Apologies for the wall of text. God bless ya if you actually read it.
It is my understanding that the default combat speed in E:WoM was changed to 2 in order to help "speed up combat". While an option to speed up combat animations (please) would be better for this, it probably does help...unfortunately it also unbalances other limiting factors which it was supposed to offset.
Perhaps chiefly, it no longer serves to be an effective limiter on powerful, heavy blunt weapons (or armor). A negative -.25, or -.5 may have been a significant drawback with a default speed of 1. It is decidedly less so with a default speed of 2. With that speed you can move and attack, or stand and attack multiple units. With a mount, or with the “great warriors” civ bonus, you are moving at will and dispatching handfuls of enemies a turn. Coupled with the related issue in this post of how the combat system favors glass cannons, there seems to be no reason whatever in the game to prefer or research bladed weapons, or really limit your equipment in any way. It discourages diversity in unit design, and makes combat all feel kind of the same.
The speed requirements for special actions like spell casting or firing a ranged weapon, were changed to 2, which is a good thing in principle. However, these limits aren't rigidly enforced, which defeats the purpose. Performing these actions will deduct 2 action points, but you don't need two AP to be able to perform them. This soft limit further diminishes the role combat speed plays a limiter, and thwarts its potential to promote diversity in combat and unit design.
In my opinion, in the current combat system, two things need to happen for a rather substantial payoff in terms of battlefield roles and unit diversity:
Almost all gear, including light armor, weapons, and even special ability packs, should have a plus or minus speed modifier (much more so than in the game currently). Heavy armor, and powerful two handed weapons (blunt weapons more so in exchange for even bigger damage) should have significant -speed modifiers that really impact speed in meaningful ways. The penalty from heavy weapons + heavy armor should quickly bottom out your speed, requiring a mount, special tech, or magic gear to do anything but lumber along one space at a time or attack a single target. Even light armor should have some minor -speed modifiers. On the other hand, small, quick, bladed weapons, easy to manage weapons, shortbows, or magic weapons, should have +speed modifiers.
Action point costs for special actions like spells, and ranged weapon fire, should be rigidly enforced. The only action you should be able to perform for less than a full action point, is a single move OR a single melee attack. If you don't have two AP, you can't cast a spell, or fire a missile. (Ideally, this would also accompany an overhaul of the magic system that makes frequent casting more practical)
The idea is, you're paying for character equip in speed, as well as resource cost, as opposed to right now, where there is little reason to have an archer or spellcaster not walking around in full plate, aside from the cost. It would mean the biggest , heaviest weapon and armor is not always the best choice. Researching new military tech gives you more options, access to more extreme specialized weapons, and maybe weapons that are a better balance of damage and speed, but you may still want characters running around with smaller weapons, and little or no armor. As now, researching magic items and special equipment gives you access to gear that helps mitigate this, like +speed items, and items that boost attack or defense without adding speed penalties, in exchange for increasing the resource cost of units.
Consider what this buys you:
It's conceptually satisfying. Plays into traditional archetypes. Logical reasons for not having archers and spellcasters in heavy armor without special tech or magic, other than cost. Logical reasons for not having spellcasters casually wielding heavy two handed weapons (They use traditional smaller + speed weapons like daggers and light staves in order to be able to have the speed to cast spells, or as a tradeoff in order to equip some light armor.). It is a well established fantasy gaming convention that spellcasters need to concentrate a “full round” to cast magic. Archers need to set up and take aim...longbowmen are not supposed to be “kiting” you around the field under most circumstances.
It encourages diversity in battlefield roles, and tactical depth. It encourages archers and spellcasters to be “squishier”, and to generally have to stay put to act OR move, but not both. They can't run around willy nilly, staying one step ahead, while still firing. They need that meatshield in front of them so they can set up and act. An enemy that gets into the backfield can disrupt them and force them to run (and therefore not act), or to go toe to toe with someone they probably dont have the defense to stand up to.
Units maxing out offense with the most powerful melee weapons (strikers) will be on hand to deal with high defense or “super units”, whose armor lower damage characters can't overcome, but probably won't have the speed to chase down lighter, squishier units on the run. In order to stay one step ahead of high defense units to get first strike, they will probably need limit their armor, making them vulnerable to ranged fire, and even to faster units that able to move in and finish them off opportunistically.
Since some units are encouraged to limit their armor for reasons beyond cost, units wielding fast, light, lower damage weapons are still viable, and even desirable. Heavy weapon users wont be fast enough to run down a fleeing squishy. Fast units (rogues) with +speed weapons and items, and light or no armor, will be able to get into the backfield and kill handfuls of squishier units with first strikes and multiple attacks. Consider making a “sneak attack” ability available to penetrate armor on high defense targets. Consider letting characters dual wield light weapons for even more +speed (extra attacks).
Generally, high defense (heavy armor) units (tanks) will be the slowest on the field , shrugging off all but massed range fire and magic, and big strike capability, as they advance on your lines, or act as a defensive wall for your squishies. Units with mounts might get a once per battle “charge” ability to let them put on a speed boost once a battle. Fast units with light damage weapons will have difficulty overcoming their defense, while they should have no trouble killing the rogues, so they make good guardians for archers or spellcasters.
Obviously, there are lots of things one could do to improve the games tactical depth and unit diversity, but combat speed is something already in place, and not well utilized at present, in my opinion. Of course there would be quite a lot of tweaking involved. Those few masochists among you who actually took the time to read this, please add your own comments, or tell me where I'm crazy.
Thanks for reading!