To a Fault — Xbox Elite Series 2 Controller Review

The short
Reviews are hard to write.

But this one will probably be the easiest one I ever put on this site.

The entirety of this review can be summed in a few words.

Don’t buy the Xbox Elite Series 2 controller.

Just. Don’t.

Where I show my age
As I sit here and write this, I’m feeling directionless — not just in terms of where I should begin this review.

I’m concerned about the future of video gaming hardware, specifically at that contact point where man and machine join hands.

Microsoft

See, I’ve been playing since the NES days when a lot of gamers took their first steps into electronics repair. Sometimes it was difficult just getting our systems to even turn on. That’s how blowing into a cartridge became a thing — we all had a personal set of rituals and procedures.

I thought the trick to getting my Nintendo Entertainment System working was to slide the cartridge into the tray, push down on it five times, hit the reset button five times, and then turn on the power as I released the reset button.

Turns out, all I really needed to do was not push the cartridge all the way into the machine.

The experience of trying to get something to work at the age of eight had a real effect on my life. Video games brought out the engineer in a lot of gamers, and when Xbox 360’s red ring took my console out of commission, I found a website that offered a solution. I went out and bought screws and a drill-bit for carving holes. I grabbed my dad’s drill and had my console fixed within a few hours.

The fix worked, and I was able to finish Final Fantasy XIII before it was due back at Blockbuster.

So years later, when my Xbox One controller started to experience stick drift, I took it apart. Unable to fix it myself, I bought another, which also started to experience stick drift. I bought another, but instead of passing on the extended warranty like I usually do, I purchased the insurance in case the controller decided to stop working after its warranty expired.

Curious, and perhaps just a coincidence, the warranties around this time for new controllers went from one year to just 90 days. And as I looked for a more permanent solution than trading my controller for a new one thanks to Best Buy’s extended warranties, I came upon the Xbox Elite Controller.

What a thing of beauty — it was made of metal and hard plastic, and it felt like a brick in your hands. It had button mapping, trigger stops, and buttons in the back that could be removed. It also came in a sweet case, like a sheathe. When the Xbox allowed me to name my controller, I called it Katana.

Having owned three of them now, I can say the first iteration of Elite controllers had their fair share of flaws. My first Elite’s left stick didn’t really … stick. If you turned the controller upside down, the stick would slide but not come completely off. I took it apart and saw that the metal had cracked. I stuffed some tissues inside, and it kept working until someone offered to buy it off of me — even after I told him what was wrong with it. I then bought another Elite which was faulty out of the box, and then I purchased the Gamestop exclusive white Elite controller which had been my trusty go-to for PC and Xbox One gaming until the left stick started drifting just recently.

Aw man, you too?!

So I hopped online to get a new controller, settling on the Elite 2 — a controller that looked to solve the problems of the first Elite. Considerably more expensive than the Elite, I expected the new controller to be more durable, more accessorized, more precise, and more — more!

Unfortunately, it’s the worst controller I’ve ever purchased.

Microsoft

The good
So, let’s talk about the good things first.

Though the original Elite is still my favorite controller to look at, the Elite 2 is no ugly duckling. Going for a more minimalist design that puts an emphasis on function, the controller’s simplified silhouette belies all of the intricate details that would have made this a top-tier controller.

At first touch, you’ll notice new grips. Gone are the stuck-on rubber grips that many users said were peeling off their Elite controllers. Instead, Microsoft has designed the controller to have the grips stamped into the controller which makes them more or less permanent.

On the controller’s face, a few distinct features separate the Elite 2 from its predecessor.

The big X power button lights up when the controller is turned on and clicks when pressed.

The mode switch has been exchanged for a button that can be pressed to change between control schemes or held down to return the controller to its default. Three LED bars show which of the four configurations the controller is running with the default option being expressed with no lights on.

Popping off the thumb sticks attached to the controller, which are held in place with strong magnetics, you’ll find indentations inside the stems. A tool lets users loosen or tighten the tension on their sticks that changes the resistance and adds a level of customization you might never have known you wanted.

On the back of the controller, the battery compartment has been removed. For better or worse, the Series 2 controller comes with a permanent battery. A small dock lets you charge the controller wirelessly. For a nice little touch, you can thread the USB cable through a hole in the zip case so you can charge and store the controller at the same time.

