Xbox Elite Series 2 Controller Review: A Modular Marvel That Merits Your Money

Xbox Elite Series 2 Controller Review: A Modular Marvel That Merits Your Money

Can a $180 controller change your life?

I remember when the first Xbox Elite controller was announced, my jaw was hanging because of that price. Was any controller truly worth $150? I couldn't fathom it, despite folks I trust offering up a resounding "yes" each time I asked. I was content with my standard Xbox One controller.

I started to change my tune around the Elite's 2015 launch, as I played with more aftermarket controllers. In the past, the extra controller was always the kiss of death; the one gamepad you didn't want to play with. My first ride was the Scuf Vantage, a controller for PlayStation 4 officially branded by Sony. I wasn't a huge fan of the build quality, and there were some issues with the first model, but I immediately fell in love with the rear paddles. I realized there were some things these alternate controllers could bring to the table. The Astro C40 was a step up in build quality and offered modular sticks, but it's paddle implementation wasn't my favorite. After those two controllers, I was interested in picking up Microsoft's Elite, which was good because the company announced the Xbox Elite Series 2.

Pulling the Elite Series 2 from its box, you can already feel how different it is from the rest. This is a hefty boy of a controller. At 345g it's the heaviest controller I've played with, sitting 65g heavier than the standard Xbox One controller and almost 35g heavier than the Astro C40, which is my previous heavy gamepad. The Elite Series 2 is the same dimensions as the standard, but the weight instantly gives it a feeling of quality. (Even though it's a few grams lighter than the Series 1.)

That quality is borne out in the small details of every inch of the controller. The handles of the controller are textured for better grip. The texture extends further than it did on the first Elite, covering the entire front and back of the handles, up to the triggers and bumpers. The right and left triggers also have a cross-hatching pattern to them, differentiating them from the bumpers. The Xbox button at the center of the controller is tighter and clickier than the standard model. If you squint, you might not know the Elite is any different than a regular Xbox controller.

Everything in the Xbox Elite Series 2 package. | Mike Williams/USG, Microsoft

Change It Up

Like its predecessor, part of the selling point of the Elite Series 2 is it's modular nature. It's a controller meant to be tweaked and changed until it fits you like a glove. Standard controllers are generally one size fits all, but that's not actually how people operate. There's a wide variety of high-quality gaming mice and keyboards to tune the PC experience to your liking, but doing so on consoles isn't as widespread or consistent.

The Elite Series 2 has the same unique directional pad as the first Elite: the odd, raised geometric model. It's easy to swap for a more traditional model of directional pad, something closer to the standard controller. Since it's magnetized, you can just pop it off and replace it with basic plus format d-pad. While it's magnetized, the magnets are strong enough to keep the d-pad in place for every day play. I booted up some Shovel Knight and didn't have any problems with the directional pad whatsoever.

The analog sticks are also modular on the Elite Series 2. Straight out of the box, the Elite Series 2 has analog sticks that mirror the standard Xbox One controller: a concave divot surrounded by a texture for grip. Like the directional pad, the sticks are magnetized. If you don't like the original sticks, there are a couple of options available to you. There's a concave set with no texture to it, or a single domed stick or tall stick. (The tall stick has the same concave and texture of the standard sticks.) It's a bit weird that it's a single stick for the latter two options, as the original Elite included a pair of tall and domed sticks. My guess is Microsoft found that most users simply switched out the right stick. I stuck with the classic-style sticks, because the analog stick covers on the standard Xbox One controller are damned near perfect.

Tuning the analog stick tension. | Mike Williams/USG, Microsoft

When you pull off the analog sticks, you find a cross-shaped divot in the middle of the stick. This is for the metal key that comes with the Elite Series 2, letting you change the tension of the analog sticks. There are three tension settings, and you switch between them by inserting the key and turning clockwise or counter-clockwise. I tried the higher tension levels, which seem to be for people that usually push their sticks with too much force, but it just felt too weird over the course of my normal play.

The Profile Switch button on the center of the pad allows you to change between three play profiles on the fly. Each profile is indicated by a set of LEDs in-between the d-pad and right analog stick. You set up the profiles in the Xbox Accessories app, which is key for a few of the Elite Series 2's features.

On the rear of the Elite Series 2, you'll also find a few more physical additions. Foremost are the rear paddles, which are made of solid metal and are couched in magnetized slots. They require a decent amount of force to activate, so you won't have to worry about accidental presses too often. You can remove any of the paddles, and they're programmable in the Xbox Accessories app. Rear paddles are bar none, the best thing that's ever happened to me in terms of gaming. If Microsoft, Sony or Nintendo releases standard controllers with rear paddles as the only addition, I'd buy them in a heartbeat.As it stands the jump from standard controller, to similar models with paddles is very expensive. (You're talking a $70 premium at least.)

Above the paddles there are trigger stop switches, which let you determine how deep your trigger pulls are. Finally, there's a battery pips, which connect to the included charging cradle. This is probably the biggest step back over the original Elite, which had a removable battery. Here the battery is fully internal—you can't remove it at all—so when the battery dies, it's dead. That's a shame, considering the original model was better in this respect.

