Early Thoughts on the PlayStation DualSense Controller

Despite their popularity and influence on controller design at large, PlayStation controllers have never been my cup of tea. Though I’ve grown accustomed to the symmetrical analog stick layout of the DualShock controllers, I still prefer the asymmetrical Xbox style. I hated the mushy triggers on the DualShock 3. Also ran into a slew of durability issues with both of my DualShock 4 controllers, from plastic ripping off of the analog sticks, to shoulder buttons getting jammed, to awful battery life.

Needless to say that Sony had an uphill climb to win me over with the DualSense controller that comes with the PlayStation 5. Does it make enough improvements to win me over? Here are my thoughts after having spent a few days with it!

When I held it for the first time, two things immediately stood out: its weight and its shape. PlayStation controllers tend to be on the lighter side of scale to the point where they almost feel hollow. By comparison, the DualSense controller has been hitting the gym. Not only does have a bit more heft to it, but it also feels solid in a way that I really appreciate. My gut says it’s heavier due to the extra tech inside to make the new rumble and triggers work, but more on that later.

Another immediate difference is the general shape of the controller. The traditional DualShock grips are a bit more cylindrical in nature. With the DualSense, its outer edges are a bit more curvaceous, feeling a bit more like an Xbox controller. Though I don’t hate the general grip of the DualShock 4, I prefer the ergonomics of the DualSense better.

After getting the controller in my hands, I reached my thumbs towards the analog sticks. Though I won’t hold my breath of Sony embracing offset sticks like the Xbox, I do have serious concerns about them due to my lacklustre experience with the DualShock 4. Durability remains to be seen, but it feels like they’ve made a number of smart improvements to address past issues.

For one, it feels like the plastic being used is thicker and more rugged. Fingers crossed that it stands the test of time. Other changes include thicker outer rims with cross-hatching on the sticks for improved grip. During my initial tests, they feel great and I have no complaints.

The face buttons and d-pad feel nice and I have no complaints there. Between the analog stick are the menu button and a new mute button for your microphone. If you don’t have a mic plugged in, there’s a mic inside the controller itself that your console defaults to.

Having a built-in mic is a handy way of jumping into voice chat if you don’t already have one. However, its audio quality is hit-and-miss at best, especially if the controller is also emitting sounds from the built-in speaker and the controller’s noise canceling tech is in high gear. When this occurs, your voice will sound very muddy. Would recommend using any other microphone for the purposes of voice chat or streaming.

If we were to stop assessing the controller here, it stacks up very well against some of the best controllers out there. However, it still has two big tricks up its sleeve.

The controller’s key feature is its haptic feedback. Similar to the HD rumble on Nintendo Switch (that only worked in 1-2 Switch), the PlayStation 5 controller allows for a much more refined version of rumble. Astro’s Playroom is a shining example of what’s possible with the new rumble system. In one moment, the controller simulates the crunch of walking on snow. Then when your character slides on ice, the controller magically simulates that feeling too. It’s really trippy to get physical feedback in that level of detail!

Last but not least are its adaptive triggers. These buttons have the ability to change tension and throw to simulate in-game effects. In Astro’s Playroom, the lever at the gacha machine is pulled with the left trigger. But if you don’t have enough money, the tension is much tougher, rumbles, and is physically impossible to pull all the way. In a more practical example, the latest Call of Duty has custom trigger tunings for every gun in the game, further immersing you in the experience.

I want every game to use this tech going forward. Will it happen? I’m not sure. First party titles will likely support it, but the fact that Microsoft doesn’t have a controller with these party tricks makes me concerned that most games won’t support it. At the very least, Astro’s Playroom showed us a proof of concept and I want more.

Final thing of note is its battery life. The DualShock 4 featured abysmal battery life. It would die out basically once every other session. I know the DualSense has a battery that’s about 1.5 times the size of the DualShock 4 and it certainly feels like it lasts longer between charges. By no means does it have the endurance of the Nintendo Switch Pro Controller, but at least it will hold up for a reasonable amount of time.

Congratulations PlayStation! You finally won me over with one of your controllers. The DualSense is their best yet and arguably the best stock controller on the market. It does a great job of covering the essentials while its haptic feedback and adaptive triggers have the potential to take gaming to a new level of immersion. Fingers crossed that the controller holds up to standard wear-and-tear and that developers embrace its new features so that this controller can live up to its potential.

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