Elemental is many things, but one thing it isn't is scary. Wandering the wilderness is never dangerous, unless you don't know that you can retreat before the enemy can get anywhere near you. You're always safe! The monsters aren't scary, they're comical. And the other factions aren't terrifying or awe inspiring, they're just goofy.
Fear isn't about big numbers or autodeath. It's about mechanisms and atmosphere. A great example is Eternal Darkness, a game where surprise and atmosphere made even the weakest foes terrifying. Its about resource limitations that make damage a serious capability limiter rather than a momentary speed bump. It's about not knowing exactly what you'll face or its capabilities until you fight it. It's about making combat meaningful.
Sins of a Solar Empire is a great example of how to do combat right. Enemy capabilities are unknown until you jump into the system. Retreat requires a slow spool up, during which you can be hammered while unable to return fire. And if your fleet goes down, it's slow and expensive to replace; more importantly, defenses are weak, so no fleet means your planets can be conquered easily.
Elemental needs that. Retreating should take time, making the decision to engage a stronger foe important. Cities should have stacking penalties, to weaken defenses. And the only information you should have about an enemy force should be it's combat rating. There should also be monsters that can't be seen without a unit wearing a scout pack, but that can still attack you. Monster stats should be increased by the world adventure level. And they should draw a random ability from a list of cool powers that do everything from spank you to suck your blood.
Then there's the art. Goblins and spiders and wolves oh *yawn* oh my. I haven't seen those in every game, ever. I'd like a monster with heads for hands, or a tentacles deer beast that attacks by spewing blood. Get creative! Steal stuff from that pan's labyrinth guy; his stories are so so, but man knows his monsters.
Get rid of healing items. And never make them again. Healing items are bad game design! If you can heal anywhere instantly, for practically nothing, combat is meaningless and distance is irrelevant. If they do exist they should be extremely rare. But they shouldn't exist.
Teleport - gotta go. Wilderness that you can warp away from is about as scary as sam and frodo. Granted those two might hump your shoe, but whatever. Make it rare, make it expensive and make it scale.
The point is, when I wander the wilderness with my sov, it should feel like I'm in the Bronx wearing gang colors and no pants.