I finally bought an Elite Dangerous HOTAS and I might dare to call it my best hardware purchase of the year.

I’m by no means an expert when it comes to Elite Dangerous. In fact, with a grand total of 10 hours of game time before writing this post, it’s fair to say I’m pretty fresh when it comes to ED. Nine of those 10 hours were spent struggling with the controls in some way or another. I started with a mouse and keyboard (“How hard could it be?”) then graduated (forcibly) to using a Bluetooth gamepad; this got me closer, but I gave up in frustration before long.

Enter the Elite Dangerous HOTAS

More than a year on, one of my friends finally convinced me to splash out on an Elite Dangerous HOTAS. “HOTAS” is an acronym for “Hands On Throttle-And-Stick” and really makes you feel like you’re in the cockpit. It’s a little intimidating, but I found within minutes of using it that I was in for a smoother ride – literally – this time around.

I’ve joined the legion of gamers that have purchased a HOTAS for the sole reason of playing ED. There’s pretty much one go-to model: Thrustmaster T-Flight Hotas X Flight Stick . My previous reference to “splashing out” was a bit of an overstatement; the Thrustmaster is a steal and comes very highly rated.

The top five HOTAS setups on Amazon are shown below.

Bestseller No. 1
Thrustmaster T.16000M FCS HOTAS Controller
  • The T.16000M FCS HOTAS is compatible with PC via USB in Windows 10, 8, 7 and Vista (32-bit and 64-bit)
  • 16 action buttons with braille - style physical button identification
  • Exclusive precision:Hall Effect accurate technology 3D (Hall Effect) magnetic sensors located on the Stick (us patent: Us08471815)
  • 4 independent axes, including twist rudder (controlled by rotating the Stick)
  • 14 action buttons + 8-way POV hat: two 4-Way switches + 3 buttons + one 2-position Slider + 1 push mini-stick + one 8-way point of view hat switch
SaleBestseller No. 2
Thrustmaster T-Flight Hotas X Flight Stick
  • Wide hand-rest for optimal comfort
  • Programmable: the 12 buttons and 5 axles are entirely programmable
  • Dual-system aerodynamic control: by rotating handle (with integrated blocking system) or by progressive tilting lever
  • Internal memory: to save all of your programming, even with the joystick disconnected
  • High-precision joystick with adjustable resistance
Bestseller No. 3
Thrustmaster T.Flight Hotas 4 Flight Stick for PS4 & PC
  • Ready for takeoff with adjustable stick resistance, real-size detachable throttle, dual rudder system and built-in PS4/PC sliding switch; Realistic joystick is designed to adapt to all types of flights (aerial combat, space adventure, civil flight, etc.)
  • Adjustable stick resistance with large hand rest; Dual rudder system: by rotating handle (with integrated locking system) or by progressive tilting lever.
  • Comprehensive flight gear: 5 axes + 12 action buttons + 1 rapid fire trigger + 1 multidirectional hat switch (navigation / panoramic view)
  • PC compatibility (Windows 10/8/7/Vista/XP) ensured thanks to Thrust master drivers available for download from our website; Internal memory and upgradeable firmware via the PC drivers
Bestseller No. 4
Logitech G Pro Flight X56 Rhino HOTAS
  • Military-grade Space and Flight Sim Precision: The X-56 Rhino delivers a multitude of customizable options including all the control surface options required to achieve the exact level of performance that aspiring combat pilots demand
  • New Mini Analog Stick Control Surfaces: Control pitch, roll, yaw, backwards, forwards, up, down, left and right as well as gimballed weapons that are controlled separately from the space craft
  • RGB Backlighting: Many PC peripherals now feature RGB backlighting and the X-56 is no exception. Use the software to set the color of the lighting to match the rest of your gaming rig
  • Ideal for VR: The X-56 places controls perfectly under your fingers where subtle distinctions in button feel and shape help you navigate the control set with ease.
  • Fully Featured HOTAS: Accurate 16-bit aileron and elevator axis with hall-effect sensors. Adjustable Stick Force via Advanced 4-Spring System. Twin Throttles with Friction Adjuster and Throttle Lock
Bestseller No. 5
Thrustmaster T-Flight Stick X Flight Stick - PC
  • Wide Hand rest For Perfect Comfort
  • Fully Programmable 12 Buttons & 4 Axis
  • Does Not Include Games Exclusively Controlled By The Motion-sensor Function
  • Precise Joystick With Adjustable Resistance Control
  • Mapping Button Allows Users To Instantly Relocate Functions From 1 Button To Another

Last update on 2017-11-19 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API

Configuring for Elite Dangerous

With the number of buttons and axes available in a HOTAS, combined with the complexity of controls in ED, configuration can seem an insurmountable challenge, especially if you just want an easy way to play the game (like me). Luckily, many others have already figured it out. You can find a vast number of “bindings” files pre-configured – just Google something sensible.

