There’s nothing better than jamming a PC joystick around as you explore the vast galaxy of Elite Dangerous, fly through the sights of Microsoft Flight Simulator, and blast apart enemy ships in Star Wars Squadrons. The best PC joysticks link you with the game and give you way better control than you’d get on a keyboard and mouse.
We also recommend a good wireless gaming keyboard and gaming mouse combo since it’s a good way to navigate a game’s menu during one of your ‘flights.’ But a joystick is the building block for setting up a home cockpit. Serious flight sims are played best with a HOTAS (Hands-On Throttle and Stick), which can be a bit of an investment, but once you’re set up, it’s near impossible to even think about playing a flight sim without one.
Easy is the name of the game; the joysticks on this list all require minimal setup, though if you’re looking for the full cockpit experience, and more importantly, have the finances, by all means check out the likes of VKB and Virpil. You can customize your setup to the nth degree with either of those super-premium manufacturers, but you will have to pay through the nose.
So, here’s a list of our favorite PC joysticks, ones we’ve personally tested over the years, and ones we think will make a real difference to the experience of most PC gamers.
Best PC joystick
The Thrustmaster Warthog is hands-down the best PC joystick you can buy. It’s beautifully made, looks like it was ripped straight out of an A-10, and comes with an industrial-strength that means the only thing left in our post-apocalyptic future will be a bunch of cockroaches trying to figure out how to use these sticks.
Sure, it’s an expensive unit, but you will know your money’s been well spent as soon as you lift the lid on the packaging and pull the setup out. The stick alone weighs a kilo even before it’s been screwed down onto the solid, wide metal base. That’s something to behold, but the throttle is something else.
It is one of the finest pieces of PC peripheral engineering I’ve ever experienced. Its casing is entirely made of metal and festooned with buttons. And not just buttons either; extra hat switches adorn the throttle itself, one that can be split in two should you need discrete control, and there are a host of toggles and metal flick switches too. I will honestly just sit there idly flipping switches even when the thing’s unplugged, so satisfying is the action.
All that weight means it practically sticks to your desk as you fling your Cobra MkIII around in Elite: Dangerous like a BSG Viper, and if you’re so inclined, the drill holes are there if you want to make it a permanent addition too. It feels great to use in-game, too, providing you with all the possible control permutations you could need without ever having to go near your keyboard again.
The only slight miss, and one that owes to its A-10C Warthog replica status, is the lack of Z-rotation on the stick to offering rudder control. However, that’s easily mapped onto any number of extra hat switches or even extra analog joysticks.
The Warthog was originally released over ten years ago now and yet is still the best you can buy. This explains why the price has steadily crept up since then too. But trust me, if you’re serious about the best PC joystick, this is it, and once you pick it up, you’ll never think about its price again.
An update to the aging X55, the Logitech X56 HOTAS improves nearly every aspect of the older Saitek design, but it still has many of the same features that made its predecessor great. The throttle can be unlocked to provide inputs for left and right engines individually. The throttle panel also hosts an entire series of metal switches and knobs that feel absolutely awesome.
I was a bit disappointed to find out that the metal top plate on both the flight stick and throttle doesn’t extend to the base and that both the stick and throttle are composed mostly of plastic. The hardware still feels sturdy, but the seam running along the joystick handle is a bit jarring given the quality present on the rest of the build.
The entire setup for the X56 is deceptively light. While it does come with suction cups that can be attached to the base for increased stability, without them, I found the stick and throttle far too eager to slip around on my desk. However, for those inclined to make this indulgence a more permanent part of their setup, the X56 has holes present in its bases to allow you to affix it to nearly any surface with the appropriate hardware.
Featuring adjustable stick tension and over 180 programmable controls, this throttle and joystick combo is a quality setup. It’s not quite in the same league as the Warthog, but it is a little cheaper. If you’re ready to kick tires and light fires, the X56 is a good way to go.
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With the arrival of Microsoft Flight Simulator and Star Wars: Squadrons last year, we saw a sonic boom in interest for compatible flight sticks. The Thrustmaster TCA Sidestick Airbus edition arrived just in time… and swiftly sold out. But it’s back now and a solid upgrade for any wannabe long-haul pilot looking to ditch the controller for Microsoft Flight Simulator.
