My brother and I have both played through Baldur's Gate 1 & 2 countless times since we were teenagers, and we were debating the other day about which we prefer.
We both more or less agreed that BG2 was an improvement on BG1 in pretty much every area: storytelling, combat, NPCs, classes and character specialisation etc etc. But despite all of that, in a way I still prefer BG1 for one reason: the immersiveness of the world, due to the inclusion of 'unimportant' zones across the world map.
In case you haven't played either game, compare these two maps:
In BG2, if you want to get to the Umar Hills, it's a single click from the Athkatla City Gates, and you're suddenly on the other side of the map. In BG1, after you leave Candlekeep you have to traverse two entire zones to get to the Friendly Arm Inn. Then you go South to Nashkel, which takes you across 4 zones. If you decide to do the Gnoll Stronghold side quest, you have to go across about 3 or 4 zones. All of which are 'insignificant' not only to the main storyline, but also to the large side-quests. Yet these unimportant in-between zones add so much to the immersion of the game. In that way, it's very similar to games like Fallout 3 or Skyrim. You can spend endless hours exploring the scenery and having random encounters, without ever progressing through the main story. And that, to me, is what makes a great, immersive RPG world.
What do you guys think? Obviously every bit of content that goes into the game takes time (and money) to build, so there has to be a bit of a tradeoff. Would you rather see a fully populated world, with lots of inconsequential zones between the quests? Or would you rather that more time and effort went into major areas where the quests are actually carried out?
And in case anyone from Obsidian is reading: what is your opinion on this? Do you guys have plans to create lots of in-between areas?