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Wednesday, April 17, 2024

Are Customizable Game Controllers Worth It?

Microsoft and Sony have pretty standardized controllers, and buying extras is usually affordable. However, both companies offer versions that let you swap out joysticks and add on extra inputs. They're also considerably more expensive. So before you shell out the cash, let's take a look at why you might want one.

The two controllers we're looking at here are Sony's DualSense Edge controller for the PlayStation 5 and Microsoft's Elite Controller Series 2 for the Xbox Series X/S and Xbox One. Both offer very similar features aimed at optimizing your gameplay, so we're going to examine them together.

However, there's one major difference between the two: Sony sells the DualSense Edge controller in a $200 bundle that comes with spare paddles and extra thumbsticks. Microsoft offers a similar bundle for $180, but you can also buy the core kit for $130. Third parties also sell the extra bits, and theoretically, you could even 3D-print your own, but it's worth keeping in mind that for PlayStation owners, the full bundle is the only option.

Swappable Joysticks Give You Fine-Tuned Control

One of the most useful features of these controllers is the ability to swap out individual joysticks. You might've noticed that with standard controllers, fine-grained aim isn't easy to get. In fact, many console games that require specific targeting offer some form of aim assist to help compensate for this. But there are ways to get better aim manually.

Both controllers offer the option to swap out the standard joysticks with taller alternatives. This might not seem like a big deal, but it's not just for comfort's sake. A taller stick means that your thumb is further from the center of the joystick module. This, in turn, means that it takes larger physical movements with your thumb to translate to the same level of movement, and thus a greater margin of error when you're trying to aim for a small target. They both also have an adjustable tightness setting in the control stick itself to add more resistance, giving you even greater precision.

This is obviously most useful for games where aiming is a critical skill. Online shooters from Call of Duty to Fortnite generally rely on hitting your targets before they can hit you. And while aim assist can help, it only gets you so far. If you find yourself struggling to even get your crosshairs in the same neighborhood as your enemies, these can be a huge help.

On a slightly more subjective note, the tops of these control sticks also come in different shapes and textures. Both Microsoft and Sony offer bundles that include sticks with rounded or indented tops, which can influence the grip your thumbs have on the sticks. This is much more up to your own comfort level, but it's nice to have the option.

Trigger Resistance Means Faster Reactions

The trigger buttons on PlayStation controllers–L2 and R2–are what Sony calls “adaptive triggers,” which tell the game how hard you're pressing on the buttons and can even adjust the resistance on the fly. This makes for some really interesting interactions, like pulling back farther on a bow or feeling resistance while prying open a crate in the game.

However, the downside of this feature is that there's a fair amount of travel time between starting to press the button and fully depressing it. If you're playing more competitive games, all the fancy sensitivity might not matter, but being able to hit the trigger as quickly as possible does. So both controllers offer switches to adjust the trigger's travel distance.

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This is especially handy when you need to rapidly fire the trigger button. Once again, shooters and competitive games are the biggest beneficiaries of this advantage. However, it can also be useful in frantic party games like Overcooked—if you're the kind of person who'll shell out cash to get a mild advantage over your friends, that is.

Customized Button Layouts Mold Games to Your Needs

Anyone who's ever played games on a PC with gaming peripherals knows that one of the best advantages you can get is tailoring your inputs to your preferences. This kind of customization usually isn't possible on consoles, but both of these controllers can remap some or all of their buttons.

The Xbox version is the most robust, allowing you to change the inputs of any button. Want to swap the Y and X button? Or put the right trigger function onto the A button? This lets you do it, and you can save up to three custom profiles that you can jump between on the fly.

Both controllers also have the option to add extra paddles on the rear of the device. (The Xbox version has space for four of these paddles, while the PlayStation controller has two.) These are designed to be used by the fingers you normally don't use while playing, like your ring fingers. You can map these paddles to whatever buttons you want.

These don't necessarily offer the same kind of broad competitive advantages that other features do, but they can help you, specifically, if you prefer a different layout that the games don't offer you. They can also be useful as an accessibility tool, to help move some buttons from one side of the controller to the other.

It’s How You Use It

Overall, these controllers offer a ton of customizability and comfort that you might not be used to getting from standard controllers. And in some cases, they really can offer tangible competitive advantages. Whether that's worth the premium depends on what kinds of games you play, how often you play them, and how much work you're willing to put into optimizing your play style.

The build quality of both controllers is sturdy, and they feel great. But remember, these are advanced versions of controllers that have themselves benefited from over 20 years of refinement. It's tough to argue that you can do better than the standard controllers, especially when these cost two to three times as much. But if you do spring for the deluxe package, they offer a lot of value for the money.

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