Obviously I'm not about to suggest anyone actually needs to drop 150 bucks on Microsoft's new Xbox Elite controller. Nor am I about to endorse the idea that its subtle ergonomic improvements and extra paddles are going to radically improve your performance. But, having spent a little time with it today here at E3, I can see why some PC gamers are going to be able to make a reasonable case for owning one of these, despite the eye-watering price point.
Those people will likely be the same ones who happily shell out a similar amount for a Razer Ourobos mouse, despite much cheaper models being perfectly serviceable. Some people just like the idea of having the high end, particularly if it comes with a suite of new features to muck about with. And the Xbox Elite certainly has those.
The first thing you notice as you pick it up is the new silver D-pad, which looks like a robot's innie belly button and features nine angled planes for your thumb to slide over. The idea is it's easier to pull off the kind of circular motions used in fighting games. As for other uses, well, I mean—it felt fine, but it's hardly like there was anything wrong with the traditional D-pad. And handily enough, you can use that anyway if you'd rather, because there's one sat underneath. To access it you just lift off the silver D-pad, which is held in place by the kind of snappy magnet Apple uses for its MacBook power adapters.
The next point of interest is the main trigger buttons. These can be set individually, using sliders on the underside of the pad, to operate as normal, with a long pull, or on a shorter 'hair trigger', enabling you to fire faster. In the demo I tried it reduced the speed with which I could squeeze off shots by about half. Of course, when it comes to shooters, it isn't going to lure hardened mouse-keyboard players over to using a controller, but it's a worthwhile quality of life option if controllers are your thing.
The same goes for the thumbstick sensitivity settings, which you can tweak in the accompanying app and then save to one of two profiles which you then flip between using a switch on the front of the pad between the start and menu buttons. The app also lets you alter the amount of rumble feedback you receive–which is welcome if, like me, your hands are starting to feel like those of a particularly gnarled crone–and re-map button functions.
Which brings us to the most substantial addition: the four clicky paddles placed on the underside of the pad. If you've ever used a fancy racing car-style gear shift, these feel a lot like that. The obvious use is assigning functions like reload and grenade to your fingers, so that your right thumb never needs to leave the stick. What you won't be able to do (at least, yet) is create more functions than there are buttons on a regular Xbox pad, which probably makes sense in terms of not splitting Xbox users, but is slightly disappointing when it comes to PC.
Overall, though, I came away from the demo kinda wanting one. Much in the same way the more snug S-Controller replaced the fat-handed monstrosity that was the original Xbox pad, this feels like a very obvious refinement of the design—albeit one that is only going to appeal to the rich and/or obsessive gamer. For that reason it's very unlikely to topple our current controller king, but I no longer think the Xbox Elite controller is the ridiculous folly it initially seemed. The Xbox Elite is out in October.