Population: One, a title that already made our Best VR Wishlist Games of 2020, releases its Season 2 updates tomorrow, May 13th. Full disclosure: I already got to playtest it with the BigBox VR team. The new seasoning is pretty sweet. This upcoming release is also bringing permanent modifications that go far beyond just adding new items. One thing is certain: knowing what to expect will help players hit the ground running. So if you're curious and want to be at speed, check out our rundown.
The most notable change to Population: One is that squad matches will involve 24 players, which is up from the current 18. If you're one of the folks who've been following this game since before release, you'll know that 24 players were the original vision that BigBox VR always had. And, of course, more players means more targets. So what I observed first-hand in my demos was more engagements and more events per minute. In my second round, after getting in my launchpad and looking around the skyline, seeing over 20 enemy pods brought a special kind of VR moment, like watching some sort of sci-fi invasion. Then, once the action started, player proximity also meant that it didn't quit. I ended up pulling off 1373 damage (so close to 1337) and my team still ended up in 4th place. Which brought the honest realizations that 1) the devs I was against probably had access to god-mode and 2) 4th place is the new 3rd place — we still outperformed 50% of the other teams.
To offset the pressure that comes with having more competitors, the rate that the zone will creep is being slowed slightly. Moreover, Season 2 also brings map changes. The addition of The Frontier, a western saloon-town-themed area, rescapes about 20% of the map to turn a previously unused portion into something with a freshly Western aesthetic. It matches the new hats this update also provides (if that's your thing) but what's more remarkable is how the new area feels three-dimensional. Battles here had a different tension than engagements out in planes or farmlands because bullets, loot, and opposition could be found at different heights, every which way. It's an area that brings fights that trigger both, intensity and honky-tonk.
Then there is also the new loot. BigBox VR is experimenting with the meta with some quirky items that will be adding to shield dynamics. Season 2 introduces two area-of-effect shield recharging items, a harmonica, and a shaker. Both are group support tools allowing players to recharge their allies' shields. The harmonica is powerfully effective, but at a short-range and high risk because it's also a noisy damned harmonica. The shaker is useful too but does introduce some major vibes of bro. Players are also likely to use a shake-weight motion for its activation, so future gifs and gags are inevitable.
Best of all, players can soon live out their Chow Yun-Fat action movie fantasies, because dual-wielding shotguns will become a thing. If you pick up the Matadors, you'll find both hands equipped with two shotguns. Each can chamber 8 shells that'll fire as fast as you can trigger, and reloads with a simple, vertical flick of the controls. At close range, with unlimited ammo, these felt overpowered. Players with good reflexes can dish out insane damage and down a player with full shields and health in no time — but it's worth noting that close range and abundant ammo are never givens in Population: One. Players have to deal with rifles, grenades, and snipers, and in my matches with constant engagements, I found myself scampering for shells harder than any Resident Evil replay. Matadors are powerful, but players still need tactics and optimal range to use them well.
Finally, Population: One now brings private rooms. Think: private maps, but additional new menu options allowing players to set up custom rounds, community events or chats. What comes with this is understated, but real community-brewing potential. If building a group of your own, and you want to create training events, custom game modes including solo mode, or even tournaments, private rooms are the tool allowing just that.
Now whether Population: One's player-base will multiply in response to these changes, or if this game will enter an e-sport scene of its own has yet to be determined. The community is still active and budding since its August inception, and it's not yet overflowing like that other battle-royale game that isn't in VR. BigBox is also working to bring changes in such a way that's not too much, too fast. It's active development to keep things fresh.
And regarding that decisive entry into competitive e-sports, the potential is there. In my correct opinion, this game is even more fun than Onward and deserves some of that spotlight. I've already reached out to the folks behind this game for follow-up and further comment on future plans and vision. Provided that this company has what it takes to make this VR highlight max its potential, more is sure to come. Stay tuned, and happy hunting.