PC gamers have always had two core bragging rights over console gamers; graphical power and keyboard and mouse input. It has long been believed that the venerable keyboard and mouse is a far faster, more accurate input method when gaming. And, while the few crossplay online shooters do bear that out, with PC players regularly pwning controller-confined console players, a recent Steam survey shows that the once frowned upon use of controllers has doubled in recent years—quickly overtaking keyboard and mouse as the preferred input choice.
According to the numbers, Valve says that in controller-friendly games, the percentage of players using a controller can easily be 60% or higher. Some games, such as Tony Hawk's Pro Skater 1+2 or Skater XL, have well over 90% of their player base using controllers. Popular titles, such as The Witcher 3, Red Dead Redemption 2, and Mortal Kombat have all been designed for, and play so much better with a controller.
So popular are controllers now that Steam has very quickly added API support for the just released PlayStation 5 DualSense controller. And, because of their Microsoft heritage, Xbox controllers have long since worked with Windows flawlessly and sit comfortably at the top of our list of best PC controllers.
It's safe to say that in 2020, unless you are a pro esports player, a whole swathe of PC games can be played just as easily, if not better, with a controller.
Historically, the keyboard and mouse combination has always been a far more accurate and speedy input method especially for first-person shooters, RTS and MMO games that PC has been infamous for. Aiming with a mouse is just far more precise than using the analogue stick on a controller. And managing multiple troops, resources, and characters in StarCraft et al. is far easier when you have a vast array of keys for quick access.
So yeah, the mouse and keyboard is still our pick for the primary PC input, but it's not the only input. The beauty of PC gaming lies in the choice available to us, so while the ol' keyboard and mouse faithful is perfect for a great many PC titles, it isn't for all of them.
Games like FIFA or NBA2K where headshots or spell management isn't the order of the day, simply play far better with a pad in hand. What about the racers like Forza Horizon 4, or action games like Assassin's Creed Valhalla, Red Dead Redemption 2, or even Cyberpunk 2077? All these games have far simpler control schemes, which are generally designed for console first, and have less need for high-paced precision? In these games, the keyboard and mouse combo is potentially too much with too little benefit.
Controllers give a different level of analogue control to the classic digital combo of a keyboard and mouse. A simple thing such as walking or running in games: With a controller, one just needs to vary the pressure when pushing the analogue stick. On a keyboard you have to hold another key, more commonly the Shift key, to toggle running or walking, there's no in between. Or platformers such as Ori & the Will of Wisps, which has so much jumping and slashing that is tremendously strenuous on a keyboard compared to a controller.
Controllers are simply more comfortable and supportive of your wrist-health over time, something any serious gamer should be concerned about. Additionally, controllers allow gamers to lean back in their chair, or plop their feet up on the sofa, and play more comfortably. You can't simply pick up your keyboard and mouse and do the same thing. Even if they are wireless, you still need a surface to put them on—your lap is not a real option here, it's too precarious an affair at best.
Now the hardcore gamers will be shouting from the rooftops about how keyboards and mice can be custom programmed to match any game, which is indeed a boon. But so can the best controllers, like the Xbox Elite Series 2 or the Astro C40. Both these controllers have programmable buttons, hot swappable parts, and custom software interfaces that let you program and store multiple game profiles. There are also hair triggers and analogue stick torque adjustment to help make your shooting faster and more precise.
Some people might even still be sticking up for the programmable Steam Controller, those poor deluded fools. And I'm sure they'll let us know in the comments.
So really, there's no excuse not to use a controller in 2020.
Trust us when we say, you'll enjoy a lot more games with a controller than you think and isn't that what we all want, more enjoyment? Several reviewers have commented how much better Cyberpunk 2077 is to play with a controller, especially the driving mechanics. And let's face it, we all want to play Cyberpunk 2077, don't we? Well, once the bugs are ironed out, anyways.
No matter your budget, you can get a great controller but even better, you can just use the one from your shiny new (or old) Xbox or PlayStation right now.
PC Gamer created this content as part of a paid partnership with Currys PC World. The contents of this article are entirely independent and solely reflect the editorial opinion of PC Gamer.
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Kizzy is the consummate geek, with black turtleneck design sensibilities, always on the hunt for the latest, greatest, and sexiest tech. He's played Doom on the OG Pentium and still remembers how to hack a dial-a-phone. After four decades of being crazy about tech, he's literally just getting started. It's the age of the geek, baby!