The lines between console gaming and PC gaming have blurred. With controller-friendly games like Assassin's Creed Origins and Dragon Ball FighterZ coming to PCs the same day they hit consoles, many people are looking for a good way to play these games as they were originally designed. Thankfully, that's easier to do today than ever before.
Gamers who play a variety of game genres would be best served by picking up Microsoft's Xbox One Controller, which offers better comfort, build quality and ease of use than anything else we've tested. If you're on a tight budget, the Logitech F310 is an excellent sub-$20 pick.
After playing a variety of platformers, shooters, role-playing games and racing titles, we found some controllers that are great for specific genres, and others that are all-around excellent. Read on for our top picks.
Latest News and Updates (January 2018)
- The Hori Fighting Commander joins our list as the best controller for fighting games, thanks to its comfy design and intuitive six-button layout.
- Looking to get into PC gaming on a budget? Check out our recently updated list of the best gaming desktops under $800.
Compatibility and Emulation
Xbox and native PC controllers are generally plug-and-play on Windows, and it's gotten pretty easy to use a PS4 controller on PC. You can even use the Nintendo Switch's Joy-Cons on your PC to control your favorite games. If you're having issues with your gamepad of choice, emulators such as X360CE will trick your PC into thinking that just about any USB controller is an Xbox 360 one. For more on compatibility, check out our guide to using any controller on PC.
Microsoft's Xbox One controller takes the impressive build quality and ergonomics of the Xbox 360 pad and improves upon them in a few key areas, making it the best all-around controller for any type of game. The controller's D-pad has moved away from the 360's disc style to a more traditional four-way cross style, which allows for better accuracy.
The shoulder buttons (which have been made snappier on newer models) are as comfortable to press as they are to rest your fingers on, and the triggers now rumble, which provides improved force feedback. The sticks are topped with a smooth center and rasped edge to reduce slipping, and the Xbox Guide button has been moved up and away from the center menu buttons to avoid accidental inputs.
The Xbox One Controller forgoes fancy extra features, instead focusing on being the best-built and most comfortable option for gaming across all genres. Since the device has the same instant plug-and-play support as the 360 pad, it will work natively with just about any modern PC game with controller support. The Xbox One pad works on PC via a microUSB connection; if you want to go cord free on older versions of the controller, you can buy Microsoft's $24.99 wireless adapter.
The latest version of the Xbox One Wireless Controller sports textured rear grips as well as Bluetooth support, which promises better range as well as wireless support on Windows PCs without a dongle.
Logitech has long offered PC users a wide range of quality accessories, both economical and high-end, and the F310 matches that pedigree well. The button layout is similar to that of a PlayStation controller, with symmetrical, bottom-aligned control sticks. The F310's D-pad, which is sometimes an afterthought on other controllers, features a responsive design that lends itself well to platformers such as Shovel Knight and simple menu surfing and button combos in Final Fantasy XIV.
By including support for as many games as possible, Logitech aims to make the F310 (and its wireless cousin, the F710) the only PC gamepad you'll ever need. The controller installs and operates instantly out of the box with most modern PC titles, as do most PC controllers, but it has other pack-ins to allow for use with other games. If you're looking to game with older PC titles that existed before current input standards, such as DirectInput, you can toggle a physical switch to swap the device into the previous standard for use with older and PC-exclusive titles.
Even if a game does not natively support a controller, you can use the disc that comes with the F310 to install a profiler program that assigns any keyboard or mouse input to a button of your choice on the controller. It's a great alternative to using third-party controller wrapper programs that reconfigure buttons on other controllers, and it includes several options for saving preset profiles for repeated use, or for use with multiple titles that might require different setups.
The Xbox One Elite Wireless Controller is a pro gamer's dream. This premium gamepad is a cozier, sleeker and more durable version of the standard Xbox One controller, complete with a wealth of swappable parts that allow you to tailor the pad toward your personal style of play.
The Elite offers multiple thumbsticks with different heights and grips, as well as an optional disclike d-pad that lets you better feel each point of articulation. The pad's triggers can be locked for faster firing in shooting games, and its optional rear-facing paddles let you execute an abundance of actions without taking your thumbs off the stick.
If your Steam library consists of pixelated platformers and old-school action games, 8Bitdo’s SN30 Pro provided a wonderfully authentic way to enjoy them. This gamepad faithfully replicates nearly every detail of the original Super Nintendo controllers, while adding in extras such as dual analog sticks, rumble functionality and rear triggers to make it play nice with more modern titles.
