The best PC controllers open up a new way of gaming that doesn’t revolve around your trusty mouse and keyboard setup. There’s no arguing about the prowess and performance of a good mouse and keyboard when it comes to MMOs, strategy games and shooters. However, a great controller can bring something of its own to the table across many other different genres.
Boot up Steam in Big Picture mode and enjoy analog acceleration in Dirt 5, feel the rumble of each blow in Mortal Kombat 11, take full control of every dogfight in Elite Dangerous, and become fully immersed as you pull the trigger on your contracts in Hitman 3. While there’s always going to be a debate on what the best way to play a game is, there’s no arguing that the right controller can, at the very least, give you a new way to experience it.
If you’re ready to switch up your game and try something new, we’ve drawn up our list of the best first and third-party PC controllers currently available. However, if you’re still not sold on the idea, there are always our selections for the best gaming mouse and best gaming keyboards to look through.
What are the best PC controllers?
The best PC controller, in our opinion, isn’t likely to shock most people. The Xbox Wireless Controller has been ahead of the pack for years, and it remains one of the most impressive gamepads on the market to this day. Microsoft’s latest revision also includes USB-C support, textured grips, and a much improved D-pad, a long-awaited improvement that will no doubt put joy in the hearts of fighting game fans the world over. Across the board, the Xbox Wireless Controller scores high marks for performance, comfort and build quality. There’s a reason this controller tops so many similar lists, and it’s well deserved each time.
Are you a fan of emulating the classics, or getting stuck into the latest retro-inspired indies? If so, the 8BitDo SN30 Pro is the ideal companion for your nostalgia-laden playthroughs. The SN30 Pro recreates the look and feel of the classic SNES controller while adding all of the modern gamepad elements you’re used to as well. 8BitDo’s controller features an impressively rated D-pad, responsive face buttons, shoulder and trigger buttons, and two analog thumbsticks. It’s a great blend of retro design meeting modern tech, making for a fantastic all-round controller.
There are bucketloads of quality joystick and HOTAS (hand on throttle and stick) compatible games currently available, meaning now is the best time to invest in one of these cockpit controllers. While it’s true that some HOTAS peripherals can reach prices of up to $800, not every joystick requires a bank loan to afford. The Thrustmaster T-Flight HOTAS X is a budget buy in many regards with its sub-$100 price tag, but by no means does it lack in performance. Enjoy an immersive cockpit experience with Thrustmaster’s 5-axis, 12-button flight stick as you live out your ace pilot fantasies. (Aviators and jumpsuits sold separately.)
Best overall PC controller
The Xbox Wireless Controller has an impressive legacy and thanks to a series of successful revisions, it has become a mainstay in PC controller shortlists for the best part of a decade. Never needing to reinvent the wheel, Microsoft has finely honed and polished its first-party peripheral to a point where placing anything else above it on this list would just seem petty.
The latest iteration includes Bluetooth Low Energy support, which reduces overall power consumption, alongside a long sought-after overhaul to the controller’s D-pad. The latter of which brings the gamepad more in line with Microsoft’s premium Elite Controller, improving both performance and accessibility. There’s also no more Micro-USB port, with Microsoft opting to replace it with a much faster USB-C connection.
These new features stacked atop the Xbox Wireless Controller’s tactile switches, responsive impulse triggers, sturdy build quality, comfortable form, and ergonomic layout to round off one of gaming’s finest peripherals.
Best joystick PC controller
Thrustmaster is well-known for creating some of gaming’s most impressive joysticks and racing wheels. The T-Flight HOTAS X is one of those joysticks, and it’s an absolute blast when paired with the right games. Luckily, we’re living through something of a minor joystick renaissance thanks to a bevy of compatible titles such as Elite Dangerous, Star Citizen, War Thunder, Star Wars: Squadrons and Microsoft Flight Simulator.
Having games like these available makes the decision to pick up a specialized joystick somewhat easier as the price can be hard to justify if you only have a single game in mind. Thankfully, Thrustmaster’s T-Flight HOTAS X is much more of a budget buy with its $72 price tag. Don’t let that price fool you though, there’s plenty of quality packed into this flight stick.
The 5-axis joystick is an ergonomic dream, with every button perfectly placed for easy access. The throttle control is equally well-crafted, offering a great amount of comfort and easy access to controls. It’s also detachable, allowing for various setups and seating arrangements. There are 12 buttons in total, with each one capable of being reprogrammed to suit your needs, which is more than enough to cover the vast majority of mainstream games. If you fancy yourself a regular Top Gun, this HOTAS controller is sure to take your breath away.
Best retro PC controller
There’s a ton of ways to play classic older games on PC. Even if you’re not a fan of the oldies, every year sees a host of game releases that lean heavily on retro aesthetics and mechanics. So, why not pair them with a retro-themed controller? 8BitDo manufactures a range of retro-inspired controllers that might appear gimmicky, but they are actually some of the best third-party gamepads available. 8BitDo’s SN30 Pro gamepad is no exception.
