This will be a bit longer post so be warned
Lots of good stuff, love especially that the AI will take on the pioneer spam and become more dangerous Awesome Will be happy to try that out.
Also new tactical maps, with lots of obstacels, opening more tactical opportunities for blockers/range glass cannons. Awesome as well
I also like the increased usefulness of towns, making them more important as food/material generators. Once u have a few towns up and running new cities will not need any serious upgrades at all before they become usefull. Only growth. I wonder if that will not make the Sovereigns Call too OP for life only? I assume it is supposed to be balanced by the unrest reduction thingy in the death tree? Well we will wait and see.
On another note I feel that the early game has been prolonged by increasing the production costs as well as removing the possible rushing/incomegenerating production hub strategy (3 turn minimum combined with 25 guildar minimum rush cost). I'm wondering a bit why? Could it be because we have been shouting on the forum that the early game is fun and the mid to late game is slowing down? And that u are therefore trying to prolong the "good thing"? The only direct effect I see is that we as players (as already pointed out by Tuidjy) will focus even more on the hero development as the only viable strategy...not necessarily a good thing. Also a "good thing" will not neccessarily become better by making it slower, chances are it will become more tedious=less fun! (On a side note, this will make the 1000 Gildar option even more OP, as it will allow rushing still for the first 30 to 40 (1000/25=40, assuming a bit of overlap) items - negating all the intended slowdown - a HUGE difference now)
On a side note, my personal favourite approach to the speed is to use the epic research approach. My research is really taking its time, allowing my cities to grow with it in pace, not so much clogged with all kinds of options, but getting things done in time with the next research item being 'thought up'. Once again, it is my personal taste (and something the game allows for in the start-up, which is great), and it makes the game for me much more enjoyable. So why not make the turn limit something to be choosable as well? And not something forced down the players throat as to how he/she is supposed to be enjoying it?????
But ok, let us assume that the goal of the slowdown in production and resource development in combination with a more aggressive Ai will serve to make the start of the game more nailbiting. No more unchallenged expansion without clearing out the mobs. So if we can assume this is going to be the case, only the starting city for the first 10 or 20 turns and my heroes are trying hard to clear the vicinity, as mobs WILL attack the cities, if defense not enough to hold against weak/medium/strong stacks. (as it should be - which barbarian tribe would leave Rome unpillaged, if only militia were on the walls?). I believe this will be a very good thing. The wilderness should be SCARY! But to return to the production issue, how does it help this expansion reduction? It will not change it at all!!! Only the Monster AI can do that effectivly enough imo.
No even worse, as I'm thinking now, by tailoring the production to a high production powerhouse (making incidentally earth as starting power even more 'necessary'), what about the starting positions with 'only' 2 materials and the Sovereign without any earth enchantments? Starting production will be around 15 or even less, making shrines etc suddenly into 5 to 10 turns 'for ever' upgrades, gimping them even more. The Sov with an earth hammer enchantment (which is now giving materials, making it even more OP - the old was better imo, as it was strong early start-up but not overpowering late game) can double or even tripple the output of the city (2 materials to start, 2 essences, 1 Oracle, possibly 1 with pool). This makes it very hard for not earth based Sovs to evenly compete with the empire building, forcing them even more into the hero only strategy. Please PLEASE allow us the freedom to choose the way to win without forcing us down one path by making it an almost requirement.
To cap it all up in one sentence: Great that the AI will be more aggressive, am highly doubtful of the production 'update'