Xbox Elite Controller Series 2 'Core' review: I wish I had a time machine

There's a new Elite controller in town, but it's not exactly new.

Xbox Elite Controller Series 2 "Core" in white
(Image: © Windows Central)

Windows Central Verdict

The Xbox Elite Controller Series 2 "Core" shaves off some of the bells and whistles to make its retail price more palatable, and in that, I'd say its a success. While the lack of paddles is perhaps the most irritating aspect of the package, aftermarket paddles can be incredibly cheap. What we really want to know is, how will this controller fare in 6-12 months' time? Right now, that's impossible to test.

Pros

  • +

    Fully configurable, with trigger locks, joystick tension control, and more

  • +

    Feels great and balanced in the hand

  • +

    Has industry-leading battery life

Cons

  • -

    Removing the paddles feels like nickel-and-diming

  • -

    No real indication it won't break within a year, like its predecessor

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This is a bit of an odd review, since the main aspect everyone wants to know about is impossible to scrutinize without a time machine or some kind of bespoke stress test machine. Alas, we're going to try, for science, and such. 

This is the Xbox Elite Controller Series 2 Core, another victim of Microsoft's bellicose naming conventions. For what it lacks in naming elegance, it makes up for with affordability, shedding a sizeable amount from the regular Elite Series 2's asking price. However, you do lose some components as a trade-off, namely the spare joysticks, the paddles, the carry case, and the charge dock (which is, in my opinion, the best in the business). 

Still, if you wanted an Elite Controller with its absurd 40+ hour battery life with the option to pick up some cheap aftermarket paddles instead, this is an arguably great option and one of the best Xbox controllers on the market. However, it's hard to tell if the main complaint about the Xbox Elite Controller range has been addressed — will this fall apart in six to twelve months like its predecessor?

Xbox Elite Controller S2 Core: Price and availability

Xbox Elite Controller Series 2 "Core" in white

(Image credit: Windows Central)

The Xbox Elite Controller Series 2 Core is available from most places Xbox Elite controllers are typically sold. Best Buy, Amazon, and the Microsoft Store are good bets, and availability seems generally good as of writing. 

The Elite Series 2 Core is available for $129.99, and a component pack which includes the charger, paddles, a carry case, and joysticks is sold separately (opens in new tab) for $60. 

Xbox Elite Controller S2 Core: The Pros

(Image credit: Windows Central)

The pros of the Xbox Elite Series 2 Core are largely the same as its predecessor, save for a couple of important caveats. The first being price. This controller retails for $130, down from the $180 of the Elite Series 2 original version. It also comes in a nice white finish, and for those who want to pair it with an Xbox Series S or a light-themed laptop, this might be a nicer fit for your style. 

What you get in this package is a souped-up Xbox controller essentially. The triggers can be locked in three different stages, allowing for more rapid actuation. This can seriously give you an edge in shooters while using handguns and other weapons without full-auto fire, for example. Additionally, the tension on the joysticks can be adjusted too, with a key bundled with the controller. You can help fine-tune the speed at which the joysticks pivot, which can allow for more precision aiming in some scenarios.  

The controller bakes in all the regular Xbox controller features. A proprietary port sits at the bottom for keypads and the like, right next to a 3.5mm audio port. You charge it with a USB-C braided cable included in the box, which grants you a truly monstrous 40+ hour battery life with its high-quality built-in cell. The battery life on this thing alone makes me prefer it over my standard Xbox controller, which can be a hassle juggling AA rechargeable packs which are often lacking in recharge endurance or general longevity. 

(Image credit: Windows Central)

The Elite Series 2 controllers come with a profile toggle which lets you map three sets of keybinds and other settings for quick switching on the fly. This can be useful particularly on Windows PCs across different kinds of games as well as emulators, which often don't conform to the standard Xbox controller button layout. Since a recent Xbox update, you can also change the LED color on the Xbox buttons too, which is a nice little bonus. 

The Elite Series 2 controllers also sport rubber grips, which feel great and tactile across long sessions, complete with similarly grippy thumbsticks and triggers. 

Xbox gamepads are still the best in the business in my view in terms of sheer ergonomics, accessibility, and general usability. The Elite controller should simply sweeten the deal, and this set up goes a fair bit towards that goal. However, there are some oddities of this package that are worth addressing, and a big elephant in the room that cannot be ignored. 

Xbox Elite Controller S2 Core: The Cons

(Image credit: Windows Central)

Naturally, the point of the Elite Series 2 Core is to get the price down. The $180 asking price of the standard Elite Series 2 is a tall order for many, and arguably comes with many bells and whistles most simply won't need or use. I haven't once used the carry case since I got it, and once I've set up my sticks how I like it, I rarely change things up or make further adjustments. However, I think some of the omissions here don't make a huge amount of sense. 

