I planned to let this debate slide by without chiming in, but as I watched my wife play Resident Evil (let’s get in the mood, it’s October!) I had an insight I felt was not yet represented in what I’ve read.
What is the role of combat in your game?
If your characters are skilled warriors, they want to show of (and monsters are a resource). If running into monsters is likely to result in casualties and misfortune, they want to avoid monsters (because monsters burn resources).
If encountering monsters is a reward, then empty rooms really take away from the purpose of the game. If encountering monsters represents the curtailing of play, then you want to see what information, loot, and distance you can cover without a confrontation.
My wife likes Resident Evil 1. I like Resident Evil 4. In Resident Evil 1, you can carry very little and you have no combat skill at all. In Resident Evil 4, you are a tough guy with lots of carrying capacity and ammunition.
In Resident Evil 1, running across 1 zombie is an obstacle and somewhat disastrous. In Resident Evil 4, it’s kind of entertaining to work your way through a village full of zombies that only threaten you as the combined weight of a crowd approaches.
Resident Evil 1 tries to compensate for the lethality of zombies by providing lots of running back and forth, cris-crossing the map to open doors and apply freshly acquired resources to previously discovered problems. And puzzles. Oh God the puzzles. Even managing your inventory is a puzzle.
Resident Evil 4 can afford to be more linear, with less re-crossing the same ground. There are a few puzzles, but not enough to annoy people like me overmuch.
I feel the gap between these games and the styles they encourage reflects the current discussion of the role of empty space in RPGs.