I want to preface this post with the caveat that the HOTAS seems to be a very devisive device (see what I did there?) and if you can purchase one where you can return it then that is by far the best option.
I’m not going to address other people’s criticism of the stick because they are valid enough, but for me it came down to the things I liked about it being more important that those that I didn’t.
Using the HOTAS allows me to access more controls comfortably with two hands than I ever could with the DS4. Whilst using the DS4 (other than headlook) I need either my thumbs or fingers to access the controls. I can control 2 axes of movement with one thumb on a stick, and another 2 axes of movement with the other. I can then hold my two forefingers on the shoulder and trigger buttons. If I want to use the directional pad, I have to take my left thumb off the stick and then use it; if I want to combine a shift key with this I have to take my right thumb off the stick and hold one of the shape buttons. Likewise if I want to use one of the corners of the touch pad I have to release one of the sticks. Yes, you can use your forefingers to reach some of these, but it’s not easy or comfortable.
Constrast this with the HOTAS. Simply by having the HOTAS in my hands, I can pitch, roll and yaw with my right hand. I can access the HAT switch to control lateral thrusters on two axes with my thumb, access the trigger with my middle finger and access the R3 button with my forefinger. I use R3 as a shift button so I can switch fire groups by holding this and using the HAT switch left and right (all without sacrificing control of pitch/roll/yaw in flight). With my left hand resting on the throttle I can control my speed, lateral thrust backwards and forwards on the yaw paddle and access three symbol buttons easily with my thumb and R2 with my first finger. Again, add the HAT switch into this and it opens up a huge possible of shift key combinations without sacrificing pitch/roll/yaw. I have that many possible combinations I haven’t even mapped all the possible options as I have everything I need within easy selection. I have created shift mappings in ‘groups’ of associated tasks to make things easy to remember. For example, the square button is mapped to ‘select target ahead’ as this is something I use frequently and want to be able to access quickly. If I hold down the square key, I get another four targetting options; up is select wingman one, right is select wingman’s target, down is select next subsystem and left is select next ship. This means whilst flying around in a RES site, using three axes of flight movement I can still quickly and easily perform all the targeting I need to do and even if I forget those, I always know square is targetting and holding this down will show the UI overlay with the four directions on the hat and their functions displayed. I have a similar set up for circle (boost with shift functions for speed/travel related functions) and triangle (landing gear down and other ‘auxillary’ functions). Triangle being further down means I always have to make a conscious move to trigger it, which makes the accidental boost in the station much less likely! I map pip control to R2 which is just under my left first finger with left to SYS, up to ENG and right to WEP (as these approximate the directions of the three systems) and down to equalise. There is more here I have not gone into, but if this has not piqued your interest by now about using the HOTAS then I think it’s not for you…
P.S. I am rather small (think second breakfast and hairy feet) and so the buttons on the stick were too much of a reach for me. I wrapped some foam around the botton of the stick to raise my hand about an inch and everything rests very comfortably under my digits. It won’t win any design awards, but I think the ‘Engineers’ would approve!
P.P.S. I have taken some screenshots of the controls I applied to my HOTAS for anyone interested.