Just Buy a Fancy Video Game Controller, Trust Me
If you think about it, you’d be saving money on controllers in the long run. That’s just math.
One of the most impressive parts of the PlayStation 5 isn’t the console’s hardware or software. Rather, it’s the controller. The DualSense has been praised for its comfort, style, and impressive adaptive triggers that level up haptic feedback. But the battery life isn’t the best.
According to now-removed product listings on retailer websites, Sony may soon address this aspect of the DualSense with an updated version. But before you get excited, I’m here to tell you not to waste your money, just get one of those fancy controllers you always tell yourself are too expensive instead.
Video game controllers are the undervalued workhorse of gaming. We all use them, but how often do we really appreciate them? In my experience, a controller only stands out to a gamer when it’s doing something wrong. A mushy D-pad or stick drift takes you out of the game, which is a big no-no.
The standard controller that comes with any console is usually enough to get the job done. For a time. Many get worn down eventually and can stop functioning altogether. And everybody dreads the arrival of stick drift, where inputs seem to take on a life of their own and you have to fight the controller just to walk straight. Then it’s time to buy a new one. The current Xbox and PlayStation controllers cost $60 and $70, respectively, and depending on how often you game and how unlucky you are with controller longevity, that can snowball into a lot of money spent on controllers. But there is an alternative.
Pricier controllers for every console exist, and many of them offer a real improvement over the standard options — especially when it comes to build quality and lifespan. Perhaps the most well-known high-end controller is the Xbox Elite Series controller.
Microsoft’s first-party high-end controller costs $180. But that hefty price translates to a higher build quality than the cheap plastic of regular options. This is especially noticeable in the sticks, which are made of metal and will likely never drift on you. But if they do, you can always take advantage of the controller’s extensive software to recalibrate and adjust that stick drift. Not to mention you can also customize controller layouts in different profiles depending on what game you are playing.
This customization is a key benefit of pricier controllers. Some of that comes from the ability to create profiles and remap buttons, but there’s also the benefit of rear paddles. These are extra buttons placed on the bottom of a controller, near where your fingertips naturally rest. Programming certain inputs to the paddles can drastically change how a game is played.
My main use for paddles comes in Soulslike games. I am not, and likely never will be, very good at Soulslikes. But I still love them. One frustration I have is trying to hit the right inputs in a tough fight. It gets hard to dodge, parry, attack, and heal while not dying. But with a fancy controller, I can map my Estus Flask to a paddle and never take my thumbs off the sticks during combat, making it easier to maneuver out of a one-hit attack while still healing.
The same principle goes for shooters, where paddles can give you the ability to jump or slide while never losing your ability to aim precisely. The use cases for these handy extra buttons and programmability extend to almost every genre.
Controllers similar to the Elite Series exist for every platform. Scuf makes high-end options with paddles for PC, Xbox, and PlayStation. Sony introduced its own fancy controller, the DualSense Edge, in 2023. The Nintendo Switch is one of the best platforms to get a nice controller for as the console’s controllers are notorious for stick drift.
Now, there are some cons to high-end controllers. The first is, obviously, the price. It’s a luxury item that replaces something you will get for free with a console that will probably serve you well enough if you aren’t hard on your gear. They might also outlive their usefulness depending on where you play. As someone whose main platform for gaming is PC, I don’t have to worry about my controller becoming unusable with my desktop, but the same thing can’t be promised with console controllers.
That said, if you’re someone who games a lot and finds standard controllers aren’t cutting it for whatever reason — it might be time to upgrade.