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We’re pretty far into the current video game console generation, with both the Xbox One and PlayStation 4 finally seeing a respectable lineup of quality games. We’re also seeing plenty of bundles coming for both consoles, especially since it’s the holiday season. But there’s one Microsoft console bundle that’s more than just the system with a game thrown in, and that’s the Elite Bundle.
It comes with an Elite console, with some very small changes to the normal version, and the Elite Controller, which is the really interesting piece of the puzzle, as it would cost $149 on its own.
Is it worth spending the extra money to get this $499 bundle? Does the 1TB hybrid drive and Elite Controller make it worth it?
Introducing The Xbox One Elite Bundle
The Xbox One Elite bundle is Microsoft aiming at the most hardcore of hardcore gamers. It’s looking for people who are willing to spend some extra money for a nicer controller and a slightly faster drive in their system.
While the standard Xbox One bundle sells for $349 ($399 is the normal price, but Microsoft is running holiday specials), the Elite sells for $499 (it’s available for $449 for the holiday season). The standard bundle comes with a 1TB HDD, while the Elite comes with a 1TB hybrid SSD (though what percentage of that 1TB is actually an SSD is unspecified). Oddly, the Elite console doesn’t come with a game packed in, while the standard, much cheaper bundle, does.
However, what it does come with is the Elite controller, which by itself sells for $150. No, that wasn’t a typo, I said a controller sells for $150 alone. This is really the standout part of the package for the Elite bundle, as we’ll get to later.
Sony doesn’t really offer a direct competitor to the Xbox One Elite, either in the console or controller department. The PS4 only offers its standard $349 bundle, and it has no premium controller on the market. This puts Microsoft in an interesting position where it has the market cornered as far as “premium” consoles go. But is there a reason to spend the extra money, or is the standard console more than enough for most?
The Console Itself
Let’s start off by talking about the console itself. We’ve already done an in-depth review of the Xbox One when it launched, and not too much has changed from a core gameplay standpoint. Tons of games have released (some good, some bad), and the graphics of said games have improved slightly as developers figured things out, but it’s still an Xbox One.
You probably already know whether or not you’re interested in the Xbox One or the PS4 from a broad standpoint, and I’m not really going to go heavily into comparing the actual consoles. There’s more than enough of that happening on every video game forum on the Internet. What we’re more interested in is whether it’s worth getting this console compared to the other Xbox models if you’re a new Xbox buyer (or a current Xbox One owner looking to upgrade to the improved model).
The main thing Microsoft cites as the reason to get this console is an increase in speed. Specifically, Microsoft claims that users will see a 20% increase in launch time for the console. That sounds like a lot, but when you’re talking about a console that boots up in less than a minute from quick on mode, and around two minutes from being off all the way, you realize that you’re talking about a savings of just a few seconds. At the full 20% promised, you’d save at most 12 seconds.
Microsoft also promises an increase in speed for games, as the console will learn the things you launch most frequently and cache it to the SSD portion of the hybrid drive. The effect on load times in Destiny –a game with unfathomably long load times in some cases– was negligible. We’re talking about a matter of a couple of seconds, and not enough that you’d actually notice a difference unless you’re comparing side-by-side with an original Xbox One.
In spite of coming with a price that’s the same as the launch day Xbox One, there’s actually no Kinect included here, so you can forget about controlling the console with your voice. If there was anytime we’d expect Microsoft to look to bring the Kinect back, it would be with this bundle, and the fact that it didn’t is a pretty clear sign that it has given up on the peripheral.
So, removing the controller from the equation, I have a hard time recommending the console on its own merits when lined up against the $150 cheaper 1TB standard-HDD bundle that also comes with a game. However, removing the controller from the equation is irresponsible, as it’s really the main selling point of the bundle. Microsoft isn’t making up the speed improvements, as they are there, it’s just that they’re not enough to completely change your experience. Does the controller carry the bundle enough to make it worth picking up?
The controller is what makes this bundle really special. I’ll make this really simple: the Xbox One Elite controller is the best I’ve ever used. By a large margin. Even without all the extra paddles and interchangeable joysticks, just the feel of the controller is better than anything else I’ve ever put my hands on.
The handles of the controller have a nice rubberized grip texture, while the standard Xbox One controller is just plastic. When things get intense in a game and your hands start sweating, you’ll realize how nice having that extra grip is. While it might seem like a small change, it really does enhance the experience of using the controller, and it’ll make it hard to go back to using one without the grips.
