Now you can win in early-mid game (in expert difficulty). So in most cases no need in 4-5 levels of cities. Anyway success in mid game depends on success in early game. Success in late game depends on success of mid game. So each game stage: early, mid and late should be balanced separately. For me only early-mid game matters. I choose Conclave (+3 research, wow) to research Mounted Warfare asap. So I can buy a horse very fast. Horse gives double moves in early game. Double moves = double XP. It is because only sovereign/champions matters. Trained units require many production points in early game. Even so they are too weak to be useful. It is much better to invest these production points in building pioneers and improvements. So in mid game you have super champions with super equipment. And trained units still can't compete with them. Please, do something radical with trained units.
This is good logic. I will increase mounted warfare tech cost, increase the shop value for mounts, increase the barracks to 50% discount to unit training, decrease the cost of barracks and training yard, increase the XP units gain from battle, nerf the bonus attack in path traits. The intention is to increase a Fortress's ability to pump out units of high quality, let units level faster, weaken the mounted hero strategy, and stop level 4 traits from being so good.
One thing that I look at is a city with 4/2/2. Choosing Conclave makes it a 4/2/2. That means +3 research from Conclave, +2 from city level, +2 from inspiration. Choosing Town makes it a 4/3/2. That means +2 from Inspiration and +2 from city level. So you have a total of 7 for Conclave and 4 for Town. A town can then build Study about 33% faster. So you gain +3 research per turn more than that town for 20 turns until it reaches level 3. You will likely be at +9 by then and they will bet at +6. As they continue to level faster, they actually catch up to you in terms of percentages. At level 3 they can really pull ahead in growth or choose to make some extremely powerful tanks. When you get to level 3, you get +1 Essence and can choose to once again gain the advantage in research. You are now a 4/2/3 and truly have an advantage in technology. At that point other cities are founded and the equation gets extremely more complicated. I don't see a major advantage in Conclave over Towns unless you have a faction that is designed to play better with more research and magic.
Magnar, for instance, would not choose either of those strategies and go after only fortresses. He only needs about 5 techs to reach his full potential as a conqueror.
In the next full size update there will be better natural city defense. I will be balancing things so that Catapults and Fireballs are the only way to take over a city. That means late game techs or powerful mages. There will be double the amount of heroes to ensure the AI has the chance to cast Counterspell during sieges. I might even make the Guardian statue start with that spell.