I agree wholeheartedly. I really enjoy EWoM. I see it going in a very good direction under SD's development.
However, I imagined a world that was an "after the holocaust" type of place: A vast wasteland. It is too easy to generate food. I know many players ask SD to add more food. Irrigation was added. Mods add food (fisheries, for example). BTW, I use fisheries, and i am happy players make mods to implement their vision of what Elemental's world may be like. I like the variety, and I marvel at modders' ingunity!
But, in vanilla, it is just too easy to build cities, and cover the world with them. The AI does, so we must! (Hence, my adding fisheries.) My suggestions:
Make the food resource lower. Enforce the food ceiling. Living units consume food every turn. So do draft animals, and mounts. Starve a settlement's population that has negative food. Yes, people (beings) die. Food caravans maintained constantly, bring in food from a 'settlement' with a surplus, OK, but the caravan also consumes some food and water. No free lunch (smile).
Fertile soil is useless without water. Perhaps water might be added as a resource, (or whatever) and used to tame the urban sprawl? Yes, we have oasis, but functionally, they are 'farm land' and not water.
Building a pioneer unit (if these continue to be designed to start a new settlement) also consumes food - as does maintaining it. It needs to eat and drink while wandering the wastes looking for the rare, elusive, source of fertile soil that also has water (AND water). Making and sending a pioneer unit should be a major decision, and a major risk. Unless you have already scouted out a suitable site, secured it, etc.
And yes, some sort of garrison for outposts (mining, temples, libraries, shards, etc.) that is totally dependent on a REAL settlement that has water and grows crops would help achieve this 'less urban spam' model.
BTW, implementing something along the lines of what I suggested above would introduce several exciting possibilities. Raiding parties (to steal food) might become a viable tactic. The only damage such raiders do, if successful, (against a poorly defended settlement) would be to grab some resources and run. Raiding a caravan does NOT destroy it. Why kill the goose that lays the golden egg? (You want the caravan to continue the run, so, later, it will get more food, water, stuff, and you can raid it again. Hey, its delivery!
Raiding as a policy of one SOV towards another. This might be the natural state until a treaty is signed. Well, my first thoughts on this. Hope it contributes to the discussion so we can help SD develop this area.