The Xbox Elite Series 2 Core takes the supreme quality of the full-fat Elite Series 2 controller and brings it down to a more affordable price point. It's quite tough to see from a glance what the differences between these two controllers really are - besides the obvious colour changes. In fact, these two gamepads are practically identical in every way, and the main difference is the accessories you get bundled along with them.
A decent controller can redefine your experience in a game, particularly if it's one of the best Xbox Series X controllers on the market. When testing this gamepad, I decided to revisit Dishonored Definitive Edition, one of my favourite games of all time. Although I've played it hundreds of times both in speedruns and in my own recreational visits, the Elite Series 2 Core helped me to rediscover the experience in a brand new way, and that's everything you want a controller to be.
The original Elite Controller Series 2 will set you back a hefty $179.99 / £159.99 and comes with all the customizable goodies you could ever need for it. The Elite Series 2 Core only costs $129.99 / £114.99 and comes with the exact same body and features, but none of the accessories. These are available to purchase separately, but they will bring the total investment back up to $179.99. There are cheaper third-party accessories of course, but no matter which way you look at it, this is one of the best controllers ever made at a more affordable price.
In short, this puts the DualSense Edge to shame.
Design and Features
As mentioned, this is the exact same controller body as you'll know from the Elite Series 2, even down to the rubberized wrap-around grips which never fail to be comfortable. The biggest difference in terms of design is the fact that the Core model comes with a white face section as opposed to the Elite Series 2's jet-black visage.
Other than that, you're getting the exact same design, which will be a familiar and welcome build to any Xbox controller fan. One reason I really like this design is that, whether intentionally or not, the cheaper Core model matches the Xbox Series S design perfectly, offering some colour scheme continuity for folks who are most likely trying to game on a budget. Meanwhile, the Series X and full-fat Elite Series 2 are both fully black. This is a nice design touch for sure.
In terms of connectivity within the controller, we have the same options available here. You'll find a 3.5mm audio jack on the left-hand side of the controller's middle section, as well as a charging port. On the back, you'll also find the four slots for back paddles to slot into, as well as trigger stop level switches with three levels apiece.
Adjustable tension thumbsticks, 40-hour battery life, three custom profiles, custom button mapping, and PC compatibility all make their return as well, making this an incredible route into the Elite Series 2 for folks who are a bit miffed at the price point. If people want an extra wireless controller for their Xbox, this is a much more affordable, and in my opinion, much more viable option than another stock controller, since the battery life on offer here is nothing short of spectacular.
Despite this, I do feel it's perhaps a tad stingy not to offer any attachments along with a controller of this price. I understand you can use pre-existing attachments and back paddles here, or buy cheaper third-party ones to save more money, but for a "pro controller" worth over $100, I'd expect at least some thumbstick caps or back buttons.
Like I said up top, I predominantly tested the Elite Series 2 Core by replaying one of my favourite games of all time, Dishonored. I tested both with and without accessories in other games too, but as I replayed Arkane's classic, I found myself drawn into the experience in completely new ways, and that was thanks to the controller. Don't get me wrong, Dishonored is a game you can come back to time and time again and never fail to discover something new, but the Elite Series 2 Core had so much scope for me to play around with stick tension, trigger stop levels, completely mappable buttons, that it was like playing the game in an entirely new light.
Quite possibly, the thing that most impressed me, is the obscene battery life you get for your money here. This is up there with the Razer Wolverine V2 Pro in terms of battery life, and might even outlast it. Going between this controller on Xbox Series X and the DualSense Edge on PS5, the difference in battery life was embarrassing to say the least. Even the Victrix Pro BFG which happens to be my favourite controller at the moment didn't come close to lasting half as long as this. In all my time testing it, I haven't had to recharge the Core since I first took it out of the box.
