Right now, the only reason to kill small enemies is either to get health, or to get them out of your way if you need to get past them. As has been discussed in other threads, there are pros and cons to this, and I myself even play the original Metroid in the same fashion.
But right now, the problem is that too large a percentage of the playerbase seems incentivized to just avoid monsters when they would rather fight the monsters. In other words, you get people who are spoiling for a fight, but not motivated to actually fight because of the lack of reward from mobs. This makes them feel let-down by not being able to feel rewarded for playing the game they want to play.
Those of us that tend to monster avoidance and sniping anyhow, or who like fighting for the sake of fighting from time to time, of course aren't bothered by this and everything is fine for that crowd. But what I'm trying to do is add in just a bit of extra incentive that will appeal to the folks who currently view combat with trash mobs as pointless beyond being the sole source of health when out in the field.
The Main General Avenue Of Solutions I Can Think Of
Broadly speaking, it seems like trash mobs need to drop something small in addition to health. But what would it be, and what would it do?
EXP: If this were an RPG, they'd be dropping EXP. But I in no way want to bring back EXP, because it simply doesn't have a place here, and even when we had EXP we didn't let trash mobs drop it because it's far too tempting just to grind trash mobs, then. I don't like anything along these lines at all; it's just not where I want to go with this game.
Cave-Story-Style-Powerup-Shards: In Cave Story, monsters all explode into little triforce-looking things that powerup your currently equipped weapon upon collection. That's handy because it incentivizes killing trash mobs (and so I do, there, where in Metroid I do not bother). And in CS, it also encourages players to avoid taking any hits from enemies, because every time they do, their currently-equipped weapon loses some of that collected strength. This plays out perfectly when combined with a max weapon level of 3, since that means that you're almost never incentivized to just massively grind monsters in CS, and past a certain point there is literally no more grinding that can net you any benefit whatsoever... but at the same time, the next time you take damage you are going to have to collect more shards, which means that shard-collection is perpetual unless you NEVER take damage. This means that most good players should be killing a lot of trash mobs at first, and then some-but-not-all on an ongoing basis. What a tidy feedback loop!
Currency: In a lot of RPGs, you also get GP or whatever from beating small monsters. There is less incentive to grind this compared to EXP, because there tends to be a limited number of things to spend GP on. That's great, because it means you can't just ignore trash mobs completely, but it also means that once you've got all the equipment purchased that you need for now, grinding for more GP seems really hollow and stupid. So you move on, naturally, until you next find yourself in a place where you don't have enough GP to buy something you want.
How These Broad Ideas Could Apply To AVWW
EXP: Like I said, I don't want to go there.
Cave-Story-Style-Powerup-Shards: Well, we already have enchants and upgrade stones for upgrading your character. And you can upgrade spells themselves, plus you can find various supplies to help you. That seems... quite complex enough, to be frank. It seem far too much to be adding on some sort of Cave-Story-Style powerup for your "current weapon" (which there is no concept of here, presenting another fundamental problem with that anyhow). So what else could we be improving, if not your weapons? Well, again, it could go to some sort of base character stats... but that overlaps too much with upgrade stones. I think that would make decision-making too hard for players. It could fill some sort of "overcharge" bar that you could use for some sort of extra-powerful one-off attacks, I guess. But how exactly to activate that, and show and make it clear to players, and make it balanced so that players don't just one-shot bosses is tricky. That also gets us back into "ammo" territory, where some players will feel the need to always be at full ammo before doing anything, so they'll go out grinding trash mobs even when they don't want to, "just to be safe." So everything I can think of in this category encourages the wrong sort of behavior, ie encouraging people to do things that they will find un-fun. The whole premise of this thread is trying to find ways to encourage players to do things they will find fun, anyway.
Currency: The main form of small currency in AVWW is consciousness shards, of course. And those are useful only for guardian powers, but that's a fairly central part of the game (or will be, even more, anyhow). Right now the problem is that you can get larger amounts of currency just by focusing on bosses and exploration and ignoring the trash mobs, though. So if consciousness shards are your goal, we'd really have to change the acquisition mechanics to make that work... and I think that then kills a big part of the fun rewards of exploration and bosses. That would imply that we need another currency system instead, but now we're adding complexity again. For instance, if monsters dropped Skulls or something (one per trash mob), players would just kill the easiest monsters to stock up on them. So it would have to be something that could vary with the difficulty of the monster itself, which gets us back into a true currency system like GP or consciousness shards. But what would you spend these on? Adding in major new mechanics to the game for the sake of this seems like it would take forever to balance and just ups the general complexity quotient to an unpleasant degree.
Right now I don't see an elegant solution, but I'm sure there must be one. The ideal solution:
1. Can be implemented really quickly.
2. Doesn't require too many changes to the existing game, which is working well in a rewards-sense other than this.
3. Is easy for new players to grasp.
4. Provides an incentive to fight SOME trash mobs, but never such a strong incentive that players are trying to grind them all.