Valve’s Steam Deck has been an exciting reshuffling of the PC gaming space, especially with games like the recent Spider Man port getting Verified status on the device. It opens up new possibilities for how gamers can approach PC gaming, and it has the versatility to play in different ways.
If gamers want to switch things up and play the Steam Deck in tabletop or desktop PC format, having the perfect external controller to suit a gamer’s use case is a must. Traditional first-party controllers from publishers such as PlayStation, Xbox, and Nintendo are all reliable choices, but there are also some interesting third-party gamepads to consider.
PlayStation 5 DualSense Controller
Between the two current-gen high-end game consoles, PlayStation has made the biggest change to its controller from the PS4 to the PS5. Moving on from the long-running Dual Shock line of controllers, the PS5 now uses DualSense to take advantage of the console’s new capabilities.
It’s certainly heavier than the PS4’s controller, but the DualSense still has solid weight and a textured surface that feels sturdy and premium in the hands. Complete with haptic feedback for the next step beyond traditional rumble functions and adaptive triggers for maximum immersion in racing and first-person shooters, the PS5 DualSense is a perfect match for the Steam Deck.
Xbox Series X|S Primary Controller
Microsoft has made some of the best video game controllers in recent years with its Xbox One line. The Xbox Series X Wireless Main Controller | S is the latest default design, and it doesn’t change much from the previous console generation when it comes to overall design, except for some minor button changes.
However, it’s for the best because there’s no need to fix something that isn’t broken. The solid grips, sturdy feel, and well-placed button layout combine for what has effectively become the go-to external controller for many PC gamers. It’s not rechargeable, but its comfortable ergonomics, build quality, and affordability make it more than reliable enough for the Steam Deck.
Nintendo Switch Pro Controller
As PC gaming and Valve’s Steam storefront for the platform have become increasingly prominent, fans can now also enjoy full controller support for Nintendo’s controllers on the Steam Deck. . Xbox and PlayStation controllers are certainly great choices for cross-platform gamers or those dedicated to PC and just want the perfect external controller, but the Nintendo Switch Pro controller is a worthy contender.
It’s primarily a perfect fit for playing the Nintendo Switch’s existing and planned library, but the button layout and comfortable ergonomics also make it easy to transition to the Steam Deck. Additionally, the Pro Controller also offers gyro aiming functionality for games compatible with it.
PlayStation 4 DualShock Controller
While it’s no longer the current best choice under the PlayStation brand, the PS4’s DualShock 4 is still a solid controller to use on the Steam Deck. This might be a bit of a shock for those stepping out of the aforementioned PS5’s DualSense given the more plastic feel and lighter weight of this controller.
However, the standard PS4 controller has a solid build with a comfortable button layout. Likewise, all buttons are responsive, including the R1, R2, L1, and L2 triggers. PlayStation controllers have had official support through Steam for years, so transitioning to Deck’s SteamOS should be straightforward.
8BitDo Pro 2 Bluetooth Controller
When it comes to third-party controllers, 8BitDo makes some of the best devices out there. They’re affordable, have excellent build quality, and are incredibly versatile in terms of gaming use cases. Clearly inspired by the classic Super Nintendo controller, the 8BitDo Pro 2 Bluetooth Controller has a comfortable, simple design and ergonomic layout that makes it a great choice for a variety of different game genres.
It’s also a highly customizable controller, as gamers can switch between three different user-tailored controller profiles, button mapping, and a corresponding app to customize it. And given its retro-inspired design, the 8BitDo Pro 2 controller is also ideal for emulating classic video games from the 16-bit era.
8BitDo Ultimate Xbox Wired Controller
For those who might want a classic/modern hybrid controller experience, 8BitDo’s recent Ultimate Xbox wired controller might be a good choice. The controller is a mix of 8BitDo’s typical Super Nintendo style controller with part of the standard Xbox Core controller shape.
Interestingly, the controller’s d-pad uses the typical 8BitDo style to complete this fusion. On top of that, the 8BitDo Ultimate Xbox wired controller features all the improvements the Pro 2 model has – aside from a Bluetooth connection – from its remappable buttons, an extra pair of back buttons, on-the-fly profile switching, and the corresponding application.
PowerA Enhanced Wired Xbox Controller
Xbox’s basic wireless controller may have become an essential PC gaming accessory for many gamers, but the PowerA company has some solid alternatives with its grip. PowerA has established itself as a reliable third-party controller resource when it comes to more budget-friendly options, with the company’s best selection spanning Nintendo and Xbox.
The PowerA Enhanced Xbox Wired Controller features a standard, rugged Xbox design that should come as no surprise to fans of the proprietary version, complete with a share button and a dial to toggle earphone/headset audio. It also has programmable buttons and the controller comes in a fun variety of different colors. The controller is great for its affordability, and gamers can choose the higher-tier Spectra lineup if they want more customizable options.
Many gamers would be forgiven for forgetting, but Valve has also created its own proprietary PC controller. The Steam Controller sure has a weird design and ergonomic layout, but, somewhat similar to the Steam Deck itself, it’s surprisingly comfortable to use after you get used to it.
This controller was originally designed to go hand-in-hand with the Steam Link – a hardware/software game streaming service – although both that and the controller have since been discontinued. It features trackpads similar to the Steam Deck to mimic mouse inputs and button mapping software. Since the controller has been discontinued, buying a used one is the only option, but it’s something worth considering for avid PC gamers.
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