Ever since it was announced as the spiritual successor to Master of Magic, Elemental: War of Magic has been anticipated almost as much as the second coming of the Messiah, and with expectations to match. This statement was a double-edged sword, no, a double-edged +5 Keen Adamantine Great Sword with Massive Criticals. That single statement was a complete marketing campaign in and of itself, and drew the masses of reclusive super nerds out of the cryostasis they had placed themselves in, frozen in waiting for this very announcement. At the same time however, it set the bar beyond realistic reach, hovering in the skies like the once great Empire of Netheril, and it too in waiting for the inevitable fall.
But how is it that this doom was set in stone from the beginning, as an inescapable fate? Is it that no sequel can be as good or better than the original? Certainly not. We have been proven wrong on this, and from this very same developer. Of course, you all know I'm referring to Galactic Civilizations II. And neither is it the exception to a rule, as we have Master of Orion II, Baldur's Gate II, Age of Wonders II, Tribes 2, etc., all roughly on par with or exceeding their first installments.
If not that then what? Is it that Stardock is incapable of making great PC games? Also no, with the above example also serving here. Many other possibilities can be speculated here, and some may even be a contributing factor, but I think it is this one major insurmountable obstacle that, for the moment, will serve to strip Elemental of its colour, so that it pales by comparison.
Master of Magic is a great game, and has many wonderful (and otherwhere well documented) features that make it so. However, as a widely popular and beloved classic, it has something that no new game can ever have while it is still new - Nostalgia. This is how it is with most of the classics for many people I think. This nostalgic effect is compounded even further if the game was played in one's youth, when they didn't have the cares they have now, before the ancient mythological Greek Gods sent them two spaces forward as sacrificial pawns to the world's relentless and unrelenting grindstone that doesn't relent.
Does this mean that Elemental in it's current form would be a contender for Master of Magic if not for nostalgia? Well, would Don Flamenco have taken the championship belt if it wasn't for Mike Tyson? I mean, he could dance, but I don't think that would have helped his case any. I still have faith that Elemental will eventually be content-filled and polished (I'm so sick of that word), but in the meantime it's not there yet, hence all the kids* in these forums posing that question that is normally asked during long trips.
So, how to combat nostalgia? Unit abilities (sorry, couldn't resist). No, I think the only way to go about doing this is by using scale, and large proportions of it. Throw mana around like it's desalinated water. Change pigeons to dragon-pigeons. If the player is zoomed in when someone throws a fireball, have the firespray or ash hit the camera. Allow over-the-top power levels like in the Dragon Ball series. Charlie has a broken arm? Give him an enema.
Obviously, those are all ridiculous suggestions, as is my wont, but for a general idea of what I'm getting at, I say shake the earth, crack open the heavens, sunder the fabric of the universe, call the void, empty the oceans, upheave the lands, plunge into the abyss, harness the stars.... and if you can, build an empire in the meanwhile.
*Just used for example, and not meant to be condescending or critical.