An amazing controller with some questionable decisions that ultimately do not affect it
We currently live in a world where you can get a control option that suits your preferences quite easily. There are, of course, first-party controllers from the major players – DualSense, Xbox Series controller, and Nintendo Switch Pro controller. They also have “pro” variants in DualSense Edge and Xbox Elite. Then there are third-party manufacturers that create licensed products compatible with one of these three systems while often being cross-compatible with PCs as well. And this is where true freedom starts. You can have traditional gamepads, arcade sticks, fighting controllers, leverless controllers, classic pads, or anything your heart may wish for.
One of the most famous companies that produces third-party licensed controllers is Thrustmaster. This French manufacturer is mainly known for its racing gear with various wheels, platforms, pedals, shifters, and more, as well as flying controllers with rudders and yokes, HOTASes, and much more. But Thrustmaster is also producing quite highly rated controllers for us regular gamers. They were kind enough to send us their newest Thrustmaster ESWAP X2 PRO Xbox and PC controller to review, and I approached it from the standpoint of a fighting games player.
The first thing that catches your eye when you unbox this gamepad is, of course, its modularity. That’s actually the main selling point of this lineup – you can rearrange three of the four slots in any way you can, and these modules are hot-swappable. Additionally, you can add different parts – Thrustmaster has additional modules on offer, like additional buttons if you’re an FGC member or even a racing wheel for your arcade racing needs (I highly recommend a regular wheel for any sim racer instead). I’m partial to the PlayStation-style layout, so I instantly rearranged the left analog stick and the d-pad to suit my liking. These modules are magnetic and quite easy to swap, but they’re not loose, and you won’t even notice they're not built-in during your gameplay.
Build quality, in general, is quite awesome – even the removable magnetic side panels sit quite flush and never move or create any kind of discomfort.
One additional noticeable trait of this controller is its quite large size. I have relatively small hands and it feels like it’s on the very edge of being uncomfortable for me to use. People with smaller hands than me could struggle to use it well, especially since the additional back buttons are located centrally, unlike the paddles on something like Xbox Elite, so a bit of a reach is required.
As a consequence of its size, it’s also quite heavy – It’s easily the heaviest controller I own – and I have a DualSense, DualShock 3, DualShock 4, Xbox One controller, Nintendo Pro controller, and 8BitDo Pro 2. While not uncomfortable by any means, this is something you should still keep in mind, as your wrists may experience additional tension during extended periods of play.
The feature I liked the most, by far, is the ESWAP X2 PRO’s mechanical face buttons. Thrustmaster claims they’re much faster to respond than their membrane counterparts, as mechanical micro-switches in the 1, 2, 3, and 4 buttons are responsive and take less time being pressed and unpressed. I wouldn’t say the difference is critical, but I noticed a distinct improvement in my EWGFs as Mishimas in Tekken 8 – a move that requires precise, frame-perfect inputs.
The quality of the d-pad also helps with this, as it has the same micro-switches for the actuations, and the surface of the cross-section itself is much more fighting game friendly, as it was made in collaboration with Motoki "Kaan" Takeda, a professional Street Fighter player from Japan. The surface is now wavy and smooth, unlike the jagged edges of the ESWAP X PRO buttons.
What’s weird about this d-pad is that there’s actually quite a bit of travel before the button is pressed. It doesn’t affect the functionality in any meaningful way, and neither does it alter the amount of force you need to apply to press the button – it just feels extremely weird the first time you use the controller.
Another cool addition to this controller is the option to half the travel time of the trigger buttons by using the physical switches on the back. Technically, these half-triggers were made with the FPS players in mind so that they’re able to shoot much faster without the need of pressing the button all the way, but it also benefits us fighting game players all the same – as fast inputs are just as important in our genre as they are in the shooters.
One thing to note is that the ESWAP X2 PRO is a wired controller, and it’s so that you can shave those milliseconds of input lag and weight of the Bluetooth chip. It also has a headphone passthrough jack and the ability to control your volume using the bottom buttons on the left.
Buttons on the right control your profiles (you can pick from two) and also allow you to map your buttons without the use of the software. This option, along with the software itself, is my biggest disappointment with this controller, as you can only duplicate preexisting buttons when assigning them to the ones on the back; you can’t pick combinations like 8BitDo’s software would allow. Those buttons aren’t recognized as separate ones either, so you can’t assign your throws or your Heat activation in Tekken 8 to them either. This is clearly just a software limitation, and hopefully, somewhere down the line, it will be addressed. More options equal more better.
But how does it perform in daily usage, you may ask? Honestly, excellent. I’ve been playing a variety of games with it – Tekken 8, Street Fighter 6, Forza Horizon 4, Elden Ring, The Witcher 3, Hades – and it felt good in each and every one of them. There have been complaints from various users about the quality of the analog sticks and their jitter and drift, but as of now we had no issues, and only time will tell if they will arise. I did test them in the gamepad tester software, and the circularity test shows a higher error percentage than usual, but that’s simply because of the boundary implementation.
Now, the ultimate question is, how good is the value proposition? The Thrustmaster ESWAP X2 PRO controller isn’t cheap, coming in at $169.99. What you need to ask yourself is, do you see yourself buying into this modularity? Do you require the ability to rearrange the d-pad and the analog stick? Do you want to be able to add more buttons or even the wheel? Is the customizability of its visual side something you need? If the answer to these questions is “yes,” then $169.99 is more than a fair value for what this controller offers.