I have to say, I'm pleasantly surprised with this issue.
First, Hickman lays out a fairly easy-to-understand status quo in the opening pages. We learn that Doom has somehow created a new world from the remains of the Earths of the Marvel and Ultimate Universes. He's divided them into kingdoms, and each one has a baron (such as the Braddocks in Higher Avalon and Hyperion in Utopolis) that rules it Moreover, Doom has created a squad of police consisting entirely of Thors to make sure that no one breaks the rules or asks too many questions. After all, he presents himself as the God that created this world, even though some inhabitants (like Dragon Man) suspect that the world isn't a naturally occurring one and other inhabitants (like James Braddock) are actively working against his rule.
But, it's really the tone that Hickman strikes that makes this issue as interesting as it is. The original "Age of Apocalypse" was infused with tension because the entire point of the story was the X-Men's frantic attempt to bring back the original timeline. Conversely, Hickman spends this issue exploring the mundane reality of this world, called Battleworld by the hoi polloi. In so doing, he conveys the sense that virtually everyone accepts Battleworld as being the "real" Earth. Moreover, he sets up the various cross-over issues that seem to be the main point of "Secret Wars." I'll admit that I've read few events that set up the tie-in issues to tell such unique stories, rather than simply presenting off-stage asides to the main event. Hickman makes it clear that a lot of stuff is happening on Battleworld, and I actually find myself excited to start diving into the tie-in issues.
That said, we still have a lot of questions. We don't know how Doom created this new Earth, and we don't know if he's actually aware of the existence of the previous worlds (though he appears to be). We're also left with questions of how Battleworld works. For example, it's unclear how it could have as many legitimate Mjolnirs as the size of the Thors Corps implies or how it brought back previous eras, such as the "Age of Apocalypse" or "Inferno." But, Hickman will clearly get there.
Finally, I've never heard of Esad Ribic before, but he's amazing. He really makes you feel like you're taking a tour of this world, doing a great job of conveying both intimate details (such as the look of wonder on the new Thor's face) as well as the grandeur of Battleworld (like the horror of the denizens from the other side of the Shield). It's great stuff.
Look at that: I'm starting to get excited about this event. Go figure.
*** (three of five stars)