Which is better, switching weapons with number keys or the scroll wheel?

Happy attractive freelancer sitting at his desk, staring at monitor, playing computer game at night
(Image credit: Jelena Danilovic via Getty Images)

It's something you probably don't think too much about, how you go from crowbar to 9mm pistol to GEP Gun to The Blade of Kings in an FPS, but on a casual survey I was surprised at just how many mouse wheel switchers we've got on the PC Gamer Staff—it just seems so fiddly and clunky to me! I'm a ride or die number row arsenal manager, with the Q key in reserve as my go-to "switch to last weapon." 

This method is not without its faults though—with my right hand on the mouse, I heavily favor the left side of my keyboard by WASD. In really old-school FPSes with expansive arsenals that take up the whole row from one to zero, I find I'll favor the pistols and shotguns end of the spectrum while letting my BFGs and Riveters lie fallow.

Which is better, switching weapons with number keys or the scroll wheel? Here are our answers, as well as some from our forum.

Robin Valentine, Senior Editor: When I'm playing an FPS with a mouse and keyboard, I really want to be moving my hands around as little as possible, so I do tend to prefer using the mouse wheel. It does depend, though, how long it takes weapons to switch, and how many weapons there are - if it's causing me a big delay in play, I'll probably give up and use the numbers instead.

The actual best solution, though, is when games have a weapon wheel you can bring up that pauses or slows the action while you pick your next weapon. Doubly so because, to be completely honest, I play FPS games with a controller more often than a mouse and keyboard these days. 

Jody Macgregor, Weekend Editor: In the early stages of an FPS where all you've got is melee and baby's first pistol—please don't give actual pistols to babies, this is a metaphor—then I'll use the mouse wheel to select them. But later on, once the arsenal accumulates and I somehow have five guns, a rocket launcher, a grenade launcher, and 15 medpacks I will never use in my various pockets and holsters, then I switch to the number keys. The wheel just doesn't feel precise enough. I guess I could switch to clicky-scrolling instead of the free-and-easy smooth style, if I was some kind of freak.

Robert Jones, Print Editor: I think I'm with Robin on this one. An option to bring up a weapon selection wheel with a button press is my overall favourite option, with the game action either slowed or stopped altogether while I browse my arsenal at my leisure. Like in Doom Eternal, where selecting your weapon is actually a welcome (albeit super brief!) respite from the non-stop bloody carnage. Then I'd say I favour number keys as, providing I can remember which weapon is assigned to which one, I can be quicker and more precise in weapon switching.

Andy Chalk, News Lead: Depends on the game. I've been playing a lot of Vampire: The Masquerade - Bloodhunt, which allows two ranged weapons and a melee, so I use the wheel to switch guns and the thumb button to throw hands. (I also find the wheel is better in general for fights against other humans, where standing still means a quick death, because I can switch weapons while keeping my fingers on the WASD keys.) For other games with bigger arsenals, I prefer the number keys—it's quicker and easier to go straight to the weapon I want, rather than having to riffle through them like I'm looking for a note in a file folder.

(Image credit: Sharkmob)

I'll also very occasionally use the weapon wheel popup in games I'm not familiar with, because I can't remember what the guns are and don't care enough to learn.

Mollie Taylor, Features Producer: I'll accidentally mouse-scroll past my desired weapons a million times before I use numbers to switch out my kit. I find it way more finicky. I know you only have to move your finger from WASD for a fraction of a second, but my touch typing is genuinely awful and I usually end up missing the correct key anyway. Though as Robin and Rob said, a weapon wheel is the secret correct answer here. 

Joshua Wolens, News Writer: The correct answer here is: be taken unawares by an enemy, randomly flail at both your number row and mouse wheel in blind panic, accidentally select your melee weapon, and die.

But if I'm just nosing through my armoury in an idle moment, I'll do it with clean, precise numbers rather than the uncaring roulette of the mousewheel.

Tyler Wilde, Executive Editor: Seeing some shocking weapon wheel praise around here; once upon a time you'd be asked to leave the LAN party for that kind of talk. I'm not a very precise weapon switcher myself, though. I'd like to be a number switcher—efficient, precise—but my fingers are clumsy and I can never remember which number is which weapon, so I use the scroll wheel like a scrub. I like feeling the little click click clicks.

