Microsoft shook the gaming world when it announced the Microsoft Elite controller for the Xbox One. Featuring a design with the pro player in mind, the controller features interchangeable joysticks, a flat, dish-like d-pad, and four rear paddle buttons. The controller boasts increased grip, sensitive hair triggers, and a price tag to match the quality expected from the pro community. Gamers met this with mixed reactions. A mass produced, customizable, top-tier controller experience that you can find at your local electronics retailer sounds like a good thing on paper, but can the price live up to the promises? While the world at large pondered that question, other questions arose within our community: Can Microsoft release a more accessible version of their controller, and market it in every store across the country, allowing a more accessible gaming experience to the entire gaming community?
The controller itself is constructed fairly similar to the Xbox One controller we’ve seen for years. The additions don’t stand out compared to the overall design of the controller. The center button for swapping predesigned button layouts is small and marked with just a one and a two. Upon looking at the sticks, there’s no indication that they are removable and interchangeable with the two other stick sets provided with the Elite. The most obvious different from simply looking at the front of the controller is the new flat d-pad, allowing much easier directional input compared to the old standard of controllers. Looking from the front, only small glimpses of the rear paddle switches can be seen. Flipping the controller over to the rear then puts the new paddle switch inclusions on full display, including locks allowing the player to change the left and right triggers to activate at half the normal distance per press. Upon removal of the paddles, the small buttons that take the actual inputs of the paddles are seen. With the paddles removed, the buttons will be incredibly hard to accidentally pressed. The base of the controller is made with a smooth, matte black plastic, but the grips of the controller are covered with a grey, highly grippy plastic. The difference in feel for these handles are substantial compared to a standard controller.
The Elite controller’s differences come in two areas. One of them being the aforementioned physical changes and upgrades from the standard controller, the other half being the digital button remapping within the new Xbox Accessibility app. This app allows you to modify many different aspects of how the controller works. The app allows remappable keys for the entire controller, which includes programming the rear paddles to any of the other buttons. The app lets you customize sensitivity of the sticks, adjust trigger pressures (with the option to mirror the settings between triggers), vibration adjustments for both the handles as well as the impulse triggers, xbox one button brightness, and a save function to sync your button layouts across the Xbox One and PC. The Accessibility App also lets the player name their controller, which is a nice touch.
There are many fantastic quality of life upgrades that make this a more accessible controller. This Accessibility app finally allows for remappable buttons on the Xbox One. The app also works with a standard wireless controller on Xbox One, so with the Elite, remappable buttons came for all. All of the functions of the app, such as stick sensitivity, trigger pressures, and vibration adjustments, can make the Xbox One playable by those who were unable to do so before. Remappable keys plus increase grip gives a huge advancement for one handed gamers. The rear paddle keys can be remapped to any button, allowing someone to control four inputs, four buttons, and one analog stick on either side of the controller. The app also allows the ease of remapping simply by holding one button, and then pressing the button you want it to become. Ease of use with the core functionality was definitely a priority. The different physical components included with the controller change the functionality of the controller for the better based upon player needs. The best part about the paddles, additional analog sticks, and interchangeable d-pads is that they are magnetically held in place, allowing easy changes when desired. There are three different sets of analog sticks: a concave pair like the standard Xbox One controller, a convex pair, and an extended height pair. The paddles are also held with magnets, and seem like they could easily be replaced with custom paddles should anyone develop them. The attention to detail in modification and reprogramming creates an atmosphere that is ripe for further accessibility development.
There have been many other controllers built for professional gamers that have been accessible, but the Elite controller raises the bar. The ease of modification, both in physical parts as well as digital remapping, creates a device that has widespread functionality to a mass market. On the subject of the mass market, having the Xbox Elite controller being sold by every retailer makes the possibility for someone being able to easily purchase the accessible controller they need far greater, and that’s the true strength of this device. The options for accessibility that the Elite controller presents are great, and can only get better once the app receives fine tuning and more swappable parts are created for the base device. Even this week, Microsoft announced that the Accessibility App will allow button remapping for standard Xbox One controllers, which is a great improvement to the overall accessibility of the system. The Xbox One Elite controller is a new addition to the market, but has definitely cemented its spot in accessible controllers. Seeing Microsoft take the jump and make a controller that functions well in many different areas is really exciting to see. While not a perfect catch all for players in some ways, the overall device is very well done and should be considered if you’re looking for an accessible controller on the Xbox One.