The main selling point of the Elite Series 2 controller in my view should be the back paddles. Being able to use additional fingers for actions without having to take your thumbs off the joysticks is a pretty large boost in some competitive shooters. Playing Cassidy in Overwatch, for example, I felt was far easier using the paddles for accessing some of his attacks and pulling off certain combos (many of which are now obsolete in Overwatch 2, RIP). Therefore, it's incredibly, incredibly odd to me that Microsoft is selling a controller with its key feature completely unusable, given that there are no bundled paddles in the box. 

So, what you're left with here, is four buttons that you simply cannot use. From a user perspective, that's just strange as heck, particularly since to get those paddles back, you have to invest in an additional pack which simply inflates the price. There are aftermarket paddles such as these from SCUF (opens in new tab) which cost around $20, but honestly, should four bits of cut metal seriously cost $20? I feel like we're getting nickel and dimed here. I can understand omitting the carry case, and the weighted charge dock, but Microsoft couldn't find it in them to include the paddles?

(Image credit: Windows Central)

Secondly, perhaps the biggest complaint from the Elite controllers in general: is this thing going to fall apart on me after a few months? Unfortunately, there's no real way to test this without simply going hands on with it over the course of the next few months, which we fully intend to do. You may want to come back and check for an update on that before buying, to that end. It would've been nice to get some more information out of Microsoft on the topic, but they're a bit coy on the extent to which the Elite Series 2 has changed — if at all. 

Microsoft says on its website that the Elite Series 2 Core controller has "re-engineered components," but a tear down on YouTube suggested that it, in fact, seems to have practically identical internals. That doesn't exactly paint a strong picture for the Elite Series 2 Core controller's longevity, given the fact the Elite 1 and the Series 2 were both plagued with notorious problems in varying degrees. I went through two Elite 1 controllers, both of which had their rubber grips fall off and become unusable. On my Elite Series 2, the rubber nubs on the trigger locks fell off after only a few weeks, then one of my joysticks wouldn't stop drifting, and then finally, one of the shoulder buttons stopped working — which is perhaps the most notorious problem. 

If indeed the Elite Series 2 Core does have identical internals, what is there to suggest it won't fall apart after a few months as well? Thankfully, there is at least a one-year warranty included which protects you against some of the risk here, but that potentially involves the hassle of sending it off to be repaired at some point, assuming it doesn't break one month beyond the intended warranty period, that is. 

Xbox Elite Controller S2 Core: Competition

(Image credit: Windows Central)

The Xbox Elite Series 2 Core controller doesn't have a huge amount of competition, given that it's one of the few wireless Xbox controllers that has support for back paddles. The only other alternative here is the pricey SCUF Instinct Pro, which overall, doesn't offer the same value as a regular Elite Series 2 controller, assuming the Elite Series 2 doesn't break ... that is. 

If you don't mind going wired, you have a great option from Razer, in the form of the Razer Wolverine V2 or the Razer Wolverine V2 Chroma, which are both genuinely great alternatives for the added usability of back buttons — something the Core here doesn't include as standard. 

Xbox Elite Controller S2 Core: Should you buy it?

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If the Xbox Elite Controller Series 2 Core included the paddles, I feel like it would be a far better value proposition than they're offering right now. To omit a huge amount of this product's core functionality of the box (and accessibility value, I might add) into a separate product seems like the wrong decision at best. That being said, there's no denying that this is a superior Xbox controller regardless, with the added configurability, and that monstrous battery life that I love oh so much. 


You should buy this if: 

  • You want an Elite controller for less.
  • You don't mind picking up back paddles separately. 
  • You prefer having a 40+ hour battery life to swappable AA batteries. 

You shouldn't buy this if:

  • You're concerned about its durability, given that its predecessor had many construction and quality issues. 
  • You don't think you'll get much use out of the trigger locks, and don't fancy buying the extra bits and pieces. 

The ultimate test of this product's viability is whether or not it truly has improved on the construction side somehow. Right now, there's no indication that it has been improved upon. The claims of "re-engineered" components seems to marketing rather than substance, given that teardowns of the product seem to confirm that nothing internally has actually changed here — although it's certainly possible there's some minute engineering nuances that are being missed in said teardowns. 

The truth is, we simply won't know what this thing will look like in six months without a time machine. It would be easier if Microsoft would be more transparent about the issues with the first Elite controllers, but that would mean admitting liability for defective units. 

With that in mind, for most, I would argue that it's worth holding off on this until we can put it through its paces and return to update this review later. 

Jez Corden
Managing Editor

Jez Corden is the Managing Editor for Windows Central, focusing primarily on all things Xbox and gaming. Jez is known for breaking exclusive news and analysis as relates to the Microsoft ecosystem while being powered by caffeine. Follow on Twitter @JezCorden and listen to his Xbox Two podcast, all about, you guessed it, Xbox!