A pro level controller worth considering with its unique modular feature, but the lack of wireless support or rear paddles makes it a harder sell against the Xbox Elite Series.
Look, we exist. There are PC players who prefer a controller over a keyboard and mouse for the majority of games, particularly in titles like Rocket League or racing games. The high-end gamepad market has gained traction over the past few years, with customisation becoming a key feature as brands compete for our sweaty paws. The latest brand to toss its hat into the ring is Thrustmaster, and its candidate, the Thrustmaster Eswap X Pro, is a $160 / £150 Xbox and PC-compatible pad with a modular design. Could this make our list of the best PC controllers?
The standout feature of the Eswap X Pro controller is its modular ecosystem, which Thrustmaster coins ‘T-MOD’ – meaning the thumbsticks, D-pad, side grips, and triggers can all be swapped to different positions, and with the additional purchase of colour packs, you can also tweak change the look of the controller.
Upon opening the box, I was pleasantly surprised with the build quality, feeling just as solid as my trusty old Xbox One controller. Included in the box is the 10-foot braided cable (which you’ll need to use as there’s no wireless connection here), a neat carrying bag, and a pair of replacement convex thumbsticks, reminiscent of those found on the old PS2 and PS3 controllers.
First impressions can be deceiving as the Eswap X Pro initially looks like any other third-party controller on the market, but it’s got that modular trick up its sleeve.
Most customisable controller you’ll find
Top build quality
No wireless connectivity option
Buttons instead of paddles on the rear
Unlike a lot of garish third party game controllers, the Eswap X Pro’s design is relatively smart in its standard colour scheme, despite it looking wildly different to the standard Xbox controller. Sure, it doesn’t scream ‘premium’ in quite the same way as the Xbox Elite Series gamepad, but despite a few too many lines and edges, it’s generally understated.
If you’re used to the standard Xbox One controller then the increased size of the Eswap X Pro might make adjusting tricky, but if you’ve got big hands then it’s a great fit. If your hands are smaller, you may find the controller a little too large – especially when trying to reach around to the extra programmable buttons on the rear.
You’ll also find a headphone jack on the bottom with volume and microphone controls, perfect if you want to hook the best gaming headsets through the controller.
When it comes to the modular aspect of the pad, all parts can be quickly swapped around by pulling on their magnetic attachments, bar the triggers, which can be removed with the included crosshead screwdriver. There’s no need to worry about parts falling off during gameplay though – the magnets are very strong, and I couldn’t see any way for these to be pulled loose accidentally while playing.
Thrustmaster sent us over its blue colour pack, too, which usually costs £45 / $50, including new thumbsticks, a D-pad, triggers, and side grips. To be honest, I prefer the sleek look of the original bronze colours, but it’s strictly optional. The real magic here is that the modularity means if your thumbsticks wear out in a few years time, you can give the pad a new lease of life by just buying a new thumbstick, rather than chucking out the controller you’ve spent so much money on.
You can replace the thumbsticks on the Elite Series pad, too, but if you get a problem like stick drift then often the thumbstick housing is the real problem and thanks to the Eswap X’s modular design you replace the whole thing for a clean reset.
Heck, you could technically even swap out your D-pad for a third thumbstick, which, while being a neat party trick, is utterly pointless. It would be nice to see a little more options in the accessory lineup, too, like a disc-shaped D-pad similar to the one on the Xbox Elite Series.
|Thrustmaster Eswap X Pro specs
|Wired Micro USB
|Impulse triggers + Rumble motors
|3.5mm jack w/ mute and volume control
|Playstation or Xbox
The wired-only connection was a deliberate choice by Thrustmaster, in order to achieve “near-zero response times”. Although, I can’t say I’ve noticed any input lag on my own wireless controller, which I’ve been using with my PC for years, and I missed the clutter free feeling of a wireless controller. Microsoft’s Xbox Elite Series controller is marketed for competitive gameplay too, but still has the option to connect wirelessly. On the plus side, there’s no way the removable cable will fall out during gameplay, with a locking mechanism for the cable and controller port. And you won’t ever be fishing around for a pair of AA batteries mid-clutch, like I’ve done more times than I’m willing to admit.
I love the face buttons on this, which boast an incredibly tactile, clicky feel that’s much more precise than the standard Xbox pad. They’re low-profile and give a satisfying and obvious click much like you get on a quality mechanical keyboard switch. They don’t just feel nice though, they help out in fighting games like Street Fighter V, making it absolutely clear when I’m hitting each input and ultimately making it easier to string combos together.
Flicking the two switches on the back of the controller halves the travel of the triggers, giving them a more analogue, tactile feel. In FPS games where you don’t need to modulate the amount of trigger you’re using, I did prefer having that short travel for aiming down sights and firing. Then, of course, it’s a simple flick back to the full trigger travel that’s needed in racing games like Forza Horizon 4 – no need to jump in and out of the software.
The thumbsticks on the Eswap X Pro are Thrusmaster’s own S5 NXG, which the company also claims have double the lifespan of its previous sticks. Compared to a standard Xbox controller, the sticks feel a lot smoother, and seem to spring back to the center more aggressively.
The thumb grips themselves are pretty different too, but they still can’t beat the supreme comfort and grip of those on PlayStation’s DualShock 4 and DualSense controllers. The D-pad on the other hand, is merely okay compared to the updated dish-shaped D-pad on the Xbox Series X controller, which feels much better to use and is a third of the price.
Thrustmaster’s ThrustmapperX software is used to tweak the pad, letting you customise two profiles for the controller that you can switch between on-the-fly. In the software you can adjust vibration across the controller, add dead zones for the triggers and thumbsticks – useful if you run into drift a few years down the line – adjust the sensitivity of the thumbsticks, and remap controller buttons. I didn’t find myself tweaking around in the software too much, though, as the pad felt pretty much perfect out the box – and for the games where I wanted to adjust sensitivity, I just changed it in game.
You can also assign the four programmable rear buttons either through the included software, or with the mapping button on the controller itself. Thrustmaster has chosen not to go for physical paddles like we’ve seen on most other pro level controllers, opting for buttons instead, which feels like a bit of a missed opportunity when most other controllers in its price range have them – and there’s no option to get paddles as an add-on, either.
Still, they carry out the same function, and the benefits of these programmable rear buttons really become obvious while playing shooters like Call of Duty: Black Ops – Cold War, letting me reload, jump, and switch weapons without having to leave the thumbsticks. They have just the right amount of resistance to stop accidental presses, while still being easy to activate in a fast-paced shooter.
I also assigned the rear buttons in Forza Horizon 4 for changing gear, which feels much more intuitive than using the standard X and B buttons. You can switch between two different mapping profiles with buttons on the controller, instead of having to launch Thrustmaster’s mapping software every time you want to switch, which is very convenient.
The Thrustmaster Eswap X Pro is a solid, premium choice if you want to upgrade your PC gamepad. It ticks almost all the same boxes as Microsoft’s Xbox Elite Series controller and Razer’s Wolverine Ultimate at a very similar price point, but goes a step further with it’s modular design letting you replace thumbsticks to get a few more years out of your controller, and the ability to adopt either a PlayStation or Xbox thumbstick layout depending on your preference.
It is a shame that there’s no way to use this wirelessly, especially given the hefty price tag, so it’s hard to see this as a good option for living room gaming. Smaller hands might also struggle with the size increase over the standard Xbox pad and even Elite Series controller. It’s definitely a viable alternative to Microsoft’s premium pad, but if you prefer ergonomics and aesthetics then the Elite Series is still the pad for you.