Thanks to its tight d-pad and clicky buttons, the SN30 Pro is an excellent companion for titles like Sonic Mania, Cuphead, the Mega Man Legacy Collection and the trove of indie fighting games available for PC. Just keep in mind that while its thumbsticks feel great, the controller’s ergonomics aren’t exactly ideal for playing, say, an intense online shooter at a competitive level.
Still, the SN30 Pro (and its Super Famicom-inspired counterpart, the SF30 Pro) is an excellent and versatile retro pad for a great price. It’ll also work with your Switch, Android device, and even that Raspberry Pi you’ve rigged up to imitate the SNES Classic.
The Hori Fighting Commander is an excellent PC gamepad for fighting game fanatics, sporting a six-button layout that's perfect for games such as Street Fighter V and Dragon Ball FighterZ. The Fighting Commander's buttons are big and responsive despite lacking the clickiness of an arcade stick, and the pad's decently-sized d-pad makes it easy to pull off special move motions. The d-pad can be toggled to emulate a standard controller’s left or right analog sticks, allowing you to access just about anything in-game that might require a thumbstick.
The Fighting Commander comes in PS3/PS4 and Xbox 360/Xbox One variations, both of which work on PC. The PlayStation version has turbo functionality for easy rapid inputs, while the Xbox version is fully remappable. Regardless of which version you pick, you're getting a durable, lightweight fighting pad that feels great whether you're holding it traditionally or using a "claw" grip to emulate the arcade experience.
Dating back to the original Sony PlayStation, the DualShock's design is largely responsible for some of the layout standards enjoyed by gamers today. The PlayStation 4-based DualShock 4 makes some major departures from its predecessors, and they mostly translate well to the PC space. The DualShock 4's layout and grip are more comfortable than ever, with triggers and sticks that are particularly well designed compared to their PS3 counterparts. There's also a new front-facing touchpad, which brings some interesting possibilities to the familiar design.
The application of this nifty touchpad, as well as the built-in light sensor and gyroscopes, is limited on PC, however, and sometimes, games won't recognize the controller at all. The DualShock 4 worked with both Shovel Knight and Final Fantasy XIV, as both games were programmed with native support for the DualShock.
Fortunately, Steam now officially supports the DualShock 4, meaning you can use it with most major titles and enjoy many of the same customization options found on Valve's own Steam Controller. As an alternative, you can use a third-party program like Input Mapper to make Windows think the DS4 is an Xbox 360 pad.
The Razer Wolverine Ultimate is one of the few legitimate contenders to the Elite Controller’s throne, and even one-ups Microsoft’s premium gamepad in a few key ways.
Like the Elite, the Wolverine Ultimate has swappable thumbsticks and d-pads, as well as six remappable extra buttons that are easy to reach without getting in the way of where your fingers would rest. Razer’s controller stands out with its customizable Chroma lighting, which can be set to glow a variety of different colors as well as react to what’s happening in game.
But the real kicker is the Wolverine’s sensitivity controls. With the press of a button, you can increase or decrease your thumbstick sensitivity on the fly, a feature that can prove crucial for landing that key headshot in your favorite shooter. While the Wolverine doesn’t look or feel quite as nice as the Elite Controller, its unique customization options make it a more than worthy alternative.
What PC Controllers Cost
A decent controller for PC gaming can be found for as low as $20, if you're willing to settle for simpler budget models. The Xbox One and PS4 controllers, both of which are considered the gold standard for most games, retail for $60, but can frequently be found for less than that. Premium controllers such as Microsoft's Xbox One Elite and Razer's Wolverine Ultimate start at $150, largely due to their high-end construction and interchangeable parts. There are also Scuf's customizable pro gaming pads, which start around $130 but can end up much more expensive than that depending on which parts you outfit them with.
Wheels and Fight Sticks
Need something more niche? Driving game aficionados seeking total immersion can check out dedicated racing wheels. Driving wheels such as Thrustmaster's Ferrari 458 ($89) are just that — a wheel — while others, like Logitech's G920 Driving Force ($399) include pedals and stick shifts for the full experience.
Fighting game fanatics looking for a more authentic way to play games like Tekken 7 and Marvel vs. Capcom: Infinite should consider fight sticks, which feature the kind of joysticks and extra-large buttons you'd find on a classic arcade cabinet. Be sure to check out our round up of the best fight sticks for PC, PS4 and Xbox One to find the right fit for your style and budget.