Hardware Review: Thrustmaster eSwap X Pro Controller

21 Dec 2020

For most people, the controller that comes packed in with their gaming console is all they will ever need. After all, it’s the controller a console is built to work with – why would they need anything but the standard?

But for some, they want more out of their controller. More buttons, customization options, a different feel…whatever it may be, there’s certainly a market for a more “advanced” option. An option these gamers are willing to pay a premium for.

For those looking for a high-end option, Thrustmaster is more than happy to provide. Mostly known for their racing wheels and flight sticks, the company also offers up a number of premium gamepad options. The one we’re looking at today is built for the Xbox Series X|S and PC. This is a platform where Microsoft already offers a first-party premium option, the Xbox Elite Controller, so the question is how does a third-party entry stand up?

Launched globally on November 17th, 2020, we’ve spent the last few weeks putting Thrustmaster’s eSwap X Pro Controller to the test. Let’s see how it fares!

Swap ‘Til You Drop

From a glance, the eSwap X just plain looks like a premium controller. It doesn’t do anything flashy to stand out – no bright neon plastic casing, no extra lights or any kind of RGB, it makes a simple statement in black with flashes of silver. As a fan of subdued aesthetics in my peripherals, this controller ticks that box.

That premium appearance continues over to the feel once the controller is picked up. The eSwap X certainly has a bit of heft to it, and you aren’t going to throw this controller in gaming rage without breaking something. At $160 MSRP, though, I wouldn’t recommend doing so anyways (…nor would I recommend throwing any controller, but I know it can happen).

This is a pretty beefy controller as well. I have fairly large hands, and when holding most controllers, my pinky fingers are typically left with nowhere to grip. Not so on this controller; the grips on here fill my hands completely, giving me a nice solid hold on the whole thing.

The eSwap X has all of the buttons one would expect from an Xbox controller, as well as four additional ones on the backside (which has become a fairly standard option in the third-party and premium controller market recently). The buttons are positioned perfectly right under my middle fingers…but, admittedly, I have fairly long fingers as well, likely from years of playing the piano. I can imagine that this controller won’t be the best option for those with smaller hands or shorter digits.

With everyone doing rear buttons now, though, Thrustmaster had to include a new gimmick to stand out. With the eSwap X, as inferred by the name, that comes in the form of modularity. The analogue sticks and D-pad can all be swapped around and replaced, notably allowing this Xbox controller to be used with a PlayStation-style analogue layout. Swapping these units is fairly easy, as they’re all held in their slots on the controller with magnets. The controller does come with a small tool to help make removing the D-pad easier, although it can still be pulled out by getting your fingernails under the directional buttons.

I can’t say the same about swapping the triggers, though. Rather than magnets, the triggers are held in place with incredibly small screws. The controller comes with small Phillips-head screwdriver, but it doesn’t seem to be magnetic, making the screws easy to drop and lose when detaching or reattaching triggers.

To support this modularity, of course, Thrustmaster also has customization kits available. Currently two “color kits” are available, which include new analogue sticks, a D-pad, grips, and triggers in either blue or green. The green kit I used let me add a dash of color to the controller without making it look too gaudy…although I can’t say I was a fan of the camo-patterned grips included in these kits.

Click Away Your Troubles

Considering I haven’t gotten my hands on an Xbox Series X|S, our testing of the eSwap X was done entirely on PC. The controller has plug and play functionality, although Thustmaster does offer its “Thrustmapper X” software to customize the controller…which I highly recommend downloading (more on that later).

I put the controller to work through multiple games to test different aspects:

  • Unto the End, a 2D-based game, to test the D-pad.
  • Aaero, a rhythm shooter, to test the analogue sticks and triggers.
  • Ys Origin, an action-RPG, to test intense button mashing.

For any controller, first- or third-party, the D-pad is always a critical point for me. With as much as I play 2D titles, it can make or break a controller, and I am happy to report that the D-pad on the eSwap X is excellent. Honestly, it’s one of the best I’ve used in a long time.

The D-pad here is a single piece (rather than four individual buttons), with a rather short throw distance and a satisfying click when used. Unto the End demands precision from the player in both movement and action, and I didn’t once have any inputs dropped or held for too long. The short throw and quick triggering also meant less stress on my thumb, compared to other controllers I’ve tried with stiffer D-pads.

The face buttons are built much the same way: short throw, satisfying click. Hammering away at them during Ys Origin was almost satisfying in a way. Thrustmaster rates these buttons for five-million clicks over the controller’s lifespan, and considering they’re one of the only parts of the controller that can’t be replaced through modularity, that seems more than reasonable.

Loading up Aaero to test the analogue sticks…again, I’m impressed. The sticks feel great to use, are highly responsive even with the default dead zones, and recenter mostly reliably (although I did notice in Ys Origin, when letting the stick fling back to neutral, it would occasionally register an input in the opposite direction it sprung back from). The Thrustmapper software allows adjustment of dead zones and sensitivity, but I didn’t find myself having to fiddle around with these settings at all.

The analogue triggers are much the same, feeling solid with great out-of-the-box sensitivity which can also be adjusted in the software. The controller itself also includes switches on the back to change the function of the triggers from full throw to short clicks a la the Switch’s JoyCons.

Really, my entire time using the eSwap X left me with an incredibly positive opinion on it…except for one really annoying bug. In most every game I played, if something happened to activate rumble in the controller, the rumble would not stop until I either quit the game or unplugged the controller. Great if you’re looking for a hand massage, less great if you’re actually want to use the controller.

This is why I recommend downloading the Thrustmapper X software, as it allows adjustment of the controller’s vibration functions. Once installed, rumble returned to working as intended…except in a few games, where I still had infinite rumble issues. I had to turn off the rumble via the Thrustmapper program in these situations, an annoyance, but a major one considering the premium price on this product.

A couple of final notes. Firstly, the eSwap X is only available as a wired controller. While this doesn’t affect me much using it exclusively on PC, I still have to wonder why Thrustmaster couldn’t have included wireless functionality at the $160 price point. Also, the Thrustmapper software is not included with the controller. If you go to Thrustmaster’s website to download it, you’ll likely end up with the wrong version of the software, built for PS4 controllers. The software for this controller, Thrustmapper X, is found in the Microsoft Store on PC, and I find it odd that it appears to only be available there.

Great Despite the Buzz

When I’m spending a premium price for a peripheral, I expect perfection. In the case of the eSwap X, it comes so damn close to it. Nearly every bit of it left me impressed, if it wasn’t for the rumble bug that I experienced. While it was mostly fixed by downloading the Thrustmapper X software, it still left a sour taste in my mouth.

That nagging yet fixable issue, though, isn’t enough for me to tell anyone to avoid this controller option in the premium market. Everything else about this controller is truly excellent, and it has now become my daily driver for games requiring a gamepad on PC.

So long as you have no qualms installing some new software on your system (and I know there’s some out there that do), if you’re in the market for a high-end gamepad, this is one I wouldn’t overlook.

~ Final Score: 9/10 ~

Review units provided by Thrustmaster.