There are a few directions I've been trying with level design to make the world we're creating not only feel huge and exploratory but offer unique challenges to the players. Like any good level, they should teach players as they play and give a clear sense of direction to follow.
Here's one example I first made:
The linear map keeps things simple for the player and breaks off into a choice at the end so that they can choose which path they want to take when progressing through the game. The problem is that while it has a clear path, it doesn't feel like the player was able to explore much. Therefore, I took the feedback from this design and applied it to the next idea.
The "Hub", as I called it, is a straight forward idea that combines the rooms with each other creating a real sense of exploration that the player can make use of. Each room is connected with some sort of path, meaning that sometimes the player can get lost, which was a slight problem with the design. I decided to come up with another style of levels which is what I feel like I'll be using in the future.
The style which I call "the Crucible" is similar to the Hub idea but differs in a key detail. Instead of confusingly connecting the rooms together, I offer the player a clear choice in the hallway on which direction they want to go in. Each separate room will be an example of what choice the player has in the next level, which might sound confusing but works very well with our map design.
Overall, I believe I will be using the crucible idea more when designing future levels as well as looking into offering players more choice in the middle of the maps.