We're well into the next generation of consoles now, although the stock situation has left hordes of gamers still trying to get hold of the Xbox Series X and PS5. Both pieces of hardware have their pros and cons, but the general consensus is that Sony has gone all in on a truly 'next gen' feel, while Microsoft has been a bit more conservative.
Of course, both consoles have had their innards levelled up significantly compared to the PS4 and Xbox One X, but where Sony threw caution to the wind with a radical design and fancy controller for the PS5, Microsoft erred on the side of tradition in terms of the Xbox Series X aesthetic and left its controller largely untouched. Of course, there are benefits to that approach – chiefly backwards compatibility; so if you have last and current gen Xbox consoles in your home, you can pick up any of your controllers and have them work. But the company has taken criticism for not upping the ante enough in terms of hardware features.
Microsoft seems to agree – or has at least acknowledged the wider conversation about that. Earlier this year, an Xbox console experience survey was sent out to customers who had purchased the Xbox Series X, with one of the questions asking respondents if the console "feels 'next gen'" (via TechRadar (opens in new tab)). It also asked if users are "aware of features on PlayStation controllers that (they) wish were on the controller that came with this console."
And now Xbox boss Phil Spencer has candidly commented on Sony's stellar work with the DualSense, hinting that the next Xbox controller could be in for an overhaul as a result.
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During his appearance on the Kinda Funny Games (opens in new tab) podcast, Spencer was asked about the future of Xbox peripherals, and praised Sony's work on the PS5's DualSense.
"When I think about our hardware roadmap – and I really love the evolution of Liz Hamren's team, our hardware team, and the work that they've done – we're definitely thinking about different kinds of devices that can bring more games to more places. But there's probably some work we'll do on [the Xbox] controller.
"I think Sony's done a nice job with their controller and we kind of look at some of that and [think] there are things that we should go do, but probably not in the more bespoke accessories place right now."
Both Spencer and Microsoft are aware that the evolution of the Xbox controller isn't quite as 'next-gen' as Sony's, and having used the DualSense with PS5 exclusive titles Returnal, and Ratchet & Clank: Rift Apart, there are features Microsoft could easily adopt for its own that I'd love to see.
The Xbox Series X and Xbox One controllers don't sport this feature. Meanwhile Sony brought back the rumble for the DualShock 4 after dropping it for the PS3 controller. The PS5 ditches the basic pair of motors found in the DualShock 4 and instead replaces them with "highly programmable voice-coil actuators" (via WIRED (opens in new tab)).
This allows for much more nuanced feedback that can simulate "a variety of powerful sensations you’ll feel when you play, such as the slow grittiness of driving a car through mud," as Sony says in its DualSense blog post (opens in new tab).
The haptic feedback really is on another level, and adds another level of immersion to gameplay without feeling gimmicky. Interestingly, the haptic feedback feature in both the PS5's DualSense and Nintendo Switch's Joy-Cons were developed by Immersion (opens in new tab), so Xbox really is the odd man out.
Another game-changing feature of the DualSense that's won players over is the adaptive triggers. The example we've all read about numerous times now is the being able to feel "drawing a bow to shoot an arrow" from the PlayStation blog. But the triggers truly do add a sense of tension, adding to the tactile feedback of your in-game actions.
Despite packing in all of the components needed to elevate the next-gen experience in gamers' hands as well as on-screen, Sony has managed to to keep the controller fairly svelte. It explains the "challenge of making the controller feel smaller than it really looks," which it its designers managed to achieve by adjusting "the angle of the hand triggers" and making "some subtle updates to the grip."
The DualSense is kitted out with a mic and speaker; the mic allows players to engage in party chat without a headset but isn't a feature I use at all. Given the amount of headphones everyone seems to amass in their homes, this doesn't seem like a great addition, and unless you remember to mute it, it's broadcasting everything that's happening around you to your party or a lobby.
The speaker on the other hand, I love. If you're playing exclusively with headphones, it's not something you're going to be aware of and may even turn off to save battery power. But having played Ratchet & Clank: Rift Apart with the speaker enabled, it pairs perfectly with the haptic feedback to simulate in-game sounds to perfection.
Sony has really pushed the boat out to explore ways to make the peripheral a real part of the next-gen experience, and it's got a winner with the DualSense. The Xbox controller is great, don't get me wrong, but it keeps things simple.
I don't think these features should be shoehorned in, but shy of creating a totally new peripheral, these are the next obvious steps in upping its controller game – and the additions Sony has made have been widely praised.
The only drawback is the drain on battery. While it's supposed to be more robust than the DualShock, my own anecdotal experience is quite the opposite. It seems like the battery drains at an alarming speed, and that includes the new (ish) Cosmic Red edition.
Spencer seems to have heard the feedback from gamers and is eager to explore the possibilities for Xbox, and I'm excited to see what's next.