forward.
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Design – A bold yet familiar design that feels wonderful to hold
The overall design is largely similar to the first Elite Controller, albeit with a handful of changes to its colour scheme, attachments and a couple of other small touches. The strip of plastic which once dominated the home button and upper parts of the body are now a consistent shade of black, with shiny silver plastic relegated to the triggers and shoulder buttons. It’s far less jarring, and gives the device a more premium feel overall.
Button layout has also received a slight revision. You can now select from three bespoke profiles, now controlled with a single button instead of a switch, As result it takes up far less space, and is somewhat more graceful across the peripheral’s overall design. Beyond this, the Xbox Elite Controller 2 doesn’t change what doesn’t require fixing, instead opting to gradually refine aspects of its predecessor to craft something even greater.
The big difference comes in the customisable attachments that are stored in the carry case. Inside the robust storage unit you’ll find a selection of thumbsticks, d-pads and other accessories which are delightfully easy to attach and detach from the Elite 2. Unboxing the controller, I spent a few minutes simply toying with different options, finally settling on a configuration which worked for me. However, some changes have been made when compared to the previous model.
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Elite 2 comes with six thumbsticks – 2 standard, 2 classic, 1 tall and 1 wide dome – with Microsoft foregoing the inclusion of two tall thumbsticks after finding that only a small number of players adopted that playstyle. So, you can opt for a setup similar to the traditional Xbox One controller or even harken back to the Xbox 360 days with the classic sticks. Alternatively, the option to mix and match is equally as welcome.
D-Pad options are somewhat less excessive. There are only two options available with this controller. You’ve got standard and faceted attachments, the latter becoming my regular driver thanks to its angular approach allowing for far more nuanced inputs. Classic platformers will likely benefit from the vanilla d-pad, since it can be easy to make the incorrect input when sporting its more complicated sibling.
Finally, we have the paddles. These unusual attachments are for players who are truly passionate about customised inputs and unique profiles matching to different genres. Paddles can be assigned to any command on the controller, acting as an additional way to access an existing button, or instead replace one. You can also use them as ad hoc grips or remove them entirely if they’re distracting or you don’t require extra inputs.
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That’s all for fancy attachments, but the Xbox Elite Controller 2 still houses a couple of neat surprises. On the back you’ll find two switches which adjust the actuation points of the trigger buttons, meaning you can make it so guns fire faster in Apex Legends or Call of Duty. Each trigger has three different levels of actuation to choose from, although you can customise these further using the phone application and custom profiles feature.
Charging the controller is a breeze, largely thanks to a frankly stunning 40 hour battery life which truly lives up to such lofty claims. Switching from an older input to the more modern USB-C, Xbox Elite Controller 2 includes a lengthy cable alongside a chunky charging dock. It can be charged directly in the case, thanks to a convenient opening at the back where you can seamlessly slide in the charging cable.
Performance – The Elite 2 works beautifully across multiple genres and platforms
I’ve tested the Elite Controller 2 extensively across a number of genres and titles, ensuring I gave Microsoft’s flagship peripheral a genuine run for its money. It excels in virtually every scenario, only falling short in scenarios similar to its cheaper siblings. Platformers simply don’t shine on Xbox One controllers, largely due to the placement of the d-pad in relation to the face buttons.
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Without a lot of practice, it doesn’t possess the accuracy of PlayStation or Nintendo pads in my experience. Titles such as Halo: The Master Chief Collection and Forza Horizon 4 are where the Elite 2 really shines. In Playground Games’ stunning racer the enhanced vibration motors come alive as you drift around rain-drenched roads, conveying a sense of feedback I’ve never felt in a controller before.
Combine this with the ability to customise the sensitivity of your thumbsticks and you’re left with a recipe for success. Each game or genre can be curated to match your own personal tastes. At first I found such flexibility to be overwhelming since I’m accustomed to regular pads, but I slowly but surely grew used to adjusting the Elite 2 when jumping from shooters to racers to platformers.
All of its inputs, whether you’re talking about face buttons or the new and improved triggers, perform wonderfully. I’d honestly find it difficult returning to the vanilla Xbox One controller after this, although I will admit the Elite 2 requires a little more care and attention on behalf of the player to truly make the most of it. If you’re after a sweet and simple peripheral, the original controller is arguably an easier, and cheaper, sell for casual consumers.
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The rubberised grip which wraps around the Elite 2 ensures it’s a comfortable controller to use during extended play sessions, even if your hands grow sweaty during a stressful boss battle. One of my only qualms is that compared to the rest of the design, the plastic which decorates the bumpers and triggers feels unusually cheap in comparison. Its a small qualm, but one worth surfacing given the hefty asking price.
Bluetooth connectivity means the Elite 2 is more flexible than ever, capable of connecting to your Xbox consoles and a range of other devices such as phones and tablets with ease. You’ll need a bespoke dongle or the included USB cable to make use of it on PC, the former I luckily had sitting around at the time of writing this review. I adore this flexibility, and it works in tandem with Microsoft’s vision of an Xbox ecosystem which spans a range of different devices and services.
Should you buy the Xbox Elite Controller 2?
If price is no object, the Elite Controller 2 is a non brainer purchase for any hardcore gamer. It’s an excellent peripheral, and given it will work on future platforms for years to come, you don’t need to worry about such an investment being wasted moving forward.
For more casual gamers, the hefty asking price is a bitter pill to swallow, but as a long-term investment I genuinely think it is worth thinking about, especially if you’re buying it alongisde a new console or the upcoming Xbox Series X. It’s honestly one of the best controllers I’ve used in recent memory, and Microsoft should be commended for it.