Population: One Season 1 hands on — Battle royale's Breath of the Wild moment

Population One Season 1 Hands On Hero
Population One Season 1 Hands On Hero (Image credit: Nick Sutrich / Android Central)

Since its debut in October 2020, Population: One quickly rocketed itself to our best Oculus Quest 2 games list and solidified itself as the defacto standard for battle royale in VR. While many people will attest to its incredibly solid and unique mechanics playing a huge role in its popularity, there's no doubt that developer BigBox VR's regularly-scheduled 10-day events — filled with new mechanics, exclusive skins and characters, and plenty of map changes — are what keeps players coming back over and over again.

Population: One Season 1 - Uprising lasts 10-times as long as one of the regular events that the game hosted over the past few months. That 10-week event started on February 25 and lasts until the first week in May, giving players plenty of time to amass points and collect special skins, sprays, and even unlock an exclusive character if they can make it all the way to the end of the Battle Pass tiers. How awesome is the first season, and is a Battle Pass worth the $5 purchase? Let's dive in.

What is Population: One?

Population One Hanging From Lightpole Shooting

Source: Android CentralNothing quite like shooting while hanging from a light pole (Image credit: Source: Android Central)

If you're not familiar with Population: One — or any other battle royale-style game, for that matter — here's how it works. Players begin each round on a squad with other players high atop a dropship on a random edge of the map. Squads are made up of a maximum of either 3 or 9 players depending on the mode chosen, and players will then dive off the platform and into the map by either jumping off the edge or taking booster platforms to get further out.

As the round progresses, the playable area will shrink. Players remaining outside the playable area will slowly lose health, which forces players to continually move closer together, thus keeping the playtime for each round down to a manageable level. That's particularly good because the map in Population: One is rather large and would otherwise take seemingly forever to find other players were they allowed to randomly roam at their leisure.

The game's unique climbing system spoiled me like only one other game before it: Breath of the Wild.

Everyone starts out with only a knife and must quickly find weapons and items randomly strewn about the map. The limited number of spots available in each player's backpack keeps hoarding to a minimum. However, you can find backpack expansions scattered around to help increase the maximum number of items that can be held at once. Weapons are categorized by star ranking, and more stars and colors denote better weapons.

Being in VR is enough of a reason to play a battle royale shooter, but Population: One truly differentiates itself by giving players the freedom to climb anything and glide anywhere. Go up to a wall, grab it with the grip buttons, and pull yourself up. This can be done with anything from light poles to walls, trees, and even large hills. It's a mechanic that feels completely natural in VR, and it's done in a way that's not finicky or goofy feeling.

As if that weren't enough, you can walk off any object — obviously, best if it's something tall like a building — and hold out your arms to glide. No complicated button presses, no weird gestures, just act like a bird and spread your wings. You can even steer by moving one arm up and the other down, exactly as you would imagine wings would work.

I found myself going back to other battle royale games like Fortnite and getting irritated because I couldn't climb obstacles, a sort of Breath of the Wild effect that totally spoils you for other games. After all, there's nothing like hanging from a light pole while shooting enemies, or climbing up a building just to jump off, soar over enemies' heads, and shoot them on the way down.

Population: One What is Season 1?

Population One Season 1 Hero

Source: BigBox VR (Image credit: Source: BigBox VR)

Season 1 marks the first time players can opt-in to a brand-new tier of rewards that can be unlocked through play. For $4.99, players can purchase Bureau Gold, which will unlock said tier and offer 50 new rewards to earn through the length of the season. If it's taking too long, you can purchase additional Bureau Gold to move up and unlock as many rewards as you'd like. These tiers are in order, though, so you can't just pick your favorite skin and pay for it.

Source: Android Central (Image credit: Source: Android Central)

Bureau Gold starts at $1.99 for 125 gold, and 100 gold unlocks a tier, so you're best off buying $10 worth if you're even considering the option as you'll get a bonus for buying in bulk. Most items in the 50 tiers can only be unlocked if you've purchased the $5 Battle Pass, but there are a few completely free items that can be earned along the way.

For the most part, these skins will probably only appeal to players who plan on playing the game regularly, as they'll give you some nice visual changes to spice weapons up while playing. None of these items will help you win, so there's no pyramid scheme going on for rich players; you just might find yourself getting bored of the free stuff eventually, so it's nice to splurge every once in a while and get a new skin or two.