Another change in the trigger stops adds a mode midway in between the fully open and closed modes.

Once you plug the controller into your console with its new USB-C port, you might be asked to update it. Once that’s done, you can head into settings to remap buttons, change input curves, and configure your vibration settings for the grips and the triggers. Straight out of the box, the trigger vibrations felt really strong during a session of Recore, so I lowered them.

And that’s the beauty of this controller — there’s a lot of personalization to it that will make it truly yours.

Everything else that worked seemed to be on par or better than the original Elite controller. The left and right-stick clicks felt very precise and took less effort to press. The triggers are smooth, and I wanted so much for this to be the last stop in my search for the ultimate controller.

Microsoft

The Bad
It’s hard to give more than a one-star rating for a controller that doesn’t do the bare minimum out of the box if the bare minimum is being completely functional.

I bought my first Elite Series 2 controller online from Best Buy’s website. After receiving it, I noticed the A-button wasn’t working while gaming. I tested it with Microsoft’s controller app on the PC, and I did another bit of testing using the Xbox Accessories setting on the console.

The next day, I exchanged the controller in-store for a new one. The second controller’s A-button also did not work, and I made another trip to the store for another exchange. The third controller also failed.

So, with one controller purchased online and shipped to me from Louisville, Kentucky, and two others picked up from the store near where I live, all three exhibited problems that — if you were to do a search — has been plaguing these controllers since they were first released during the fourth quarter of 2019.

A quick online search will result in a plethora of results about users fuming about the A-button not working, bumpers getting sticky, the controllers face being a magnet for fingerprints and smudges, and poor connectivity. Some have also complained that the new rubber grips are causing their hands to itch.

While I didn’t experience much outside of the A-buttons not working on each of the controllers I brought home, I wonder if the other issues would have presented themselves if any of the controllers could have lasted more than a day without exhibiting major malfunctions.

Based on my history with controllers, I wasn’t surprised that my first Elite Series 2 controller was faulty out of the box, but I was surprised that I didn’t get a satisfactory one in three tries.

Microsoft

The ugly truth
The ultimate take-away is that I am frustrated with the current state of controllers for this generation of consoles. Though I haven’t tried a Scuf yet, I’ve seen users complaining about the drifting on those controllers as well.

Having returned several controllers for drift issues — some of them happening with a month of owning the controller — I’ve found myself at a loss because I don’t know where to turn.

I’m so frustrated that I haven’t found a perfect, let alone good, solution to the controller problem.

Having taken apart several Xbox One controllers, it looks to me as if it’s not a matter of if as much as it’s a matter of when the sticks will fail. With every push, click, and jiggle, the parts of our controllers wear down until they just can’t take it anymore.

And while that’s been true of controllers ever since they were first created, what is it about the controllers now that make them seem more fragile? I have Xbox 360 controllers that still work. I even had one that I smashed and duct-taped back together that I kept using.

I’m much more gentle on my controllers now, but I’ve bought more Xbox One controllers than any other generation of gaming.

To drive the point even further — when Smash Brothers came out for the Switch, the Gamecube controller adapter sold out and commanded a high-price on the secondary market. Players brought out their old Gamecube controllers, and the company decided to release newer versions of the classic controllers.

But the Xbox One, PS4, and Switch joy-cons have been rife with flaws. And whether they’re Microsoft, Sony, or aftermarket — one-star reviews can be found from players who find fatal flaws in regards to drifting, buttons not working, and other defects and glitches.

Is it the push for more precision and customization? Are we sacrificing durability for playability? Are we on the verge of a new paradigm where controllers are like car tires that need to be switched out routinely?

In a few more weeks, the PS5 and Xbox Series X/S hit shelves. Will Microsoft, especially after it’s been hit with a class action lawsuit for its Elite Series 2 controllers, build a long-lasting controller for the next generation? Or will the Elite Series 3 have the same problems?

And if this is the new status quo, do we just grin and bear it? Do we just pay the video game tax and set aside a budget for games and controllers?

Losing control has taken on more meaning.


Xbox Elite Series 2 Wireless Controller
Microsoft

Rating: 1 out of 5.

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