Actually, I'd say one of elemental's biggest problems is a lack of willingness to simply lift good ideas directly from other successful strategy games.
Would elemental have been a worse game if it duplicated Civ terrain system when it came to city production and terrain improvement?
Would elemental have been a worse game if it had simply duplicated AoWs magic system with global mana generation, character specific channeling limits, and diverse spell book?
Would elemental have been a worse game if it had simply duplicated the siege warfare style and tactical battles of Master of Magic?
Would elemental have been a worse game if it had simply lifted the traditional races out of generic fantasy to make some interesting racial diversity? Dwarves good in hills excelling at production and machinery, elves good in forests with faster/invisible units, vampires with extremely strong units that steal life, ware creatures with bonds to the animals of the world, frostlings from the frozen wastes that command blizzards, the undead and their vast hordes, lizardmen from the swamps with limited production but cheap units that deal poison damage, etc.
Personally my answer to all of these questions is no. Learn from predecessors, there's a reason they're popular games.
Instead we have virtually meaningless, empty terrain; a magic system that started with half of AoWs system, shifted to the other half several months after release, and has never been as interesting; boring repetitive tactical battles; and races that differ only in skin color, starting tech and a couple +10% bonuses to resources that are rarely constraining anyway.
Obviously, there are copyright restrictions, but copying the flavor and style is perfectly legal. No one has a copyright on land producing food or a wall going across a tile based battlefield, and no one has a copyright on elves.
I understand wanting to create a unique game with your own unique world. Unique is good, but keep in mind that even Tolkien lifted most of his stuff straight out of the mythology of Northern Europe and England. And whenever you try to come up with something unique it should be at least as interesting as just copying the old stuff.