Stratus XL Wireless Controller Review – High-Quality Headache

Stratus XL Wireless Controller Review

It’s been a long and lovely road, but here we are at part three of my three-part series on whether or not SteelSeries still makes good gaming hardware. For the last stop on our journey, we’ll be looking at the SteelSeries Stratus XL wireless controller. How does it look? How does it feel? Is it worth your money? Let’s find out together.

The Stratus borrows some design highlights from Microsoft and Xbox. The controller’s shape and button placement are all very familiar. Which, in some ways, is a bonus. If you’re an Xbox gamer by trade, the Stratus is going to feel like an old friend. There are some small differences, such as the placement of the d-pad, but by and large, this feels like a Microsoft controller. The materials used are solid, with nothing coming off as cheap or flimsy. Each of the L and R buttons (including the ones built into the analog sticks) feel like high-quality components, though L2 and R2 have to be depressed all the way to register any input. The d-pad is another area where the Stratus imitates the Xbox 360 model to great effect. Multi-directional input is smooth and simple with this pad. Weight-wise, this controller feels terrific. There’s just enough heft to reinforce that sense of quality one expects from decent hardware. But how does it play?


“If you’re an Xbox gamer by trade, the Stratus is going to feel like an old friend.”

I immediately ran into a problem when trying to test out this controller. There’s no master list of compatible titles and no way to know before firing up a game whether the Stratus XL is going to work. In theory, this hardware should take over for the x-inputs normally reserved for the standard Xbox model most games are already compatible with. However, I didn’t have a lot of success in this area. Most games with controller support simply refused to see the Stratus at all, or they were waiting patiently for input from an Xbox controller. Perhaps one in five indie titles would work, with a slightly lower compatibility rate for more mainstream games. One notable exception was the Sonic franchise. Not Sega titles in general, but Sonic games. This held true whether I was playing them on PC or android. With the other SteelSeries products I tested, functionality increased after the proper software was installed. Not so with the Stratus XL. I was given access to a host of options for modification, but these didn’t pertain to game compatibility. I investigated a number of forums and FAQs in order to increase my success rate. In a bid to correct the problem once and for all, I gave my PC the bluetooth treatment. Certain games worked properly, while some games only enjoyed partial compatibility. There were still holdouts that refused to function altogether, though these were somewhat less frequent than before.

SteelSeries Back to School stratus xl

To that same end, when I was able to find a compatible title, the Stratus XL performed admirably. Input speed was timely and precise, with no sluggish reactions to speak of. All of the Sonic games I played, when they worked, did so beautifully. The 3D games still controlled in their charming, janky fashion, but this is nothing to do with the hardware I was using. I have an enormous backlog of games on Steam that I’ve been reinstalling one by one, simply to do more extensive testing of this controller. Ideally, this hardware is compatible with any Steam games that feature full controller support. Assuming my experiences represent an anomaly rather than the norm, there is a pretty wide range of titles that work with the Stratus.


“Compatibility is a huge issue when it comes to gaming hardware.”

Compatibility is a huge issue when it comes to gaming hardware. There’s no point in having the best components on the market if the games don’t work with your product. Perhaps this is a problem with me, specifically. I’m an obsessive consumer of indie titles, with little time to spare for AAA hits. There’s hardly a handful of big studio games on my hard drive, let alone any from the last three years. So maybe there are games out there better suited for this controller. But on the other hand, I tested a lot of games. Titles that came out after this controller was released. Indie games, yes, but new ones nonetheless. If you’ve got the games, then this is a wise investment. Especially if your computer comes loaded with full bluetooth functionality. The wireless feature is convenient for anyone whose gaming rig is setup in a larger room. If you’re using the Stratus with an android device it’s even better. The disproportionate amount of time I spent finding games that worked was a sour note, but when it worked, the Stratus XL worked like a dream. It may not surpass the standard set by Microsoft and Xbox, but the Stratus can easily meet it.

***Stratus XL Wireless Controller was provided by the manufacturer***

The Good

  • High-quality design
  • Functions as well as an Xbox controller
  • Software has lots of customization options

The Bad

  • Compatibility list doesn’t exist
  • Non-bluetooth operation feels clunky
  • A less-convenient version of a 360 controller