As any PC gamer knows, a keyboard and mouse setup is the purest way to enjoy titles on the platform. However, for as near-perfect as this is for many different types of games - especially FPS and RTS - there are a few obvious downsides that come through relying solely on all-digital control than an analog method. That's where one of the best PC controllers for gaming can help.
For a start, genres such as spectacle fighters (Devil May Cry, Bayonetta, Ninja Gaiden, Nier: Automata) and racing games (Forza Horizon, Project Cars, Assetto Corsa, TrackMania) are two types that are hindered heavily by the lack of a full range of movement, because, when you break it down, you can only really move in four set directions with the W, A, S, D keys after all.
If you've feared that you'll be confined to only Xbox-branded controllers on PC, fret not, as other brands - such as PlayStation and Nintendo, as well as third-party-made pads - are all now compatible with your rig through Steam's Big Picture mode.
That's not to say that we don't love our traditional peripherals here. If you're a die-hard defender of the things as nature intended, we've got roundups of the best gaming keyboards and the best gaming mouse too. Whether you're looking for something supplementary to complete your gaming setup or you've recently converted from consoles and can't commit just yet, these are the best PC controllers to buy in 2021.
It should be of little surprise to anyone that the latest revision of the Xbox gamepad tops our list for its performance and comfortable feel. Couple that with the fact that it works natively on PC - just plug it in or link up via Bluetooth - and it's ready to go with no further messing around.
The new additions this time around, though distinctively minor, are the inclusions of USB-C charging - much faster than Micro-USB (if you use a rechargeable pack at least) - as well as the 'hybrid' D-pad which takes its cues from another much more expensive Xbox model that we'll get to later. There's also a share button - as was found on the DualShock 4 - which does exactly the same thing; create and share photos and video clips to upload to social media; something which offers limited functionality for use on PC.
There's a reason why not much has changed in eight years - when the Xbox One controller launched - and it's because it was already damn near perfect. If you want to go even further back, it's only really been iterative since the Xbox 360's gamepad back in 2005 - because it all just works exceedingly well.
Sony's newest controller sees the biggest departure from the DualShock brand in, well - ever. For a start, it's not only the first PlayStation controller to forgo the moniker, but it deviates both in design and ergonomic feel almost wholesale - a change that was made for the better in our opinion.
As mentioned above, getting this controller to work on your PC has never been easier. Gone is the need to run third-party drivers like the ever-popular DS4Windows. Instead, boot up Big Picture, configure the controller with the PlayStation pre-set and you're away.
The biggest drawback to the Dualsense on PC is that those all-impressive haptic feedback rumble motors aren't configured to run at their full potential on the platform - if this omission is a deal-breaker for you - you may want to turn your attention to a different entry on our list.
Vibrating aside, one thing is for sure. This is a very well-made and comfy controller that serves as an excellent alternative for an Xbox gamepad.
Read more: DualSense PS5 controller review
The thing that stood out for us the most in our testing was just how good the battery life on this controller was. We've been used to the average lifespan of gamepads - such as the DualShock 4 - only lasting between 4-8 hours with moderate use, so the fact that the Switch Pro controller can go for up to 40 hours - after a six-hour full charge - is frankly astounding.
If you've had hands-on experience with the ill-fated Wii U pro controller, then the look and feel should be somewhat familiar to you. We found the weight and sturdiness of this gamepad to be comfortable enough over long periods of time. It should be noted, it's a touch heavier than both Sony and Microsoft's current generation offerings, but that dissipated quickly.
Read more: Nintendo Switch Pro controller review
If you've been in the market for a solid E-sports gamepad - but didn't want to spend in excess of $150 - then you should find that the V2 proves its metal from the offset.
Tweaking and tinkering really is the name of the game with this modular controller; especially for its 'mecha' tactile buttons - which were satisfyingly clicky in our testing - and the adjustable sensitivity of the two analog sticks.
It is wired, however, something that may not gel with those looking to sit a decent distance away. If you play a lot of fighting games with a pad - as I do - you should feel right at home with the options afforded to you.
At just a touch over the MSRP of the standard Xbox gamepad, it's worth a second look if these features are appealing to you.
