The best VR battle royale is going free-to-play

A "Free" dollar bill the PJ from Population: One on it
(Image credit: Nicholas Sutrich / Android Central)

It's another year, another quarter, and, like clockwork, Population: One is getting a new update to keep things fresh for players. The ever-popular VR battle royale game has been topping the charts on Quest since its debut several years ago and is now moving to a brand new business mode: free-to-play.

These changes come hot on the heels of the Sandbox update which launched late last year and debuted a brand-new level editor that let players create their own levels, debuting with over 1,000 deathmatch maps for players to roam on. There's a reason it remains one of the absolute best Quest 2 games you can play today.

Now, with this next update, developer BigBox VR is hoping to bring in more players than ever before by reducing the entry cost to zero on Quest 2 and Quest Pro. Players who enjoy the game and want to keep earning in-game rewards can buy the All Access pass for around $10. As the title of the article suggests, this update also includes a graphics update for Quest as well as a host of other things.

I got to interview the team at BigBox VR and got all the details on what's coming. Here's what you can expect from the March 2023 Population: One update when it launches on March 9.

Population: One is going free-to-play

Population: One 2023 roadmap

(Image credit: BigBox VR)

The biggest headliner of the update is, of course, the new free-to-play business model. On Quest, you'll be able to download the game for exactly zero dollars and begin playing right away. Mimicking what we saw when Gorilla Tag finally launched on the Quest store last year, Population: One will remain $20 on the PC.

As was the case with that game, the Population: One developers told me that this is mainly to discourage fake accounts that are easy to make on the PC platform. To make up for the cost, players who buy the game on the Steam or Rift stores will receive exactly $19.99 in in-game currency (Bureau Gold).

Existing players get exclusive skins and rewards that can't be earned or bought any other way.

As part of the move, BigBox VR has totally overhauled the in-game store. Instead of just buying a set of featured items for a set period of time, players will get to browse a catalog of options including character models, gun wraps, and more.

Over 100 new items are being added on March 9 with the launch and players can still use Silver to buy different types of items from the Seeker Silver store. In other words, players can pay for some items while others will have to be earned with in-game tokens.

Population: One March 2023 update bundle for existing players

(Image credit: BigBox VR)

Similarly, existing players will receive a wealth of items for their loyalty to the game, all of which cannot be purchased or earned any other way. On March 9, all existing players will receive The Original Banana Bundle which includes:

  • Legendary “PJ Potassium” Character Skin
  • Legendary “Prestige” Character Skins (4 skins)
  • Rare “Prestige” Full Gun Set (14 skins)
  • Exclusive Title: “Original Banana”
  • Exclusive Calling Card: “Celebration”
  • Exclusive Spray: “I Was Here”
  • 1,000 Bureau Gold
  • The All Access Pass

As Kaden "bagel-bytes" Nugent from the team told me "our core users are super, super important to us. They've made the game what it is today, so we want to reward them correctly."

The $10 All Access Pass is purchased with in-game currency for everyone else — 750 Bureau Gold, to be exact — which means PC players essentially have it included with the $20 price of the game; they'll just have to use their Bureau Gold to unlock it in-game first. All Access is a one-time purchase and not designed to be a "season pass" as games like Fortnite have, so there's no need to keep buying it every few months.

Going free-to-play should help bring lots of new players onboard.

BigBox VR told me the move to a free-to-play model was to encourage further growth. Population: One has been one of the most successful games in the VR landscape and dropping the cost of entry to zero should further enhance that status.

Since the team is focused on expanding the game's audience, I had to ask the obvious question: will we see Population: One on any VR platforms like PSVR 2 or Pico?

Nugent's answer was pretty clear, albeit a bit hopeful. "Obviously, we want to be on every headset eventually...but that's not something we're going to be focusing on in the near future." Emphases added by me.

Graphics upgrade

Population: One free to play banner

(Image credit: BigBox VR)

For seasoned players, the first thing you'll undoubtedly notice are the shadows. Every character and object in the game now casts its own shadow. Yes, that even means you'll be seeing shadows for people flying around, so it's a lot harder to get a pinpoint drop on someone with a sword.

It's absolutely amazing what this one "little" change does to immersion and realism. You won't realize how flat everything looked before until you see this update for yourself. I wasn't allowed to take photos or video of my play session but BigBox VR provided me with this image to showcase the new shadows and higher resolution textures.

(Image credit: BigBox VR)

If that weren't enough, BigBox VR has improved the resolution of every texture in the game, from roads to buildings, characters to weapon models, and everything in between. Objects now look better defined and guns look incredibly detailed and far more realistic.