Population One Season 1 Weapons

Source: Android Central (Image credit: Source: Android Central)

The initial skin you unlock is considerably different from other skins in the game, which lends to its attractiveness. That second skin is going to take a lot of time to unlock, as it isn't available until the final tier — that's tier 50 — so it's probably more likely you're going to spend a bit of money getting there if it really suits the style you're going for in the game.

Additionally, Seeker Silver can be earned by making friends in the game, each of which can send you one silver every 24 hours. Reciprocating will surely keep your friends encouraged to send you some on a regular basis, and this Seeker Silver can be used to unlock additional in-game items throughout the season. It's a great way to encourage players to branch out of their comfort zone and make some new friends by directly rewarding them with goodies.

Population: One Season 1 New items for everyone

Population One Season 1 Infographic

Source: BigBox VR (Image credit: Source: BigBox VR)

All players will have access to the katana and the knife — two brand new weapons that are really only going to be useful for veteran players. In my time with the game, I never found an actual situation where I could use either of these weapons and get away with it, but I got killed by them quite a few times. The katana has an awesome shield that appears in front of you automatically when holding it with both hands, but I either have no idea what I'm doing, or the shield is just terribly ineffective. Likely, it's the former.

I'm absolutely awful with the katana, but it's a great new weapon for skilled players.

Personally, I'm more of a long-range type of guy and prefer rifles that can take down enemies from afar. One of the most fun ways to pull enemies out of hiding is by tossing one of the new Zone Grenades, which creates a big red bubble that acts exactly as if players had suddenly stepped out of bounds, sapping health from them every second they're inside. That's a great way to clear a building by forcing players out and spraying them with bullets — or slicing them with a well-placed katana or knife blade — as they escape.

That Zone Grenade joins the katana, knife, LMG, and shield soda in the list of brand new items available for all players, regardless of whether they purchased a Battepass or not. These do not need to be earned. They're scattered around the map just as other weapons, ammo, and items are, which, again, goes in with the idea that gamers shouldn't be able to pay to win in the game.

Population: One Season 1 War Mode

Population One Screenshot Aiming

Source: Android Central (Image credit: Source: Android Central)

One of the biggest changes during Season 1 is the new War Mode, which is only available for a limited time. In War Mode, players join up in a squad of 9 players in total, facing off against another squad of 9 players. Every time I played this mode, we had a full house, or maybe one or two players short of that. That certainly bodes well for being able to experience what's probably my favorite way to play the game right now, as the team dynamics remind me of a game I haven't played in over two decades —Starsiege: Tribes.

War Mode might be my favorite new thing in the game.

While there are no vehicles to commandeer, the way teams play together and communicate is something I don't often experience in a battle royale title. Each squad starts off at an opposite end of the map, and the zone shrinks in only two waves; the first, a slow, methodical shrink that allows players to find the best weapons and take position, while the second wave shrinks quickly to a very tiny box, forcing squads to rush in and face-off in one giant battle.

Unlike the regular 3-person squads, War Mode encourages players to regularly revive their squadmates in order to keep pushing forward. While that's obviously an important tactic in the regular 3-person squad mode, it's often too difficult to keep reviving teammates without getting killed yourself. Good teams will be able to cover each other in War Mode and keep players coming back for more — something that makes it fun even for those of us that aren't particularly skilled in gunplay.

Population: One Season 1 What's next?

Population One Season 1 Character With Katana

Source: BigBox VR (Image credit: Source: BigBox VR)

BigBox VR says it's got plenty planned throughout the season, and with roughly six weeks left, I can't wait to see what's coming down the pike. Right now, we're aware of two big happenings coming soon: a big old tournament at the end and the ability to create private servers for you and your friends to play.

That last one is particularly excellent for folks that just want a little fun time — or are sick of the trolls and toxic trash players that begrudge and insult others in random games. I didn't come across too many players that fit that last description, but they're out there, and I certainly did find a few. Thank heaven for instant mute.

Thank heaven for the ability to instant mute toxic players.

As a regular Population: One player. I would certainly be happy with what I got for $5. There's enough time for regular players to unlock everything, especially if they start now and keep playing until that first week in May. Casual players might be content with just enjoying the new weaponry that's available for all and, of course, the awesome new War Mode that's got everyone talking about and playing so much of.

Population: One has been setting the standard for VR battle royale for a few months now, and it's obvious why; the folks at BigBox VR know why people love battle royale games, and they've shown that they understand how to make a game that only feels right in VR thanks to a uniquely excellent movement system.

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