Editorials

Xbox’s Elite Controller 2 Is A Gateway For Accessibility

No game will ever be the same

It can be hard to have to make changes — especially when you have to do it nearly every time something new comes to retail. So I ask you for a moment to think about how hard it is to have to change when you launch a new game with a new control scheme.

I ask if you would go to any extent, any cost, to make that change easier. For the last month, that’s been my relationship with the Xbox Elite Series 2. At first, I felt indulgent for wanting a controller that costs more than the system I’ve been using it on. But when some wedding gift money came my way, I made the decision that I was going to make an investment I otherwise wouldn’t.

And, man, my time with the Xbox Elite Series 2, so far, has been incredible! It’s become the most satisfying gaming experience I’ve had. As a person with a physical disability, the Xbox Elite 2 is comforting.. Whatever your disability is, I’m willing to bet that you’ve had to learn ways to adapt in order to succeed. I’m also quite sure that at some point, you’ve struggled with the thought that asking for help or needs than others in order to achieve the same outcome is wrong. As I mentioned above, I felt bad for spending so much on a controller, but I’m so glad that I did.  The new tension controls have brought improvement to every game I’ve tested the Xbox Elite Series 2 controller with, over the last month. The full-controller grip system has allowed me to stay in the game for longer, and feel secure in how I hold my controller.

There are a few slight alterations I’d love to see in a Series 3 that would help improve accessibility further. I’ve discussed them below in constructive detail in the hopes of striking up a discussion on thoughts of the Series 2.

Unwound tensions 

Where I feel the most improvement starts with the three adjustable stick tension settings. A major talking point of gaming in 2019 has been controller drift — that moment when your sticks move on their own or feel untuned. The Xbox Elite Series 2 makes a significant leap at improving this by offering heavier-strength metal sticks that provide a low, medium, and high tension setting. When I first bought my controller, I had strong feelings that this addition could be a real game-changer for me. As someone who has frequent muscle spasms in my hands and ever-changing fine motor abilities, I’ve become quite accustomed to playing with in-game input sliders and on peripheral DPI settings on my mouse. Ever since switching to the XES2, I’ve seen instantaneous changes in my precision controls.

To highlight this, let me attempt to put into words the experience of becoming a smoother driver in Ghost Games’ s recent Need For SpeedHeat. I used my standard Xbox One controller for the first few sessions I put into the high-speed arcade racer and experienced found myself crashing often thanks to the stock input layout. I spent a half-hour spent adjusting sliders to ensure that I stopped oversteering when my timing was off, or going on an unexpected detour when a spasm lead me astray. Before booting up Need For Speed Heat after getting the Xbox Elite Series 2, I ratcheted the stick tension up to high. After adjusting the sliders again to remove some of the in-game tension, I took to the corners of Palm City. Suddenly, driving down the rolling, snaking hill roads and through the tightly-closed race tracks extremely freeing. I’m able to control my car exactly how I want to now and it feels great. There’s no longer a sense of fear at every twist and turn, but rather a sense of pride and control. Thankfully, I don’t drive in real life, but if this is what it feels like, I get it now — and I love it!

With my love of the three tensions settings being professed, I’d like to make a quality of life improvement suggestion. The Xbox Elite Series 2 features three tension settings on the sticks as an addition from the first generation of the Xbox Elite controller. You switch positions by using a small metal key that looks similar to the pins used on Google Maps that turns clockwise. I can use it, but due to my tremor, the key often slips out of place and needs to be lined up again. Whenever I go to adjust tensions, I wonder what those with less dexterity then myself feel when they desire change in the stick tensions?

I’ve spent many hours before bed and in the shower wondering what sort of tinkering would make it easier for those with little-to-no fine motor skills to change tensions on their own. There are two solutions I’ve arrived at – the first is adding a slider at the base of each stick. Ideally, it could be locked into position so that it doesn’t get nudged. The addition of an easy-to-use handle that’s raised for the controller or inserted in when needed could be a big help. The second would be to include a button that controls the tensions much like the controller already has a button that controls the three loaded layout profiles. However, I’m convinced that it would be the fastest way to change tensions. I am also convinced that it would be overall quality of life improvement that would benefit pro players as well. Imagine being in a Street Fighter or Mortal Combat tournament and being able to shift controller tensions when your back is to the wall.