Read more: best Razer controller
Here's where things start to get serious - with a price tag to match no less. I'll preface this by saying that this gamepad is, at heart, a mega-charged edition of the standard Xbox Series X controller.
Included in the box are replacement thumbstick heads, a classic cross-design D-pad, and tools to tailor the feel of the controller to your liking - with physical adjustments to almost every part of the controller. Also to note, the extended 40-hour battery life - akin to the Switch Pro controller - a good 8-hour bump up from the Xbox Series X gamepad's lifespan between charges.
I'll be as brazen to say that the Elite 2 justifies its asking price through its premium design and suite of features, but as the most expensive item in our list, it's not going to be to everyone's tastes - or budget - and that's understandable, too.
Read more: Xbox Elite 2 controller review
If you've been after a modular controller - such as the Elite 2 - but prefer the symmetrical thumbstick design of the PlayStation layout instead, then the NUPC is every bit as good.
This controller has been my go-to since I first got my hands on it early this year; effectively replacing both my DualShock 4 (when on console) and my Xbox wireless gamepad when playing on PC.
This is because it's not only comfortable to use, with a great heft and feel to it, but also the exchangeable analog heads, grip weights, and travel restricting metal washers for the sticks. There are also four different switches on the back to change profiles, as well as a dedicated switch for console or PC - which works flawlessly.
The premium offering from the house of all things green doesn't come cheap but then - nothing by the brand tends to when it's of this quality. Upon first glance, it's an incredibly intimidating bit of kit with a full host of extra switches and buttons all over for the most hardened of Esports vets.
As with some of the other customizable controllers on the list, the D-pad and thumbsticks are interchangeable - culminating with Chroma RGB; something that seems essential for Razer, right?
Read more: best Razer controllers
We recently reviewed this controller and praised it for its accessibility options. That goes hand-in-hand with the build quality - being a larger than average gamepad with a suitably heavier - more substantial - feel.
Similar to the Razer Wolverine line, it's wired, but this approach means that there is zero latency in the response time; perfect for those gaming sessions where milliseconds matter.
It's in the surplus of extra buttons - including the phenomenal feeling triggers and the four on the face - that elevate this controller above its similarly priced competition. If you've been waiting on a great feeling modular controller that finally allows you to swap the positions of the D-pad and left analog stick at will, this is the one.
Read more: Thrustmaster eSwap X Pro review
It's staggering to believe that this controller is now well over 8 years old, especially with how great it feels in the hand. We've had many years of experience with this gamepad on both its console of origin and our PCs to great success - though it may not be natively supported, a quick trip into Big Picture mode sorts it all out.
If you're not a fan of the Xbox's asymmetrical stick layouts - and would prefer to use something cheaper and more readily available than the Dualsense - or high-end alternative - this really is the next best thing to a Microsoft-made gamepad that you can get for your battle station.
The one weakness of the DualShock 4 is its rather anemic battery life, only lasting between 4-8 hours with moderate use, meaning if you want to make the most of it when hooked up to your rig, you're better off plugging it in via Micro USB for the least amount of trouble later down the line.
Read more: Best PS4 controllers
While the Stratus Duo has mostly been advertised as being made for VR and smartphones, this SteelSeries controller works on PC via the included USB adapter for easy pairing with a dedicated switch for the 2.4Ghz wireless mode for a fast and stable connection.
We found that the battery life lasted up to 20-hours - which would put it above some of the other wireless options in our ranking list for a fraction of the cost. As expected - you can also use it when plugged in via micro-USB port just as you would with other console controllers on PC.
If you're looking for something that can pull double duty on both PC and console, for the asking price, it has a lot to offer, but it's unlikely to rival that of the Xbox Series X controller or the competition made specifically for the newest console generation - for something cheap and cheerful as a spare or something to carry around, it's hard to fault.
Read more: SteelSeries Stratus Duo review
Looking for more ways to enhance your gaming setup? Maybe it's time to upgrade to one of the best gaming desks or best gaming chairs. If you're PC is getting on a bit, take a look at our guides on the best gaming laptops and best gaming PC.