Well, I got to play a little bit more last night and I am sad to report that my initial feelings are the same now. I was not at E3 and didn't get a chance to play the game, but the overwhelming majority of the press gushed praises upon the game. At this point I'm not sure what game they were playing, maybe they've confused Rise of Legends with Age of Empires III, they are published by the same company after all.
The GUI really hasn't changed all that much since Age of Mythology, a game that came out almost 3 years ago. In fact, the overall character graphics haven't changed much, but the map graphics have. The gameplay doesn't seem that far removed from Age of Mythology and maybe Ensemble feels that they didn't need to fix what wasn't broken. Thing is there have been many RTS games since that have had a better GUI and better control interface than AOM had.
Then again, maybe my hope was too high on this game. My hope may be too high on Civilization IV as well, but we shall see.