WTF? Play World of Warcraft with an Xbox 360 controller

Originally posted on GGL Wire 10/16/07.

Playing WoW with an Xbox controller.

The latest utility from Xfire lets you play World of Warcraft with an Xbox 360 controller.

Blue Orb, Inc. today announced Switchblade, a software package designed to allow gamers to play Blizzard’s massively popular World of Warcraft using an Xbox 360 controller. SwitchBlade is available today for download for free exclusively from Xfire.

SwitchBlade is an easy-to-use application that brings a fully configured game controller interface to any PC game. Once SwitchBlade is installed, it provides a console gaming experience for the gamer looking for a new way to play popular PC games. The first game supported by SwitchBlade is World of Warcraft. Preconfigured key bindings map the Xbox 360 controller buttons to the most commonly used World of Warcraft controls.

Now let me just say that it’s barely possible to control WoW with a keyboard and mouse. The WoW interface is very well designed, for an MMORPG — but it’s not precisely friendly to console controllers. Then again, EA was able to create a console version of the real-time strategy game Battle for Middle Earth II; I didn’t believe it was possible to effectively control an RTS with a controller, but I was wrong.

I decided to try out WoW using SwitchBlade and a wired 360 controller.

Plugging in my controller.

Installing SwitchBlade was a bitch, and took me over an hour. First, you have to have Xfire installed and running to even download the file. I guess making this download available only within Xfire is somehow good for Xfire, but it’s not good for the user. The download time was very slow, and the whole thing would have been easier was a web download.

During the SwitchBlade installation, the installer required updates for .Net and Direct X, as well as the special drivers to use an Xbox peripheral on your PC. There was an error on the Direct X install, and I tried to install it directly from the Microsoft site. Then SwitchBlade crashed on start-up. I uninstalled SwitchBlade and updated all my Windows updates and SP2 files; then I reinstalled SwitchBlade. At that point, the Xbox drivers needed an update.

Finally, SwitchBlade ran. Turns out you need a new SwitchBlade account, in addition to your Xfire account; this sucks ass. I had to download updates for WoW (of course), and then WoW had an interface issue and had to be reset-and-checked. But I was finally ready. “Plug and Play” my ass.

Here I am, playing WoW.  With an Xbox controller. Yep, there I am.

With SwitchBlade, your 360 controller runs all the basic on-screen functions, but you’ll find yourself reaching for the keyboard to do anything complex. It supports wired controllers, and wireless if you purchase a port.

I could move the cursor and jump with the right stick, move the character and target with the left. Right stick+RB lets you look around. LB = left mouseclick, RB = right click. Back toggles the map, and Start pulls up the menu. The most complicated part controls the mapped action buttons 1-12; ABYZ maps to 1-4, LT+ABYX maps to 5-8, and RT+ABYX maps to 9-12.

Finally, the D-Pad scrolls the action bars, and toggles bags and the character screen.

Any actions and macros you want to access with the controller have to be mapped 1-12, otherwise you’ll be reaching for the keyboard. And if you want to /emote or /chat, you’ll need the keyboard as well.

It was surprisingly easy to control character movement with the controller, although this was the only function where control was comparable to keyboard+mouse. Everything else is more complicated, and the “chord-based” system of selecting actions takes some time to get used to it. I was trying to imagine why someone would want to control WoW through a controller, and I could only think of one scenario — you have your PC hooked up to a widescreen TV and you want to sit in a Barcalounger and play. But beware — to log in to the game, check out anything other than the character screen, make most adjustments to your interface, and perform any task not mapped to a number key, you’ll be reaching for the keyboard.

Still, playing with the Xbox 360 controller was easier and more intuitive than I thought it would be. In the one instance mentioned above, I would consider using SwitchBlade for WoW. Otherwise, it’s the keyboard and mouse for me.

What does this utility portend for the possible console-based WoW of the future? It’s an interesting proof-of-concept. If Blizzard could combine a well-mapped controller with voice commands and voice chat, WoW could possibly dominate the console world as well as the PC world. That’s a frightening thought.

19 Comments

  1. Thanks for your article. I also believe xbox 360 have grown to be more and more popular currently, and now are usually the only type of game machine utilised more in a game. This is because at the same time that they’re becoming more and more very affordable, their working power keeps growing in compare to others.

    I have seen a lot of useful factors on your web-site about xbox. Many thanks sharing your ideas. I think using xbox 360 to play a game is more easy than others.

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  3. I am thinking about buying a XBOX pro refurbished with 2 controllers and 20 g memory ($180) or the new slim with 4 g and one controllers ($200). Which is the better buy in value and what is the difference between the two.

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