You can argue that a huge part of the Xbox 360’s success was its controller. There were terrific exclusives, a great online community, and an evolving media experience, but the controller was the console’s unsung hero, a part of its arsenal you never realized was so crucial until you tried something different. It felt, especially compared to something like Sony’s DualShock 3, perfect; comfortable in an ineffable way, easy to use, and really incomparable to other peripherals. After eight years, Microsoft is hoping the Xbox One’s controller can perform that same magic.
At first glance, the new Xbox One controller looks identical to the previous iteration. Rounded, with that same layout and boomerang shape. But Microsoft actually included 40 new features to make it even easier to use, in the process making an already top-notch experience even better. And best of all, the Xbox One controller looks nicer than it did before, with textured thumbsticks, better D-Pad, slightly altered button colors, and better triggers. There’s also no longer a huge battery hump running down the controller’s spine, though you still do need batteries for it to function.
The weight of the controller is actually different, too, focused more on the bottom of the controller, where your hands are gripped, rather than toward the top. It just feels more comfortable, balanced, and the size itself is spot on, allowing you to easily reach the triggers, buttons and D-Pad without issue. On that note, the improved D-Pad is far better than the Xbox 360’s rendition, while the analog sticks, which weren’t bad to begin with, feel better thanks to the smaller size and textured material.
While the Xbox One controller doesn’t have all the functionality of something like the DualShock 4, it has triggers that freaking rumble, which can make for a more immersive experience. Microsoft explained that adding a screen or speakers – something both Nintendo and Sony have done – doesn’t improve the experience, which is why the Xbox One controller is comparatively barebones. Whether you feel that added functionality inhibits or improves the experience is up to personal preference. Frankly, it doesn’t make a different to me either way, because I just want the thing to be comfortable.
Despite looking similar, the Xbox One controller is a marked improvement over the previous iteration, at least based on our brief use. It looks nicer, feels more comfortable in the hand (of that you can believe) and feels more balanced. And thanks Microsoft’s removing the battery bulge, there’s no annoying housing jutting out of the controller’s spine. The controller is something you spend most of your time with, so it has to be right. The Xbox 360 had one of the best controllers in history, and it appears Microsoft has bested its previous effort.