Ad Disclosure: VKB Sim very kindly sent me the Gladiator NXT Evo “Space Combat” Edition and Omni-Throttle as a gift. I was not paid for this review or to feature them on my channels, but keep in mind I did receive them for free! Thank you VKB Sim!
I recently had the pleasure of upgrading my space sim setup thanks to the lovely folks at VKB Sim. As many of you know, my previous setup was…Frankenstinien. I had a years-old Saitek X52 Pro for flight, a half-broken Xbox controller for driving my SRV, and my mouse and keyboard for on-foot. The problem? People often asked me what HOTAS (Hands-On Throttle and Stick) I recommended. Did I recommend the Saitek X52 Pro? And my answer was always a resounding absolutely not.
Why? Throughout the years the stick had failed on me, and I’d had to take it apart and put it back together again repeatedly. One wire in particular kept coming undone (mood) and I had to resolder it and eventually hotglue it in place. It was incredibly fiddly to put back together again each time. And that’s not even mentioning the absolute nightmare I’d had with the drivers. So, needless to say, I was desperately in search of an upgrade.
Enter, VKB Sim
I contacted VKB Sim at the end of last year and asked them if there were opportunities for us to work together. The long and short of it is, they got back to me and offered me a Gladiator NXT Evo “Space Combat” Edition right grip, and the Gladiator NXT Evo Omni-Throttle (left). I of course accepted, and was really excited to try them out! So here is my review of the VKB Sim Gladiator setup. If you’d like to see a video version of the review, I’ll be releasing one over on my YouTube channel next week, as well as a short unboxing video over there, so make sure you subscribe if you’re interested!
VKB Gladiator NXT Evo Grip & Omni-Throttle First Impressions
First of all, the boxes they came in were tiny. I genuinely thought I’d got myself excited for nothing and that the package that arrived was something else entirely unrelated to this whole deal. But sure enough, they are just packaged super well. Each outer box contained two packages — the base and the grip or omni-throttle — and weighed approximately 1.6kg. I admit I was a little intimidated because my contact at VKB told me there were exposed wires and to be very careful when unboxing them. However, VKB Sim kindly includes a protective sleeve to protect these wires whilst putting them together. More on that soon.
My first impressions are that the kit feels very sturdy. Despite being packaged in tiny boxes, they’re heavy and feel robust. They’re also actually quite small! I don’t think the size is a problem, in fact it’s perfect for my smaller hands. Rather, I think it’s a positive as I know other manufacturers have exceptionally tall sticks. This often leads to people needing a desk mount, which I don’t find necessary here. These fit on my desk quite nicely. Another thing I noticed (and appreciated) is there are so many buttons and hat-switches. I am not going to need to use my keyboard to supplement my flight controls in Elite ever again!
Putting the VKB Gladiator Together
I was, as I said above, intimidated about putting these bad boys together. The exposed wires need protection while you’re putting them together, but the sleeve provided slips over the wires until the stick and base are safely together. While putting them together myself was a new experience, it makes sense because the VKB Sim gear is quite modular. They even included extra springs for different tensions, and a different hand rest for the stick. Also, honestly, putting them together was a breeze. The quick start video guide was helpful, but it really was just a case of slotting the stick into the base whilst protecting the cable, and then plugging it in on the other side. A few screws in the base and on the base plate, and I was done. Putting both the stick and the omni-throttle together took me maybe 10 minutes total.
Thoughts From Week 1 Using the VKB Sim Gear
I’ve been using the Gladiator NXT Evo right stick and the Omni-Throttle left for about a week now. I was dreading having to do my bindings from scratch in Elite, because it’s notoriously a pain in the ass, but honestly it was a blessing in disguise. I had picked up so many weird habits from my old HOTAS that redoing them from blank was the easiest approach. Having EDRefCard open on another screen was helpful, however I mostly chose my own bindings based on feel. I jumped into the tutorials and bound as the game told me to use certain controls. It took a bit of getting used to, but now that I have I feel like I can give a solid opinion on the setup.
Firstly, it’s so smooth. These sticks are a lot more precise, and the tension on them feels really good. I feel like smaller movements are needed to achieve the same thing that required me to fling my arm around on my old HOTAS.
I thought that using the Omni-Throttle would be weird. Honestly, it is! But it’s weird in a good way. It’s hard to describe, but I think my improvement in flight (especially docking and landing) speaks for itself. The biggest change for me is I now have lateral and vertical thrust on an analog control (the X-axis and the twist on the Omni-Throttle, respectively). It’s simultaneously the best change I’ve made, and the hardest to get used to, but I’m getting there.
The build quality is amazing. The whole setup feels solid and comfortable to use, and I’ve been told it’s almost impossible to wear the sensors out which is reassuring. I’m also not at all worried about wires popping out like I know some Saitek HOTAS builds do, which is fantastic.
Would I recommend VKB Sim for Elite: Dangerous?
I am planning on playing other games (Star Citizen, maybe even DCS World) with this setup. So would I recommend them based on my first week? Absolutely. They are a bit pricier than the Saitek X52 Pro I was using before. It was approximately £200 all-in when I bought it a few years ago, and doesn’t seem to have changed much. The VKB Gladiator NXT Evo “Space Combat” Edition premium grip clocks in at around that alone, with the Omni-Throttle costing about £250 on top. Both come with their respective bases and a solid metal baseplate. However, I really believe that they’re worth the cost for the build quality alone, let alone the delight of flying with them. If you find that you’re in the market for a new HOTAS and they’re within your budget, I honestly don’t think anything at this price point will top this pair.
I can’t speak to the dual stick method that other CMDRs use, as the Omni-Throttle, while similar, is a bit different. I’m also not yet using pedals which I may decide to do in the future. If you’re interested in the dual stick build, Brother_Sabathius is a fellow Elite streamer who uses two Gladiator grips and could probably give you some thoughts!
Thank you so much to VKB Sim for completely revolutionising my Elite: Dangerous experience. I can honestly say I have not had this much motivation to play in years, and it’s all because of how nice the Gladiator NXT Evo grip and Omni-Throttle combo make flying. If you’re looking for an upgrade, I can highly recommend VKB Sim. There are alternatives in a similar price bracket, but I am very pleased with my choice.
Again, stay tuned on my YouTube channel for an unboxing video and review in the coming week! And if you want to see them in action, stop by my Twitch channel. I usually stream Elite on Tuesdays and Thursdays, and will happily show you around my setup and answer any questions live!