Valve’s Steam Deck has been an exciting shakeup to the PC gaming space, especially so with games like the recent Spider-Man port getting Verified status on the device. It opens up new possibilities for how players can approach PC gaming, and it has the versatility to play in a variety of different ways.
Should players want to change things up and play on the Steam Deck in a tabletop or desktop PC format, having the ideal external controller is a must to suit a player’s use case. Traditional first-party controllers from publishers like PlayStation, Xbox, and Nintendo are all reliable picks, but there are also some worthwhile third-party gamepads to look into.
PlayStation 5 DualSense Controller
Between the two high-end gaming consoles of the current generation, PlayStation 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 the DualSense to take advantage of the console’s new capabilities.
It’s certainly heavier than the PS4’s controller, but the DualSense still has a solid weight and texturized surface to it 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 great fit on the Steam Deck
Xbox Series X|S Core Controller
Microsoft has been making some of the best video game controllers in recent years with their Xbox One line onward. The Xbox Series X|S Wireless Core Controller is the latest default design, and it doesn’t change much from the previous console generation when it comes to the overall design, except for some minor button tweaks.
However, that’s for the best since there’s no need to fix something that isn’t broken. The solid grips, sturdy feel, and well-placed button layout combine for what’s effectively become many PC gamers’ go-to external controller. It isn’t rechargeable, but the comfortable ergonomics, build quality, and affordability makes it more than reliable enough for the Steam Deck.
Nintendo Switch Pro Controller
Since PC gaming and Valve’s Steam storefront for the platform have become more and more prominent, fans can now enjoy full controller support for Nintendo’s controllers on the Steam Deck as well. The Xbox and PlayStation controllers are certainly great choices for multi-platform gamers or those dedicated to PC and just want the ideal external controller, but the Nintendo Switch Pro Controller is a worthy contender.
It’s first and foremost a seamless fit for playing the Nintendo Switch’s existing and anticipated library, but the button layout and comfortable ergonomics make the transition to the Steam Deck smooth too. Just as well, the Pro controller also features gyro aiming functionalities for games that are compatible with it.
PlayStation 4 DualShock Controller
Even if it’s no longer the current best pick under the PlayStation brand, the PS4’s DualShock 4 is still a solid controller to use on the Steam Deck. It might be a bit jarring for those coming off of the aforementioned PS5’s DualSense given this controller’s more plastic feel and lighter weight.
However, the standard PS4 controller has a solid build with a comfortable button layout. Likewise, all the buttons feel responsive, including the R1, R2, L1, and L2 triggers. PlayStation’s controllers have had official support through Steam for years now, so transitioning to the Deck’s SteamOS should be simple.
8BitDo Pro 2 Bluetooth Controller
As far as third-party controllers go, 8BitDo has been manufacturing some of the best devices in the market. They’re affordable, have a great build quality to them, and are incredibly versatile in terms of gaming use cases. Clearly modeled after the classic Super Nintendo controller, the 8BitDo Pro 2 Bluetooth Controller has a comfortable and straightforward design and an ergonomic layout that makes it an excellent choice for a variety of different gaming genres.
It’s a highly customizable controller too, as players can switch between three different user-tailored controller profiles, button mapping, and a corresponding app to personalize it. And given its retro-inspired design, the 8BitDo Pro 2 controller is also a great fit for emulating classic 16-bit era video games.
8BitDo Ultimate Xbox Wired Controller
For those that might want a hybrid classic/modern controller experience, 8BitDo’s recent Ultimate Xbox Wired Controller could be a good fit. The controller is a mix of 8BitDo’s typical Super Nintendo-style controller with some of the form of the standard Xbox Core Controller.
Interestingly, the controller’s d-pad uses the typical 8BitDo style to complete this amalgamation. Aside from that, the 8BitDo Ultimate Xbox Wired Controller features all the enhancements that the Pro 2 model does — aside from a Bluetooth connection — from its re-mappable buttons, extra pair of back buttons, on-the-fly profile switching, and corresponding application.
PowerA Enhanced Wired Xbox Controller
Xbox’s Wireless Core Controller may have made itself an essential PC gaming accessory for many players, but company PowerA makes some solid alternatives with its take. 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, sturdy Xbox design that shouldn’t take fans of the first-party version by surprise, complete with a share button and a dial to toggle earbud/headphone audio. It also has some programmable buttons, and the controller comes in a fun and wide variety of different colors. The controller is great for its affordability, and players can choose the higher-tier Spectra line should they want more customizable options.
Many players would be forgiven for forgetting, but Valve has made its own first-party PC controller as well. The Steam Controller has an admittedly bizarre design and ergonomic layout but, somewhat similar to the Steam Deck itself, is surprisingly comfortable to use after acclimating to it.
This controller was originally designed to go hand-in-hand with the Steam Link — a game streaming hardware/software service — though, both it and the controller have since been discontinued. It features trackpads similar to the ones on the Steam Deck to mimic mouse inputs and button mapping software. Since the controller has been discontinued, buying one second-hand is the only option, but it’s something worth thinking about for enthusiast PC gamers.
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