Where this controller really comes into its own though, is with extra back paddles attached. Although I'm a massive advocate for adding back buttons to every gamepad possible, I do appreciate that they aren't for everyone. They require some re-learning, and a lot of games don't really benefit from them all that much. That's one reason I love the concept of the Elite Series 2 Core - if you want the perks of a pro controller but aren't interested in back buttons, you can save money and not miss out.
I really like the back paddles that come in the official accessories box for the Elite Series 2, and love their placement when in situ. They feel great to use, both in terms of their actuation point and their ergonomics. These made such a difference in Dishonored and Atomic Heart, as more maneuverability without taking my thumbs off the sticks made a real difference when I was juggling a slew of arcane powers. If I had one criticism of the back paddles, it's that they're a little small, and a bit close together, sometimes making your hands feel quite squished together when trying to use them. Regardless, if you can afford these attachments as well, I can recommend them. The addition of a taller thumbstick is a welcome addition.
Without the back paddles, I enjoyed playing games like Sunset Overdrive and Dead Space 2 with the Elite Series 2 Core. It is by far one of my favourite gamepads I've used, and that's down to the premium feel in the hands. Sticks feel sturdy, making a deep click when pressed in any direction. The D-pad looks like a satellite dish of a futuristic spacecraft, and the buttons have Xbox's patented feel. Moreover, the textures you feel on the controller's surface are really welcome, somehow making it feel more sturdy and substantial in the hands. If I had to nit-pick, I'd prefer sticks that had a bigger depression when pushed in - sometimes it could be a little hard to tell if I had the sprint button pushed down or not.
All in all, this is one of the top-performing controllers going, which in a lot of ways, isn't a surprise.
Should you buy the Xbox Elite Series 2 Core?
Although I'm a bit disappointed that there aren't any attachments on offer here, and really would have appreciated some form of back paddles or extra stick caps, I can't seriously fault the Elite Series 2 Core. It feels like going to a bougie, Michelin-star restaurant and being served something as basic as bread and butter. It's stripped back, simple, and you expect a more complicated course for how much you pay. But it's probably the best bread and butter you'll ever eat.
If you can afford the extra attachments, it's well worth getting them, or just buying the Elite Series 2 outright - it comes to the same overall price, after all. For those players who want remappable buttons, insane battery life, and some stick tension adjustability, but aren't interested in back buttons and stick caps, this is such an easy recommendation. Similarly, if you have extra attachments to use already, don't bother investing in the Elite Series 2, the Core is the one for you.
The Elite Series 2 Core puts other "pro" controllers to shame in a lot of ways, even without all the extra gubbins and a carry case. Particularly when you look at the prices of the best PS5 controller scene, the features the Core model has don't come cheap. It has a lovely design and some premium features that are easily controlled in the Xbox's software. Its battery life is nothing short of extraordinary, even when using the full array of tricks up its sleeve. For the player who wants a pro controller for less money, this is a supreme offering from Xbox. Even if you do want the extra attachments, there's always the option to get them later, which is a nice way of splitting up the cost of one of the best Xbox Series X accessories in a day and age when they continue to get pricier.
I don't want to fuel the console war, but comparing things to the competition might be a nice note to leave you on. If you're a PS5 player, the closest option to the Elite Series 2 Core is a DualSense Edge. You'd pay $50 more for that pad, getting access to two fewer back button slots, a lesser D-pad, gaining a carry case, and a few stick caps. You'd also take an embarrassing hit to battery life to boot. The Elite Series 2 Core may be a little stingy for coming with absolutely no attachments at all, but I'd still argue it's better value for money.
How we tested the Xbox Elite Series 2 Core
The Xbox Elite Series 2 Core was the only controller I used for about a month before this review. I played a wide variety of games with it, both with the attachments and without them. Namely, I played Dishonored: Definitive Edition, Sunset Overdrive, Atomic Heart, Dead Space 2, and Soma with it.
I only charged the battery up to full once in all that time, and it's still yet to run dry. I played around with stick tensions, trigger stop levels, and button mapping in that time to get a sense of the full scope of what the Core could do.
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