You can charge the Elite Series 2 with the included 9 foot braided USB-C cable, a definite change over the Micro USB slot of the standard controller or the original Elite. Microsoft also included a charging dock; you can plug the cable into the dock and simply drop the Elite Series 2 on top of the dock when you need to charge it. I found the dock itself to be a bit annoying, as you just lay the controller on top; there are no hooks or anything to hold it in place.

Finally, Microsoft also added an internal Bluetooth receiver, like the Xbox One S and X controllers. This means you can connect the Series 2 to a desktop PC wirelessly with Bluetooth, which is a nice option. Note, you have to re-pair the controller on Bluetooth if you move from Xbox One to PC, because it seems the controller does not save Bluetooth IDs. This is the case with the standard Xbox One controller as well, but I do wish they had a fix, potentially related to profiles.

If you're the kind of person that needs this level of control, the Elite is for you. | Mike Williams/USG, Microsoft

The Xbox Accessories App

This is where one half of the Elite's magic lies. If you're going to pull the Elite Series 2 out of the box, hook it up, and call it a day, I'm not sure it's entirely worth the asking price. It's a very well-done controller, but part of the power is in the tuning.

The Xbox Accessories app allows you to create up to 250 profiles which can be saved to the cloud. From within the app, you can then download 3 of those profiles into the controller. There's also an extra Default profile, which is accessed by holding down the Profile button. This simply switches the controller to standard Xbox One operation.

Like the original Elite, you can set any button to do anything you want. If you want the B button to register as the X button, you can. If you want the triggers to register as the A button, go right ahead. I'm a huge fan of setting the analog stick clicks to the paddles, because I tend to press too hard on my analog sticks and accidently click them in. It's mad annoying and remapping makes my life much easier.

There are also more options in terms of button assignments. You can now bind taking screenshots or videos to buttons, which is vastly better than the built-in option of hitting the Xbox button and then pressing another. (This only works on the Xbox One version of the Xbox Accessories app, as the PC version lacks any alternate system command options.) Microsoft is particularly proud of the new "Shift" button option. If you set one of the buttons to Shift, then when its held down, all the other buttons change their functions. Every button has its Shift option set as the same thing in the Default profiles, but there's room to get real weird with button combinations if you want.

The app takes into account your trigger stop settings. | Mike Williams/USG, Microsoft

When you dive deeper into Xbox Accessories and it gets truly mad. You can set the sensitivity curve and analog movement calculation for each stick within the app. (I assume this will help with the drifting joysticks problem that some original Elite owners had.) You can change the dead zones of the triggers, and the Elite Series 2 actually takes into account the physical controller stop settings, so the bottom out of the trigger on the app changes depending on which trigger stop you're using. You can also adjust vibration intensity and the brightness of the Xbox button.

It's an absurd level of detail for a controller, and it shows that Microsoft was thinking far harder about the Elite Series 2 than it probably needed to. The Elite Series 2 is really for folks that are willing to go this far to customize their gaming experience on the Xbox One or PC. You're paying for not just build quality, but an insane amount of flexibility.

For something like Call of Duty: Modern Warfare on PC, I have the sprinting, crouching, and jumping bound to three of the paddles and the trigger stops at their highest level. (Honestly, clicking L3 to sprinting is always the first thing rebound to a paddle.) I even played with the taller stick for accuracy purposes. For Forza Horizon 4, the trigger stops are off, and I have the paddles set for manual shifting and taking screenshots. I also have a few profiles that switch up button mapping. The Elite Series 2 is pretty much ready for anything.

You wanna get crazy? Let's get crazy! | Mike Williams/USG, Microsoft

This brings us to the question of price. To be honest, that's what I left out of my mentions of the other third-party controllers I enjoy. The Scuf Vantage is $169.99 and the Astro C40 is a clean $199.99. That's the price of the Switch Lite for the latter. By contrast, the Xbox Elite Series 2 controller is $179.99. I assume that Microsoft is taking some of the cost on the chin here, because the materials alone should put it above the Astro C40, but it's actually $20 cheaper.

I only play on PlayStation 4 with the Astro C40. I have some quibbles with that controller, but ultimately it just feels so much better to play with on a regular basis. (And I play a lot.) The Xbox Elite Series 2 feels even better than the Astro C40. This is going to be my go-to gamepad for the foreseeable future on Xbox One and PC. Hell, Microsoft has already confirmed that all current Xbox One controllers will work with the next console, so this will likely be my Scarlett workhorse controller too. The Xbox Elite Series 2 is simply a fantastic controller, and the only issue I have with it is the lack of support for multiple devices on Bluetooth. Fix that, and it'd be perfect.

I'm a full on premium controller freak. I make no apologies for it. I would probably spend the $180 on the Xbox Elite Series 2 and then never let anyone else touch my baby. Which is to say, yeah, the Elite Series 2 is worth the price of admission.

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Mike Williams

Reviews Editor

M.H. Williams is new to the journalism game, but he's been a gamer since the NES first graced American shores. Third-person action-adventure games are his personal poison: Uncharted, Infamous, and Assassin's Creed just to name a few. If you see him around a convention, he's not hard to spot: Black guy, glasses, and a tie.

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