There's now a VR battle royale for everyone

Official screenshots of Population: One's new Phoenix Royale map
(Image credit: BigBox VR)

This past week, I had the opportunity to play the latest Population: One update, Phoenix Royale. As you might gather from the name, Phoenix Royale is a brand new battle royale-style mode with some important twists to set it apart from the main game. But more important than new mechanics or content is a redesigned gameplay structure that's designed to appeal to more casual players.

AC thVRsday

AC thVRsday logo

In his weekly column, Android Central Senior Content Producer Nick Sutrich delves into all things VR, from new hardware to new games, upcoming technologies, and so much more.

BigBox VR, the developer behind Population: One, says that the battle royale Evolving Map will continue to see regular changes and events for folks who love it, so don't worry about that disappearing if you're one. It makes total sense when you consider that the game went free-to-play last year, as the mode should help reel people back in who might have quit due to the game's difficulty curve, similar to Fortnite's many modes.

Population: One isn't the only battle royale among the best Meta Quest games. Contractors: Showdown just launched a month ago, bringing a more hardcore, realistic aesthetic and gameplay to the genre on VR headsets like the Meta Quest 3. It fits extremely well alongside Pop One and guarantees that there's a battle royale game for everyone, no matter your skill level or interest.

Rising from the ashes

Official screenshots of Population: One's new Phoenix Royale map

(Image credit: BigBox VR)

Population: One's new Phoenix Royale update is a total blast to play with friends and random folks alike. It feels like an ideal mashup between several different games' multiplayer modes, including the respawn speed of Deathmatch, the buy stations from Call of Duty: Warzone, and contested territories with loot from something like Planetside 2.

All of this takes place on a brand new map whose only purpose is to facilitate the Phoenix Royale mode. You can't play Phoenix Royale on other maps at the moment, although based on the game's history, I wouldn't be surprised to see that change at some point in the future.

In essence, Phoenix Royale's gameplay elements are designed to appeal to players who have had difficulty getting anywhere in the main battle royale modes because of higher-skilled players. It levels the playing field by allowing squad members to redeploy within a few seconds of death so long as at least one other squad member is still around.

Official screenshots of Population: One's new Phoenix Royale map

(Image credit: BigBox VR)

The new in-game currency can't be purchased with real money, ensuring this isn't a pay-to-win scheme.

That, along with the new classes and upgrades that can be purchased from buy stations, means that things aren't left up to chance anymore. In fact, all weapons you'll find lying around are only one-star and have to be upgraded through the buy stations.

Higher-tier loot can be found in supply drops and loot crates, but you'll need to earn those through in-game currency that can be found scattered across the map. Gem Bars are a new in-game currency that's only available in Phoenix Royale and is used for buy stations but cannot be purchased with real money, ensuring that this isn't a pay-to-win experience.

Official screenshots of Population: One's new Phoenix Royale map

(Image credit: BigBox VR)

Respawn rates are closer to a deathmatch-style map, and the new classes, supply drops, and loot crates help liven things up.

The new Phoenix Royale map is also a lot less vertical, providing mostly just two and three-story buildings as the highest vantage points on a map. That's great for players who find themselves getting frustrated by long-range snipers on the more open battle royale map.

Players can also finally sprint around the map by clicking on the left stick, something that's not exclusive to Phoenix Royale but will certainly help when trying to get away from an enemy in any location.

Last but not least is the new zone-shifting mechanic, which you'll be familiar with if you've played Fortnite in the last year. As the zone closes in on its final smaller shape, it'll start to move around the map instead of continually shrinking on a single point. It's a significantly better strategic option as it prevents camping at the center of the circle.

Official screenshots of Population: One's new Phoenix Royale map

(Image credit: BigBox VR)

This seems like the ideal happy medium between battle royale and deathmatch modes.

As someone who used to play Pop One weekly, I find it great to see this kind of mode get added. Most of the friends I regularly played with moved over to playing Pop One's Sandbox mode, and while that offers an incredible amount of variety for regular players, I absolutely cannot stand deathmatch mode on a regular basis.

Battle royale appeals to me like few other multiplayer shooter modes because it's as objective-based as it is kills-based. Exploring the world while taking out enemies is so much more fun to me than endlessly running through the same corridors only to kill, die, and repeat over and over again.

In this way, I think Phoenix Royale will help bridge the gap between players like myself and my friends who seem to enjoy the speed of deathmatch over battle royale's more methodical pace.

Pop One gamers can try out the new mode starting Friday, May 31, and will earn special rewards that are only available between May 31 and June 20, 2024.

Serious competition

An official screenshot of the island in Contractors Showdown

(Image credit: Caveman Studios)

While Phoenix Royale may have been designed for players who find Population: One's battle royale mode to be too challenging to play alongside serious players, it doesn't mean that serious players need not apply. If anything, leveling the playing field should provide a new opportunity for the best players to actually lose a few rounds every once in a while, a rare challenge for the elite tier.

But I posit that Contractors: Showdown might actually be the better choice for folks looking for a more "serious" experience, anyway. While Pop One is a ton of fun and always worth coming back to, Contractors: Showdown presents a more realistic gameplay experience from top to bottom.

Obviously, given the popularity of Fortnite compared to every other battle royale on the market, a "serious" theme doesn't equate to more players. But it certainly appeals to a different demographic, and that's the beauty of the current crop of options in VR.

Gun Raiders

(Image credit: Gun Raiders)

We've also seen real competition come in the form of what I'll call "battle royale lite" games from Rec Room and Gun Raiders, two of the best free Meta Quest games. While neither of these games is a dedicated battle royale experience, both offer this mode and several others within their metaverse-like package.

In fact, both Gun Raiders and Rec Room are available on Google Play and iOS platforms, meaning there are plenty of players at all hours of the day, even if they don't have a VR headset. Obviously, VR players will have an advantage because it's far easier to know what's happening around you when you're immersed in the game, but it's nice to have the ability to play your favorite game how and where you want it.

Nicholas Sutrich
Senior Content Producer — Smartphones & VR
Nick started with DOS and NES and uses those fond memories of floppy disks and cartridges to fuel his opinions on modern tech. Whether it's VR, smart home gadgets, or something else that beeps and boops, he's been writing about it since 2011. Reach him on Twitter or Instagram @Gwanatu