However, there’s a silver lining. I’ve been experimenting lots with the solutions for stick tension control offered through the Xbox Accessories app. Much like the Razer Wolverine, the Xbox Elite Series 2 offers tension controls that can be accessed through software. My tinkering time with the tension settings in the app has yielded results very close to what is accessible through the physical tension settings. And the tensions also change when you switch profiles, which solves the problem above. However, finding an optimal loadout has taken time, so I’d love to see those tension settings simplified.

A grip that won’t slip 

If you’ve ever shaken my hand before, there are two things you already know about me: I’m not that strong, and my hands are almost always sweaty because of my weakness. My disability is the result of nerve damage and a loss of roughly 25 percent of my muscle tone at birth. Because of these combining factors, I have to work harder at achieving the dexterity a non-disabled male my age should be able to exert without a second thought. That’s where the sweating comes in. Continually having to exert extra pressure every time I encounter the need to use my hands can leave them pretty sweaty. Gaming… well, it requires a fair amount of continuous use of your hands, so mine are usually dripping with sweat throughout my sessions.

I’ve had countless gaming sessions that have ended earlier than I would’ve liked them to simply because it’s time to let the controller dry off a bit. I picked up the Xbox Volcano Shadow controller for PC gaming at one point because the black/red colourway matched my setup and looked complimentary when sitting around the body of the controller. But the surprisingly sheen plastic body becomes a slide during prolonged use and it’s not always the best choice for games that require speed and precision.

The Xbox Elite Series 2 almost completely eliminates sliding. The controller is now nearly entirely wrapped in a sturdy rubber that feels tough and tactile, but also stays satisfyingly dry. As of writing this article, I’ve only had one gaming session where the controller became too drenched to handle. It was during a three-hour session of Jedi: Fallen Order, where the need to act fast produced enough sweat to make holding the controller uncomfortable.

Soggy controllers may seem like a mundane problem that is easy to fix and has no necessary solution other than to take a break from playing. But many of the disability advocates I’ve been fortunate to speak to in the gaming community repeat the desire for solutions to provide them with more time and more ways to enjoy gaming — no matter how short that increase in time is. Being able to feel more secure with my hands around the Xbox Elite Series 2 is something I am so thankful to have the opportunity to experience.

Secondly, in this thought process, I’m delighted with the texturized triggers. The triggers on the original Xbox Elite Controller did have a feel to them that was premium compared to the standard models. But I still struggled with slippage and grip. Having a simple texture present on the triggers makes me feel snug — especially when quickly jumping on the right trigger to use The Force in Jedi: Fallen Order. I would love to see a similar pattern added to the smaller bumpers that sit above. When not remapped, the bumpers are two of the most used inputs on the controller. And with their smaller size, I’d love to have a slight cushion to catch my fingers on. Like the special edition controller written about above, the shiny plastic buffers can become slippery.

 A stick too short 

There’s one design choice I’d like to question quickly. The Xbox Elite Series 2 comes with six interchangeable stick heads that offer the ability to customize the feel of your two sticks. However, there is only one heightened stick, and I’ve yet to be able to find a good explanation on the web as to why. As I’ve been using the Xbox Elite Series 2, I’ve been toying on and off with using the heightened stick in my dominant left hand. It’s great having a heightened sense of control in the hand taking care of motion and direction. I love the rand of control of motion I’m afforded by the longer stick. I feel like I’m comfortably ahead of the curve in Jedi: Fallen Order when I need to jump out of harm’s way or onto a further platform. However, I feel unbalanced with one hand gripping a shorter stick. Once again, this is an easy fix, but I’m asking if it needs to be?

Third-party peripheral companies jumped on the fact that the first Xbox Elite Controller shipped with sticks that broke easily. There are great options available to change the way that you control the game. So I’m still mulling over purchasing an additional stick kit, but I’d love to hear why the second elongated stick was dropped?

Verdict

After using the Xbox Elite Series 2 for some time, I’m despondent with myself for ever thinking this controller was not worth the price. This is my own opinion based on my own gaming situation — and it’s far from a sales pitch. The freedom I feel in games like Need For Speed Heat and Jedi: Fallen Order is priceless — each hairpin turn or narrow dodge changes the game for me. I need the Xbox Elite Series 2 in my hands every time I begin a new game. And I hope it’s there, you know, until the Xbox Elite Series 3 comes out, which by that point, I’ll begin justifying picking that up.

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