Microsoft has included two different d-pads and three joysticks that affix to the controller with magnets, which means you can swap them easily. For the d-pad, there’s the standard four-point option and the crazy looking one that offers a lot of flexibility for hitting combos in fighting games. For joysticks, there are standard length concave and convex options, and an extra long stick for those who like that sort of thing (I never got the appeal of longer joysticks, but that’s just me). Personally, I stick with the standard concave sticks, but it’s nice to have options.
The Elite controller also comes with four paddles that attach to the back of the controller. Using the Xbox Accessories app, these can be assigned to any button. So, if you were playing Call of Duty, you could assign your grenade button to the paddles so you never have to take your hands off the joysticks. It could give you a bit of a performance edge against your opponents without cheating in any way!
There are also short throw triggers, which can be turned on and off independently via switches on the back of the controller. For shooters, you’ll probably want the short throw, as it’ll let you pop off more rounds in less time. For racing games, on the other hand, you’d want to turn it off, as you’ll want the extra control. These feel great, and being able to turn them on and off is nice when compared to most custom controllers where the short throw triggers are always on.
Sticking with the theme of flexibility, you can take these paddles off easily yoo. If you’re playing a game where you don’t need quicker access to a button, you can just pop them off and store them in the included carrying case.
The case is nice and sturdy – it holds all of the joysticks and d-pads, as well as the paddles. Of course, the controller itself also fits perfectly in it, so you can bring everything with you everywhere you go. For competitive gamers who go to tournaments, this could be quite convenient.
While the controller is really, really good, it’s still hard to justify spending $149 on it. For new Xbox owners, it’s a little easier to stomach as part of this bundle, but to just go out and spend that much (especially when the thing is nearly impossible to find), is tough. However, I’m not a competitive gamer. Those who are should be able to justify the cost better. This is not a controller meant for the average player, and it hits all the marks for those looking for that, well, elite experience. If money is no object, it’s easy to recommend based purely on quality.
The New Xbox Experience
Since we originally reviewed the Xbox One, Microsoft has given the interface a bit of an overhaul. Many of the things we complained about back then have been addressed.
The biggest issue I had with using the Xbox One all this time was the party system. It was clunky and downright terrible. Microsoft made it much better in the new version of the Xbox OS. It’s not perfect, and I still think it was easier to work with on the Xbox 360, but getting together with a group of friends is now far less tedious than it used to be.
The actual interface is still based around tiles, as it’s actually a modified version of Windows 10. Instead of going left to right, the new interface is more vertical in design. Personally, I’ve found that getting to the game or app that I want is a little easier than it was in the old interface, but the difference is negligible. It still seems to take a few too many steps to get to games that aren’t the ones you’ve played recently.
One change to the interface that I absolutely adore is a quick way the access to console’s Settings app. You can now press your joystick to the left from the home screen, and at the bottom of the pane that pops out is a gear icon that will quickly take you there. Before, you had to scroll through My Games and Apps or use Kinect to get there, which was a pain. It’s a small change, but one that enhances usability a great deal.
The NXOE also speeds up the console a tad. It’s a change I noticed on both the new Xbox Elite and my launch day console. Again, we’re talking about a second or two difference here, but it does make everything feel a bit snappier, and that’s always a good thing.
Microsoft has definitely made the Xbox One interface better with this update. It still has a ways to go before it’s perfect, but any improvement is always nice. While this interface isn’t specific to the Elite console, new Xbox owners who purchase this will definitely enjoy the more streamlined navigation experience.
Should You Buy The Xbox One Elite Bundle
If you already own an Xbox One console, there’s literally no reason to buy the bundle. The seconds you save off loads and booting just aren’t worth it. Plus, you can connect an external hard drive to your existing console if space is an issue. The Elite controller is available on its own, so you also just buy that and use it with your current console.
For new Xbox One owners, the decision is a little harder. If the controller appeals to you, and you’d consider buying it anyway, then getting the Elite bundle is a smart choice. If it doesn’t, you should save your money and get the standard 1TB bundle, as it comes with a game and the same amount of storage (albeit slightly slower).
Buy it if you don’t already own an Xbox One and want the fantastic Elite controller, otherwise there’s little benefit to upgrading – just buy the controller separately.
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