I'll put my 2 cents in on what is right wrong with Ashes and the follow-up. Keep in mind I can ask questions of Stardock directly wherein most drive-by purchasers (who got Age of Empires in droves) will not.
--------- the not-so positive ---------
As has been mentioned the re-releases are awful confusing and I've personally disliked them every time SD used them. Never said anything because I figured I was alone in feeling that way They're confusing and couldn't understand why they didn't just do DLC for continuity. Then a year or two after being done with the game release a "gold version".
Price is not a factor for me. I just put it on my credit card and gulp when I open my next bill. But all those other titles are much cheaper and that makes mass purchasing in droves easier to attain.
As mentioned before the fact the units float. Reminds me of an air hockey table. This is a serious RTS but it makes it look more arcadey since nothing has legs or treads. It took me a long time to figure out the yellow discs on the sides were actually ducted fans.
As mentioned before it is sometimes a bit hard to discern what units do what. I had this same problem with Total Annihilation.
"Substrate" immediately makes me thing of sandstone layers or dirt. When coming back to the game after hiatus Substrate makes me thing of something to be mined as a resource - not a race. I think I kinda understand why the dev's named it for the higher meaning it has, but 99% of people won't. Kids in Earth Science will be especially confused.
---------- the excellent -----------
- Stuff firing all over the place at once.
- The AI is awesome.
- Graphics are gorgeous.
- Amazing lighting.
- Campaign is better now.
- I LOVE the radar map. Brilliant execution.
-------------- other -----------------
Personally I can't stand going back to Age of Empires vs. a game like Ashes. The animations in AoE are too janky and... holy cow. I think I just realized why everything floats in Ashes... no walking animations. Cuts down on cost to make units in the animation department and allows more units on the screen because of less overhead.