Microsoft's controller dominance is going to being tested by Sony this next-generation with the PS5 DualSense. It's a departure from the DualShock lineup that focuses more on immersion and "a sense of touch" through improved haptic feedback and adaptive triggers. The company could have easily rested on its laurels and been content with a slightly revised DualShock 4, but they didn't. Sony wasn't complacent in its design, nor with the technology it packed into the DualSense.
Here are what I see as the five aspects of the PS5 DualSense where we see notable improvement over what the Xbox Series X controller has to offer.
Adaptive triggers could easily be a marketing gimmick or an innovative idea that future generations of controllers follow. I like to believe it's the latter. Sony is taking rumble technology in each trigger to the next level.
With adaptive triggers, players will supposedly be able to feel different levels of tension and resistance based on what actions they are performing in-game, a common example used being that of drawing a bowstring. This further adds to the immersion that the DualSense controller can deliver.
It's impossible to know whether developers will take advantage of this feature and how useful it will actually be, but Bethesda's Pete Hines has said on Twitter that the adaptive triggers are impressive, and that he thinks "games are gonna do some really cool things with them."
Okay, hear me out: the touchpad on the DualShock 4 was a monumental failure. Practically no developer used it as it was intended. Where it fails as a touch/motion interface, it succeeds at being something so simple: a regular button. It actually may be one of my favorite buttons on the DualShock 4, and the more I think about it, the more I'm weirdly happy it's being kept on the DualSense. It acts as a giant Start button that almost all games use for their menus in some capacity. On either side, it's flanked by the Create button and Options button, separating them a distance, so you aren't accidentally pressing one over the other. It's all muscle memory now: Create on the left, touchpad in the middle, Options on the right — though I'm less of a fan of how they're labeled as symbols on the DualSense.
The Xbox One, and soon Xbox Series X controller, have two buttons on the face that act as Start and Options, which are called View and Menu. To this day, I cannot tell you which button is on the left or right. I know one has three horizontal lines, and another has two boxes overlapping, but which one is which is beyond me. I'm continuously pressing the wrong buttons even after six years of use. I'll sometimes even need to look down at my Xbox controller just to make sure I'm pressing the right button. That's never ideal, but it's never a problem on the DualShock 4's touchpad. I doubt it will be a problem with the DualSense either.
Before I get into this one, I want to make it clear that I know the Xbox Series X has a Share button now just like the DualShock 4 did. I'm putting the Create button here because Sony indicates that it is "pioneering new ways for players to create epic gameplay content to share with the world, or just to enjoy for themselves." This sounds like more than a simple Share button to me.
To be fair, we haven't seen exactly how the Share button on the Xbox Series X works yet, and Sony hasn't fully detailed what the Create button can do either. Still, I think at this point, I think it's fair to say that whatever Sony has up its sleeve is more than what Microsoft plans to be offering, judging from initial statements.
After adding a speaker on the DualShock 4, Sony is going a step further and adding a built-in microphone on the DualSense. Sure, it's not practical for long gaming sessions, but it is a nice option to have if you want to send a friend a quick audio message or hop into a party for a few minutes without trying to find your actual headset.
I think the earbuds that Sony includes with the PlayStation 4 are awful compared to the (admittedly cheap) chat headset Microsoft packages with its console. This certainly doesn't replace them, and I'm hoping that Sony includes a better headset this time around, but it definitely makes voice chat more accessible for some people.
As if there was ever any doubt, the DualSense will include an internal battery that charges via USB-C. Microsoft is still letting players choose between AA batteries or rechargeable battery packs (sold separately) for the Xbox Series X controller, and while the company says this was based on player feedback of wanting more choices, it's an archaic design decision. Please just leave the AA batteries in the past. If you want to charge your Xbox Series X controller, you'll need a rechargeable battery pack sold separately and a USB-C to USB-A cable since the console does not have a USB-C port.
Still too many unknowns
We know a lot more about the Xbox Series X controller than the PS5 DualSense, so we need to wait until Sony details its controller further before making any final calls. I'm cautiously excited for the DualSense, however. No matter which console (and controller) you end up getting, there's no doubt they'll both be great.