To some extent, it may actually make things easier depending on what the AI is doing. You can still turtle up on the home planet, but now there are three areas at which the AI might have a high priority of striking, rather than just one. That is both bad and good: bad in that you can't just blob all your defenses at one location; but good in that if the AI is distracted with those other new buildings that are around (and the new force fields take time, etc), then you have a higher likelihood of being able to survive a surprise attack, or an attack that is otherwise stronger than you could normally defend against.
The goal is definitely not to just make the start of the game harder, per se, so we'll see how this evolves.
Thanks for the thoughts!
Regarding the new outposts, they aren't optional or expansion-only. Partly these represent a coming major shift in planet construction for all planets, but we just started with the home planets first. Should make things more interesting, and it should avoid some of the stalemate situations that crop up, that cause a lot of players to just give up on some of the games. Not that stalemates won't be possible, and siege-breaking has always been a major focus for the game, but what I'd really like to get rid of is the occasional grindy feeling that players can get into during a really long siege. A lot of that comes down to making sure that ships aren't quite so concentrated always on both sides, in terms of both the human players and the AI players.
Feedback is welcome on that, but there is an important reason it won't be optional: the entire game is being rebalanced around these new concepts, so if you take away the multi-vulnerability-spots for the human players, then it will be just incredibly too easy. Rest assured that this isn't going to just morph into an entirely unfamiliar game or anything, but it comes down to making the battlefields a lot more robust and interesting, hopefully -- that was a big focus of mine pre-1.0, but it hasn't been something that has come up very much since then, and my feeling is that it's long overdue!