It’s good for other games, of course, but as a piece of officially licensed Airbus kit, it feels best suited to the flight sim of the moment. With that in mind, it features a fluid and responsive control with a comfortable stick bolted on for long-haul flights. The joystick can also be reconfigured to your liking with a modular design, making this stick particularly friendly to lefties. There are a heap of buttons within reach to keep shortcuts accessible at an instant, too; we wish there were some clear indication which button was which—it can be tough to track down ‘button 14’ in a bind, especially if you have flying skills are a little rusty.
But kick in for the full kit, and you can divvy up even more shortcuts to the throttle quadrant module ripped right out of an A320—they got the color spot on, anyways. Baby blue isn’t my first choice for gaming PC accessories, but I suppose it’s a change from the standard black garb.
And when the Thrustmaster TCA Sidestick comes in at £69 in the UK, and the complete set at £154 (the TCA Quadrant throttle is actually pricier than the stick itself), you can hardly bash it for price. The Thrustmaster T.Flight Hotas X below is a more affordable alternative. Still, if you can splash out on this more airworthy kit, then the Thrustmaster TCA Sidestick Airbus edition won’t let you down.
The Thrustmaster T.Flight HOTAS X is a testament that you don’t have to spend a fortune to get a good stick. It’s a much cheaper build and design than the Warthog, but for a tenth of the ticket price, you can forgive the use of plastic and lack of buttons and hats.
The key elements are there. The detachable throttle is probably the neatest feature: given that you’re going to need easy access to your keyboard for its extra buttons, being able to split these components around it is a definite advantage.
It’s also got the much-needed Z-axis rotation for rudder control, although the press of a switch will enable you to operate the rudder via a rocker on the front of the throttle grip. You get plenty of programmable buttons too, but they feel very much the sort you’d expect to find on a budget controller.
The action on the stick and throttle aren’t great either, and you’ll likely notice some graunching plastic noises as you push and pull the controller around. But it’s still robust and feels solid on the desk. This is an excellent value pick if you can’t convince yourself that an X56 or Warthog is a sensible purchase.
The best joystick FAQ
Aren’t there any cheap joysticks?
You can spend the sort of money generally reserved for a new graphics card on a decent stick. But it can be possible to get an experience that’s very close but for a fraction of the price. However, it can be tricky at times.
Prices of joysticks increased dramatically at the end of 2020, which meant even the cheaper end of the market got pricey as stock disappeared. The market is slowly returning to normal now, though, so have another look around if you’ve been previously frustrated.
Do I need a separate throttle control?
For serious simulation, you’re going to need some level of throttle control. This is the biggest thing that separates the joypad from a flight stick setup, and the granularity of speed it delivers when dogfighting can mean the difference between virtual life and virtual death. So that’s number one: make sure your stick comes with a decent throttle.
But that doesn’t mean you need a separate one, no. However, the best and most respected flight controllers have entirely separate control for the throttle, with extra toggle switches and LEDs. Others, such as the AV8R, have the throttle control built onto the base of the stick itself. So long as there’s a decent amount of travel in the throttle, you’ll have a good level of control in-game.
How many buttons do I need?
Some of the controllers in this test have gone overboard on that front. But sims do demand many different controls, and having them all directly to hand can be beneficial. Just don’t forget that your trusty keyboard can make up for any buttons lacking on your controller. You will need at least four buttons arrayed around the stick itself and, ideally, a hat switch on the top of it.
What should I watch out for a space flightstick?
Maybe it’s time we spoke about the Z-axis. Traditional joysticks have pitch and roll control—forward, back, left, and right—but some are configured for 3D movement. That means as well as controlling the X and Y axis; you can also twist the stick clockwise or anti-clockwise to control the Z-axis. Generally, this is used to control yaw and replicate the rudder controls of an aircraft.
In space, that three-dimensional control can be vital for accuracy, especially when you’re zeroing in behind an escaping Sidewinder in an Elite dogfight. It is sorely missed on a stick with other controls that can mimic the rudder but on budget sticks that allow no such added control.
What does HOTAS stand for?
This exciting acronym stands for the rather mundane-sounding ‘Hands-On Throttle And Stick’ and denotes a dual controller where one hand rests permanently on the throttle and the other remains on the stick.
What is a Hat Switch on a joystick?
A hat switch is a multi-directional button akin to the d-pad on a controller. However, on a flight stick, the d-pad has a hat on top, which the thumb can easily push to activate the switches. They come in 4-way or 8-way flavors.