Although PC gaming is all about a keyboard and mouse, there are some games that lend themselves better to a controller. Certain titles, such Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice and Celeste, feel unwieldy on a keyboard and mouse, making a controller essential. In this guide, we’ll give our top five picks for the best PC controllers around.
You shouldn’t just pick up your DualShock 4 and hope for the best. There are programs that can get almost any controller running on Windows, but some are better suited for the task. The five options below are compatible with Windows 10 out of the box, with no extra configuration or drivers required.
Xbox Elites Series 2
The Xbox Elite Series 2 controller is the most expensive option on our list at $180. However, Microsoft justifies the price tag with its exceptional build quality and a slew of new features. The layout is mostly the same as a standard Xbox One controller, with offset thumbsticks, dual triggers, and a glowing Xbox logo in the center. However, Microsoft builds upon the familiar design with the addition of paddles, which live on the underside of the controller.
These paddles, which rest under your middle and ring fingers, allow you to extend the usage of your hand while playing a game. The main advantage of a keyboard and mouse is that you can use multiple fingers at the same time, whereas a controller forces you to restrict your inputs to your forefingers and thumbs. With the Elite Series 2, you’re able to expand the range of simultaneous inputs you can perform, leading to a more ergonomic and comfortable gameplay experience.
The paddles, along with many of the controller’s other features, can be removed. The Elite 2 comes with different thumbsticks, a key for adjusting thumbstick tension, and two d-pads. You can even switch how far you need to depress the triggers for them to accurate, from the full range of a standard Xbox One controller to something more akin to a standard button press.
Using the Xbox Accessories app on Windows or Xbox One, you can remap buttons, change the velocity of trigger inputs, and customize how thumbsticks react. No matter how crazy your settings, you can store up to three profiles on the controller itself and an additional 250 in Microsoft’s cloud. Combined with the build quality, built-in battery, and USB-C support, there’s nothing quite like the Elite Series 2 on the market.
8BitDo Sn30 Pro+
8BitDo makes retro-inspired controllers for modern systems. The Sn30 Pro+ builds upon its popular Sn30 Pro gamepad with the addition of handles. Although similar in form and function to a Super Nintendo controller, the handles give the Sn30 Pro+ an updated feel. It builds upon the classic design with dual thumbsticks and dual triggers, too.
Although made for the Nintendo Switch, you can use the Sn30 Pro+ on your PC through Bluetooth or USB-C. In the hands, the Sn30 Pro+ feels very similar to Sony’s DualShock 4, though with more weight distributed on your middle fingers. You can use it for just about any PC game, but the Sn30 Pro+ comes into its own when paired with games that utilize the D-pad.
Put simply, the Sn30 Pro+ has the best D-pad out of any controller we’ve used. It’s wide but not unwieldy, forgiving but not mushy, and flexible but always recognizes inputs. If you’re a fan of platformers, in particular, the Sn30 Pro+ is the perfect controller for PC, but shines less outside that use case. The thumbsticks are decent, if a bit loose, and the triggers merely are passable.
Scuf Vantage 2
Scuf Gaming came up with the paddle idea seen on the Elite Series 2, and the Vantage 2 shares a lot with that controller, including an offset thumbstick design and four rear paddles. However, Scuf built the Vantage 2 for the PS4, fit with a PlayStation button and depressable trackpad. But you can use the Vantage 2 on a PC using Bluetooth or the included USB-C cable.
In many ways, the Vantage 2 is an iteration on the Elite Series 2 with less support from Microsoft. But that’s made up for by even further customization options. The Vantage 2 has removable vibration modules, manual trigger sensitivity adjustment, and an additional trigger on each side of the controller. That’s in addition to all of the options seen with the Elite Series 2.
Because Scuf is exclusive to the controller market, there are a lot of accessories for the Vantage 2 like different faceplates, triggers, and thumbsticks in a variety of colors. In terms of aesthetics and functionality, the Scuf Vantage 2 is the most flexible controller on the market, though we’d still recommend the Elite Series 2 for PC gamers.
Xbox One Wireless Controller
For PC gamers on a budget, it’s hard to beat a standard Xbox One wireless controller. While not as premium as the Elite Series 2 or Scuf Vantage 2, the standard Xbox One controller is still built like a tank and pretty comfortable, to boot. For PC, in particular, it’s a great choice. Microsoft includes drivers for Xbox One controllers in Windows, so you can plug in your gamepad without any additional setup.
Unlike the Xbox 360 controller, which required a wireless adapter for PC, Xbox One controllers can pair over Bluetooth. Though it’s important to note that the Xbox One controller still use AA batteries instead of a built-in battery. If you’re using it over Bluetooth, we recommend picking up a Play and Charge kit.
Nearing the end of its life cycle, Microsoft has a wide range of different colors and special editions for the Xbox One controller, so you can rock whatever flare suits you best. The controller usually retails for about $50, but often sees frequent sales.