It took one game to realize the greatness of this new version. I started in a not-so-great situation, though decided to play it through because it would allow me to really test the felxibility of the new system. I am the trogs...so very combat oriented.
So I started on a narrow stretch of land that connected, on each side, to larger land masses. There literally nothing, except decent food/production/essense. I mean..there was nothing else on the whole narrow stretch of land. I mean...nothing. So I made a decision, I will make my main city a fortress and go for an all or nothing strategy of taking out my nearest neighbor to use his starting resources for myself. Naturally, both neighbors ask for a non-aggression pact...lol. I actually accepted them both, which gave me a chance to build up a military.
I was totally able to go military first, particularly because of the ability to build some besic gold producing buildings right off the bat. I feel that this is a big difference in the game, as I was able to actually produce and maintain an army. Yes, it came at the cost of building up my towns for other reasons, but given that fact that I literally had no other options, except one nicely rescourced outpost to the north.
Speaking of that outpost, it was unbelievably useful to be able to upgrade it with both the defense and offense upgrades. It blocked the northern entrance to the thin stip of land my capitol was on, and I actually put my second hero with two units (one self made "tank" and one more offensive unit) on there to guard it. Unbelievably, it had two magic nodes, a metal and a crystal foundry. Yeah, can't lost that...
Once the pact with the neighbor to my west, Altar, expired, I immediately went and attacked his two outposts to the west between my city and his. Then I took my northern troops and took his northern city. This left his starting city as his remaining city, and I gathered all my troops and after a big battle in which I lost all but my hero, took his capital. It was in a wonderful location and he had already made it a "town."
The cool thin about this game is that the difference maker in this whole thing was onel ittle unit of named spearmen (forget their name) with the ability to fortify. I lost them in that last battle, but they were truly champions in my early conquest. I wonder what would have happened if I did not have that quest. It is these little random things make this game great.
Anyway, that is actually where I am in the game, so I don't know if I will get rolled by Gilden (they just declared war on me) and it is a race to my northern outpost).
Perhaps this type of situaiton had happened in Beta 3, but it would have felt much too difficult to actually rasie the required money for an initial army and I feel I would have been overrun or at least hemmed in to the point of doing nothing until I shrivel and die off. Having an option when starting with nothing was great! Go military, grab and upgrade and defend your only accessible outpost and then attack in a win or die scenario. What a great way to start a game!!