I don’t think the early game is so bad. You’re a veteran, so I won’t condescend by saying that things are easy once you know the game. I think the early game has just become much more of a meat grinder. Turnover is much higher as you hire replacements and fire soldiers with permanent injuries. I think the difference is priorities of using on-hand cash. Early game I think expendable income should be used on two things.
1. Setting up the emerging core of soldiers level 3-5 with gear that will see them through to higher levels. I try to give them good chainmail/shields once I can afford to.
2. Making sure there are always 12 brothers on hand to go into battle. The reasoning here is pretty simple. Even if one of the bodies is a peddler with a club, he increases the likelihood that a veteran will survive just by attracting arrow fire and aggro. In that way even money spent hiring a new brother is an investment in a better soldier.
I think the early game can be beaten pretty reliably, just depends on what your tolerance level is.
Skeletons aren’t all that bad. Auxiliaries are pretty simple as long as you’ve got reliable damage output from melee fighters, but I decline 2 skull artifact retrieval quests that I know will put me up against legionaries. The polearm users in that army are just…. Terrifying. That’s without even considering that they all have fearsome.
I’m definitely not “good” at the game, and there are much better players here on the forums. Just my 2 cents. I think I was super flustered in the early game for the last campaign I started.