In reply to your comments here, Austin; Your dedication to avoiding spoilers is commendable, but I'm still struggling to figure out exactly where you got stuck. Did you not find the Shrine of Winter? The King Ring? Perhaps with a hint towards which part you felt was a "needlessly small and almost invisible path tucked away in the most unimportant area of the game" you might get some more valuable feedback.
I'm sorry you were disappointed that the game failed to lead you along by the nose so that you never felt lost. Have you considered the possibility that you were not intended to discover all of the secret areas on your very first playthrough, so that you might still have a sense of wonder discovering something new in New Game +?