In (platforming) Metroidvanias, traversal is pretty easy to make interesting just because of the need for platforming, but I'm finding that is not exactly the case for top-down styles. It feels a bit like a lot of screens are filler and yet it doesn't feel right to cram things too close together. Putting in rocks and trees to get in your way only goes so far toward making things interesting. Enemies can help I suppose, but only to a certain point. I almost feel as if enemy selection/quantity is a polish thing rather than an core aspect of design.
In my (still unannounced) quest, one of my major pillars of design is exploration and the joy of discovery. This leads me to leave the world quite open. I have a plan for "natural item progression", but that doesn't require a whole lot of gating. I feel like this just ends with me making labyrinths rather than interesting worlds.
Anyway. There's some background. I just want to get some thoughts on my problem and some ideas of how to solve it. Or ways to approach my map design so that it doesn't feel so empty and boring.
I suppose this also gives me a direction for my undecided "script item 1"