Here are some of the new features going into v1.03:
1) Significantly updated computer AI. The AI is substantially better than in the current game. We're also evaluating whether to put in a difficulty level that gives the AI added bonuses since, in any RTS, a top human player will always be able to out think a computer AI.
2) LOTS of new game setup options including:
+ Pirates or no pirates in a given game
+ Fleet size
+ Income rate speed
+ Build Speed
+ Ship speed
+ Research Speed
+ Culture Speed
3) The open market for buying and selling of resources has been altered so that there are random fluctuations in pricing and can crash or boom based on player behavior.
4) Imrpoved group phase jumping for large fleets of ships.
5) AI will surrender if situation is hopeless rather than drag the game out.
6) AI players will replace humans in multiplayer if a player drops.
7) Defeated players who are observing can no longer give resources or place bounties (bit of an exploit there).
8) Lots of tweaks to Ironclad Online for messaging users.
9) Improvements to network coding for multiplayer play.
This is by no means a complete list. There's dozens of small changes based on player feedback (we'll give a complete list when we release the update).
Our ETA for this release is late next week or the week after depending on testing. We want to make sure the AI updates work pretty well (and that means, ahem, lots of play testing!) and lots of network testing.