Phil Savage, UK Editor-in-Chief: In my heart, I know that using the keyboard to switch weapons is the objectively correct answer. It's quick. It's precise. It feels elite. Tapping a number to arrive at the exact tool you need in that situation? Badass. Every time I mouse scroll past the weapon I actually wanted and end up getting killed, I know in my heart it was because I still haven't taken the time to train the muscle memory needed for a keyboard swap to feel natural. 

The problem is a mouse scroll is just so easy. It happens with the hand that is already doing all the other things related to guns, like aiming and shooting. My left hand is too busy strafing, surely I can let my right hand handle this one? Oh, wait, it scrolled too far, to a heavy weapon that's out of ammo. That's me dead again. Damn.

(Image credit: Bungie)

From our forum

Frag Maniac: For me, it really depends on the game. Some games have really slow switching when using the scroll wheel, and I find these are usually games that are heavily console oriented, use a weapon wheel, and aren't ported well control wise to PC.

I find using number keys usually is faster, but in games like Doom Eternal that have a ton of weapons and gadgets, I find it's best to use a few keys close to the nav keys (which is WASD for me), and the mouse thumb buttons for the ones you use most.

That said, I'm perfectly OK with using the scroll wheel in games that don't have a ton of fast twitch, overt combat, like ones that are more stealth oriented.

Kaamos_Llama: I'm usually on the mouse wheel because its easy and I often hit the wrong one when I try to use the number keys. Like Frag Maniac, recently in Doom Eternal I was forced to practice with the number keys dues to the speed of it. I liked it a lot, but damn that game was fast and unforgiving.

(Image credit: Bethesda)

Been playing Metal Gear Solid V recently and using the keys there too now I think about it, only 1-3 up to where I am now though, and obvs nowhere near as hectic as Doom Eternal.

Brian Boru: I don't go for melee or BFG style play, so my primary weapons are almost always an AR and a shotgun in slots 1 & 2. I have scroll wheel muscle memory deeply embedded for those two, which is necessary because I traverse mostly on foot.

When I need a sniper or bow or launcher weapon, I press the 3 or 4 key—it's almost never a time-critical move, so the delay of moving fingers from WASD to the correct key isn't an issue.

Selecting explosives like grenades, molotovs, etc. is always a KB job via keys 5-0, whereas weird or seldom-used stuff like a fishing rod or repair tool are weapon wheel material.

mainer: Hands down, it's the scroll wheel for switching weapons. It's much faster (for me) as I don't have to change either of my hands positioning, just slightly flex the middle finger on my right hand. Plus, I like to keep my left hand resting on the W-S-A-D keys and any other movement associated keys (ALT, Shift, CTRL, Space, ect). Depending upon the game, the list of keys my left hand is responsible for can be lengthy.

I'll still bind weapons to the number keys and use them occasionally, with the most frequently used ones in numbers 1-4. But trying to hit the 7-8-9-0 keys in the heat of battle is just way too cumbersome for me to be effective.

Frindis: I use number keys/other easy access keys for most of the more action-paced games I play that rely on swapping through several weapons or skills fast. If only a couple of weapons to cycle through, I'll use the scroll wheel.

(Image credit: Wonder People)

Here is a fun fact: Did you guys know you could actually use the endless scroll wheel (Logitech G502 Hero got one) for shooting in some games? In the Battle Royale game called Super People for example (before it got patched) you could not only swap your weapons with the scroll wheel, but you could also shoot as fast as you could scroll the mouse wheel. Since it didn't stop when you scrolled, you could basically shoot some guns so fast that a semi-automatic weapon would literarily sound like an automatic weapon.

DXCHASE: Destiny 2 now kicks you out of certain places if you use your scroll wheel like that. I have the G502 and if i use it to cycle thru weapons fast in certain areas of the game (the commonplace called The Tower for example), i get kicked from wherever i am to orbit. Probably has something to do with Bungie thinking its cheating, but idk for sure.

As for the question at hand, I'm a numbers key guy. I have made mistakes that have killed me trying to switch with the scroll wheel (going by what i need/want at that moment for example) but I also like using Q as someone mentioned earlier.

Associate Editor

Ted has been thinking about PC games and bothering anyone who would listen with his thoughts on them ever since he booted up his sister's copy of Neverwinter Nights on the family computer. He is obsessed with all things CRPG and CRPG-adjacent, but has also covered esports, modding, and rare game collecting. When he's not playing or writing about games, you can find Ted lifting weights on his back porch.