So, now that people have had a chance to play it, what do they think?
Personally, I'm still not a fan. Knowing there's a time limit makes the Remnant really unfun to play, since I'm feeling pressured to try and make gains before everything changes. Also, knowing there are penalties to letting the timer run out (missing out on Isard, losing planets as Thrawn, etc.) pressures you into doing the voluntary progression, which is. . . wow, not cheap. Got to week 255, twenty or so weeks before I need to make Palpatine or lose Thrawn and Ciutric (and however many planets it takes with), and I keep losing defensive fleets because the NR zerg rushes me with Home Ones, forcing me to completely rebuild defensive fleets every so often, making it extremely difficult to save up for Palpatine.
It also rather bothers me that this increases the chances of advancing eras as other factions without actually doing anything. A few games I've played in earlier versions, I had to fight and kill the Imperial leader, which could be quite difficult, and had a sense of reward to it. Other times, the leader would die to another AI faction, and I get new units without having done anything at all. Still cool, but kinda strange. Now, all you have to do is run out the clock. You could be just ready to start your offensive, with solid defense fleets on your chokepoints and a good offensive fleet to start taking territory, and boom. . . new units, lose some heroes, gain new ones, and probably have to redefine your fleet compositions to accomodate. That last may just be my very low-grade OCD, but once I moved to Thrawn, the game got more pressure-filled than I generally like, crunched between only having 100 weeks, restructuring my defense fleets to use Allegiances, and having fewer credits coming in than were going out to that shipbuilding effort, to say nothing of actually finally building a decent attack fleet and army.
I get why it's there, but an option to turn off the timed part would be really nice.