Basically, the game ain't great as it is. It's fun enough, but some of the mechanics are so laughably poor it's hard to remain positive in the face of such a epic fail on the part of Stardock.
This fail has been admitted by Brad and the reviews and sales (not to mention the layoffs on the back of that) speak for themselves.
The good news? Stardock bought themselves a SHITLOAD of goodwill with Gal Civ and Sins, and also a hell of a lot of fan loyalty. This loyalty isn't misplaced, I'm not a raging fanboy or a fire and brimstone doomsayer. I'm simply a fan who's been impressed by Stardock and it's people in the past but can still take a game on it's own merits.
I might be way off when I say this, but it seems Elemental suffered more than it flourished with Brad taking a big role in the development process. His love for the game is obvious, and his commitment was clear (for those who've been following Elemental you'll know this to be true) but what he gave in love he lost in objectivity. A game isn't great because you THINK it's great, and you can't just make bad choices because YOU like it that way.
Basically Stardock it seemed completely ignored the lessons the past masters of the genre have taught, and tried to build it all from scratch. Sadly, an epic fail.
So coming to the faults and solutions :-
1. The Magic System - In it's current state, it is truly pointless. There isn't any variation within the different spheres, and all spells are basically direct damage.
SOLUTION - Elemental Dev Team go play Age of Wonders 2 and Age of Wonders : Shadow Magic. Learn what it is to have a dynamic and exciting magic system, one that actually has buffs/debuffs that matter and more varierty (overland spells / tactical spells / summons / buffs / strategic).
2. Combat - As is, it's walk a big unit over to a lesser unit and press 1 button until dead. The only variation in battlefield is basically the colour of the ground. There are no fortifications (this ties into the Magic system as there are no spells for destroying fortifications either) and nothing that makes siegeing a city remotely hard.
SOLUTION - Again, learn from AoW2 and AoW : SM. The battlefields there are varied and make use of tactical things such as LoS and fortifications.
3. Unit/Research/Race Tech - The current situation is basically every unit (aside from creature allies which are one of the games good points) is a peasant with different equipment a different name. There are 10 races, and aside from skin colour and design, there might as well only be 2. We have 10 races and 2 tech trees, a lot of the technology being fantastically redundant. The units as well are in need of an overhaul. in AoW if I play Orcs I raid with Warg Riders and Warlords and Shamen, all with their own look and feel. IF I play Elves I get Archers and Centaurs and Trees, etc, etc.
SOLUTION - Learn from your own creations as well as the epic MOO and HOMM games. Gal Civ 2's tech trees were awesome...both varied and race specific. As far as units goes, if you want the game to have longevity you need to make it varied. Each race should have it's own look and feel, not just the homogenised 5 + 5 that we have at the moment.
What Elemental does well is the Quests and the Sovereign. That imo is the best part about the game, it needs some tweaking but it's good, and fresh. The style of the game is beautiful as well, can't fault the art guys.
In short, this game would have been a bigger hit if you just remade AoW2 with the arty painterly graphics and new engine. Fact. That isn't what we (the fans!) wanted, and it isn't what we expected, we expected an improvement if anything, but in all fairness it would have been a bigger success if thats the way it was done. And more importantly, it would have been more fun.
I'm sure over time Elemental will grow and become a better game, but I can't see it replacing any of the past masters as my (and many others, I'm sure) "go to" 4X fantasy game unless some DRASTIC changes are made