The SN30 Pro owes much of its design to the classic SNES controllers of yesteryear, mimicking its style, layout, and shape. However, 8BitDo goes a few steps further, adding a slew of modern controller elements to maximize the gamepad’s potential. In addition to the highly-rated D-pad and responsive face buttons, the SN30 Pro offers two analog thumbsticks, rumble and motion controls, bumpers, triggers, an internal rechargeable battery, USB-C charging, turbo functions, home and screenshot buttons, and Bluetooth wireless.
It may not be historically accurate to the SNES gamepad on which it’s based, but these additions do a lot to ensure you won’t have to sideline the controller the second you get tired of playing Shovel Knight. The retro gimmick is an addition to a great underlying device and not a hindrance that limits what’s on offer.
Best premium PC controller
Microsoft’s premium peripheral is a seriously impressive kit that offers unparalleled accessibility and customization. Building upon the foundations laid out by the Xbox Wireless Controller, the Elite Wireless Controller seeks to improve and advance as many aspects of the original as possible.
It features long-awaited quality of life improvements, like USB-C support and an impressive 40-hour rechargeable internal battery. Some advances are all about in-game performance, like the shorter hair trigger locks, improved D-pad, deadzone amendments, and adjustable thumbstick tensions. The controller also further improves accessibility with the addition of the four optional paddle switches and remappable inputs. All-in-all, the Elite Wireless Controller features over 30 improvements spread across almost all aspects of the original design.
The Xbox Elite Wireless Controller Series 2 is a fantastic example of a company aiming high, and getting almost everything right. Since launching, some buyers have complained about several concerning mechanical hiccups occurring with their device. While this percentage is relatively small, it was enough to force Microsoft to extend their 90-day warranty to cover a year from purchase. It’s a flaw that can’t entirely be ignored, especially when you’re expected to place $179.99 down when picking one up. While the chance of you encountering these issues may be small, knowing they exist does take the shine off of Microsoft’s impressive premium controller.
Best feature-ready PC controller
Sony’s DualShock 4 was such a blend of form and function that it seemed almost a given that there would be a DualShock 5 to launch alongside the new PlayStation. Instead, Sony took the complete opposite route and left the DualShock brand behind entirely. A bold decision, but has it paid off? When it comes to the new PlayStation DualSense controller, it would seem so.
Immersion is front and center with Sony’s new controller, with a host of features to make games feel like they’re taking place in your hands. Traditional rumble motors are gone, replaced by dual actuators that deliver incredible haptic feedback. And all-new adaptive triggers simulate resistance, making you feel physically connected to your in-game actions. The DualSense is a mini-revolution, changing up the way you can experience countless titles. However, there is a downside when it comes to using it on PCs.
Annoyingly, most of the features that make Sony’s new DualSense controller so good aren’t supported on PC at present. While the controller itself is fully supported, PC titles just aren’t programmed with this level of controller feedback in mind. However, with more and more former PlayStation exclusives sneaking their way onto PC recently, I’d hazard a guess that game-changing features like adaptive triggers and haptic feedback will find far greater support over the coming years.
Best arcade PC controller
In a genre where literally every frame counts, you need to arm yourself with the best equipment possible. When it comes to fighting games, what you need is the Mayflash F500 Elite. Flush with premium Sanwa components, the F500 Elite boasts ultra-fast responsiveness and incredible precision. With ample wrist space, you can unleash your potential in comfort, and thanks to some weighty top and bottom plates, the F500 Elite feels as sturdy in your lap as it would on a tabletop.
Mayflash’s arcade stick is for the fighting game enthusiast, allowing for both peak performance and heavy customization through modding. Tailor the F500 Elite to your style by switching out components and faceplates with ease. Mayflash’s controller is already great, but you have all the freedom to make it personal.
When any device sounds this good, there’s almost always a catch. When it comes to the Mayflash F500 Elite, that catch is its lofty $144.99 price. If you’re serious about fighting games, you’ll already be aware how that price is a reflection of Sanwa’s quality components housed inside, and you’ll probably know that similarly outfitted arcade sticks can often cost considerably more. While expensive, the F500 Elite makes every dollar count when it comes to striking a balance between price and performance.
Best cloud gaming PC controller
If you want to get the most from Amazon’s Luna controller, you’re probably going to want to stick to its intended purpose as a device to interact with the Amazon Luna cloud gaming platform. However, if the Amazon and Alexa integrations are something you can manage without, there’s nothing stopping you from using Amazon’s peripheral outside of its service altogether. Simply downloading the appropriate drivers will let you connect the Luna to your PC via Bluetooth 5.0, at which point the Luna controller is much like any other Bluetooth peripheral.
However, when I say much like any other peripheral, it’s actually very much like two in particular. The Luna controller owes a lot of its design and layout to both the Xbox Wireless and Switch Pro controllers. In turn, the Luna controller gets to enjoy some of the best things about each, including tactile bumpers, responsive triggers, rubberized grips, rumble feedback, and sturdy thumbsticks. The main drawback is that it also inherits some of their lesser aspects, most prominently is the Xbox Wireless Controller’s dependency on batteries.
It’s a little on the expensive side, and once you take Amazon’s Luna cloud gaming platform out of the picture, the controller loses almost every ounce of identity. But it still features excellent build quality and decent in-game performance. Regardless of how much identity it does or doesn’t have, performance is paramount.