To be honest, I do not really remember cliffs and wood lakes before this patch but rarely played so I might be wrong there.
Well, yes. It was always map, where you played all four ages. In DE, you basically skipped feudal. In AoC you could not afford to make some m@a into one range and 18 min up because you would most likely die or suffer casualties due to pressure of feudal army.
I think you are blaming somethings on the previous map script that really weren't it's fault. The reason people were able to castle so fast is because a) the players got better, more optimal builds, aided by quality of life features in DE; b) there's been a power creep in eco upgrades for a lot of civs; c) players in general have learned to defend better with fewer units.