I went with a this bindings file and performed the edits below. The edited version is available here. Note that I didn’t configure this bindings file; it was something I picked up from the official Frontier Forums and have stored for posterity.

Elite Dangerous HOTAS - Bindings diagram
Elite Dangerous HOTAS – Bindings diagram for linked .binds file. Google diagram available here.

Note that I actually have Elite Dangerous: Horizons , for which the linked file was created, but I don’t imagine there’s too much difference between bindings compared to the base game.

Step-by-Step Bindings Installation Guide

  1. Download the bindings file. The file will have the extension .binds.
  2. If you’re using the file linked above (and I recommend that you do) you need to manually edit a single line. You can edit by right-clicking the file and opening it in a plain text editor such as Notepad. The second line will start <Root PresetName="TMHotasXModsSM"… and will contain a MajorVersion and MinorVersion. The MajorVersion needs to be set to "2" and the MinorVersion to "0" so that the full line will look like: <Root PresetName="TMHotasXModsSM" MajorVersion="2" MinorVersion="0">
  3. Copy the bindings file to C:\Users\<Username>\AppData\Local\Frontier Developments\Elite Dangerous\Options\Bindings.
  4. Rename the bindings file so that the version 1.8 in the name is changed to 2.0.
  5. Make sure to select the TMHotasXModsSM preset in the in-game Controls menu.

And you’re done!

HOTAS Installation Debug

The Thrustmaster claims to be plug-and-play, but if it’s not working, you might want to try the following:

  • Use one of the rear USB ports in your computer; the front one probably won’t work.
  • Make sure the “Home” button on the front of the HOTAS is green by pressing it.
  • Make sure the HOTAS is configured for PC if you’re using it on the PC. (It’s also got a PS3 mode but, come on.)
  • If it’s still not working, download and install the latest drivers from the Thrustmaster website.

This should be all you need to do.

Acclimitisation

There is still some learning to do when it comes to using the Elite Dangerous HOTAS. There are so many ways to control your spacecraft in ED that it would be silly to think otherwise. The advantage is that pretty much everything is at your fingertips thanks to the ergonomic design of the system. The training missions will give advice according to the new bindings so it will tell you which actual buttons to press; you won’t have to be constantly referring to the controls menu.

What does take a little getting used to is button combinations. There are four buttons within reach of your left thumb (on the “throttle”) which can be held before pressing some other button with your right hand (on the “stick”) to perform an action. Thinking about the buttons on the throttle as a modifier (in a similar way to CTRL, ALT, or SHIFT on a keyboard) can help you get used to these combinations. Indeed, with a couple of hours of practice, the bindings for the HOTAS were sticking with me in a way that the mouse and keyboard or gamepad weren’t.

Hat-Switch Hat Trick

One thing I particularly like about the Thrustmaster is the tiny control pad on the head of the joystick, called a hat-switch. This can be used to navigate menus instead of a mouse or the arrow keys. But there are two functions that I particularly enjoy using it for:

  • fine adjustment when docking – with one of the aforementioned modifiers, you can use this pad to thrust in the x-y plane;
  • quick power redistribution between system, engine, and weapons.

This latter function in particular really struck me. There is a lot of power in being able to balance your subsystems in the middle of a dogfight, but this wasn’t really feasible with the other control methods. The HOTAS lets you do it, and let me tell you: it’s brilliant.

Verdict

I wish I’d got one of these sooner. If I had, I might not have shelved ED so quickly the first time. Just do yourself a favour and get one!


Have you got a favourite HOTAS? A particular bindings file? Some other way of playing Elite Dangerous? Let me know in the comments or on Twitter. If you want notifications for more simulation game related articles, consider subscribing to Odin Gaming.

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