You can get a lot of mileage out of the ol’ mouse and keyboard when it comes to PC gaming. Hell, many real-time strategy games or some MMOs like World of Warcraft are built from the ground up for mouse and keyboard and would be an absolute slog to play with a controller between your hands. Though the same applies to games built around the gamepad.
I have a friend who had refused and refused and refused to just pick up a controller to play Elden Ring even though they were struggling to dodge roll precisely where they needed to. They finally bit the bullet and have been having a much better time with the game ever since driving to their nearest Target and buying one.
The fact of the matter is, even if you prefer playing strictly with a mouse and keyboard, it’s not bad to keep a controller on hand for when you really need it. We’ve gathered our favorite controllers when it comes to PC gaming. And ya know what? Turns out a good controller is just a good controller. So even if you’ve got a console or two, you may be able to get your hands sweaty on some of these from the comfort of your couch.
Best Overall: Xbox Elite Series 2
There’s pretty much no question about it: The Xbox Elite Series 2 controller is the best controller for PC gaming you can buy. Growing up as an Xbox boy, sure I do have a preference for Microsoft’s layout over Sony’s. Biases aside, the Xbox Elite Series 2 adds flexibility to an already stellar controller. The hair triggers, which can be toggled on/off at will, allow for the quick-firing of weapons. The D-pad and thumbstick can be swapped out with options of different shapes and sizes to best fit your playstyle. Four removable, remappable paddles on the back are exceptionally useful when playing a shooter—allowing you to jump, slide, reload, or switch weapons without taking your thumb off the right stick while aiming. Speaking of remapping, everything is remappable. You can have up to three different profiles which can be changed at will. Great for if the controller is shared or simply if you have different preferred settings between the games you frequent. Also, its heavier, metal parts give it a real weight in your hands.
Best Features: PlayStation 5 DualSense
Sony has made significant aesthetic changes to its iconic DualShock over the years, with the PS5's DualSense being the largest departure from its humble beginnnings. While not every game is, Steam itself is compatible with the newly integrated adaptive triggers. The right and left trigger sensitivity can be changed on the fly based on game interaction, so it becomes tougher or easier to pull down, creating a new sense of immersion and allows developers to present innovative gameplay mechanics like nothing that came before. A built-in gyroscope is honestly the biggest thing, in my opinion, holding back the Xbox controller. Using primarily the right thumbstick to aim while implementing gyroaiming for small, precise correction—particularly when tracking an enemy down a scoper—is my preferred way to play a shooter.
Best Retro Controller: 8Bitdo Sn30 Pro+
If you’re a nut for the old-school sidescrolling platformer and/or spend your time emulating video games past (only playing ROMs of games you outright own licenses for, of course), then the nostalgia-driven 8Bitdo Sn30 Pro+ will provide both sentimental and practical benefits. Inspired by the layout of the original SNES controller, this reimagining comes equipped with features that bring this old favorite into the modern age. The addition of thumbsticks, the second set of R and L buttons, and side grips will allow you to play any retro or recent game without causing hand cramps. And there’s no better D-pad on the market than 8BitDo’s.
Best for Online Multiplayer: Turtle Beach Recon
The Turtle Beach Recon controller may very well be the first truly great third-party option of this console generation. It’s got some of the new popular features we’ve been seeing pop up more and more like having remappable back buttons. Though most unique to this controller are the built-in volume controls. You can separately adjust the volume of the game you’re playing as well as the volume of the chat you’re in—absolutely fantastic for online multiplayer party chats. The one downside is that the controller is wired-only. However, as a PC gamer, this isn’t that much of a hindrance. I always plug in when using a controller at my desktop.
Honorary Mention: Xbox Core Wireless Controller
As I already said of the Elite controller, I’m an Xbox boy at heart. The Xbox controller is, in my mind, what a video controller should be. It’s comfortable, reliable, and responsive. It may not have some extra bells and whistles like the PS5 DualSense, but it does cost less, which is pretty damn important. Also, an actual objective reason why it’s better to use an Xbox controller with your PC as opposed to PlayStation: A lot of PC games’ interfaces assume you’re using an Xbox controller. Button prompts will match the Xbox layout, and this isn’t a problem exclusive to Game Pass titles. I’m playing Elden Ring on Steam right now with the PS5 DualSense because I originally played Dark Souls on a friend’s borrowed PS4, so that’s what I felt comfortable playing with starting this new From Software game. All the prompts using Xbox’s A, B, X, and Y labels have been a little annoyance I’ve had to power through.