Textures and overall resolution have been improved, and all objects now cast shadows.

Lastly, the game has seen a notable increase in resolution and overall clarity that's sure to be understood while playing battle royale. That, of course, is because you can now see objects in the distance so much better than before. The horizon is no longer something that you'll have to squint to see!

All of this is possible thanks to the fact that the original Oculus Quest hardware is no longer supported, giving BigBox VR the ability to use the Quest 2 hardware to the fullest extent. PC players will also see better fidelity, although there are no additional "advanced" graphics options at launch.

Sandbox comes to battle royale

The new Sacred Village area in the battle royale map

(Image credit: BigBox VR)

While Sandbox has been limited to just allowing players to host deathmatch, team deathmatch, or hang-out sessions up until now, that's all changing with this latest update. This is happening in two new ways, the first begins on March 9 with the addition of a popular sandbox map to the existing battle royale map.

Sacred Village will be replacing Outpost Hill in the main battle royale mode much in the way we saw The Frontier, Kingdom, and Metropolis replace existing parts of the map. BigBox VR told me that this is just the beginning of what it's calling the evolving battle royale map and that we're going to see more sandbox content appear in this larger map throughout 2023.

While plenty of players welcome the change, players who are feeling nostalgic for the original map will be happy to know that a brand new battle royale mode — Classic Squads — is launching with the March 9 update that includes the original Population: One map before everything began to change.

In short, players can choose from one of three multiplayer modes on March 9: classic map battle royale, evolving map battle royale, or deathmatch sandbox.

The main battle royale map will continue to evolve throughout 2023, starting with the addition of Sacred Village.

Later in the month on March 30, BigBox VR is bringing battle royale mode to sandbox maps, allowing players to join and design their own battle royale experiences using new or existing sandbox maps.

Aside from the size differences you might find in a sandbox map versus the game's own battle royale map, sandbox battle royale sessions won't see players dropping into a map via drop ships as they do now. Instead, map makers can decide where players will spawn when a round begins.

Sandbox itself is also getting a bit of an upgrade in the form of selectable player counts and added weaponry. Hosts can now select 12 or 24-player rooms and can also bring the rocket launcher in to play in sandbox lobbies. Yes, that means you can do rockets-only!

Better matchmaking and a slew of other changes

Population: One March 2023 new skins

(Image credit: BigBox VR)

As with any major patch, BigBox VR is tweaking certain aspects of the gameplay to better even things out for players across the board. That begins with matchmaking which will now sort players into lobbies of similarly-skilled players. While BigBox VR has its own skill ranking method that sits under the hood, players will generally be sorted into one of two groups: lower skill level/beginners, and everybody else.

On top of that, bots have been improved so much that the team is confident enough to allow them into lower-skill multiplayer lobbies that haven't filled up yet. These two things combined should significantly help lower-skill and beginner players adjust to the game's mechanics and levels without getting instantly killed by a level 60-something player.

Beginners will now be placed into lower-skill lobbies so they don't get instantly killed by veteran players.

With that said, if you're a lower-skill player and happen to party up with your level 60-something friend, they'll have to play a bit of defense as you'll be partnered up in a lobby that matches the player with the highest skill ranking. Additionally, bots will not populate higher-skill lobbies.

If you're just starting out and would rather try your hand at a game with just bots, a new single-player mode will put you in lobbies with just bots. Those bots can then adjust difficulty based on your skills over a series of 20 matches. Once you complete all 20 matches, you'll earn a "top character skin prize" that you can't get any other way.

Bots will now fill beginner lobbies and players can look forward to better moderation tools o ward against toxic players.

BigBox VR is also revamping the moderation tools, making it easier to mute and report players who are being obnoxious or toxic. That'll be a huge relief to anyone who's ever run across someone like this in a multiplayer game.

Lastly, are a slew of tweaks to change things up a bit. BigBox VR says it has adjusted gun damage and range values to properly categorize weapons as close, medium, or long-range.

Players can now only carry one banana in their backpacks but it'll instantly heal 100 health — that's opposed to 50 health per banana, previously.

Items that heal over time will see a healing interruption once a player takes damage. That should close the loophole where players would chug sodas and get shot seemingly endlessly without dying.

You'll also notice that ghost players can move around more quickly which should spice up battle royale even further.


Starting March 9, 2023, you can join in on all the battle royale action in VR for free with Population: One!

Get it at Oculus | SteamVR

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