I'm not sure if 1.6 will address the treasure issue you brought up, but your other points are quite valid.
SOME of us like to build cool cities, with the whole opposing empire thing being a necessary evil in such games. I can remember many a game of Civ or Alpha Centauri where I was focusing on just how big (in population) I could build a city, while dealing with unrest and pollution. And in Alpha Centauri specifically reworking the land to maximize said bonuses.
Despite being a powerful practitioner of magic in Elemental, I can't even change those ugly olive drab trees to regular forest... and terrain modification seems like using a sledgehammer to construct a fine chair...
So yeah, I'm guilty of the CTRL+N too. If I'm going to invest the next handful of hours into a 4x game, damn straight I want a more ideal start location. Having to wander for multiple turns to find said ideal start site just gives the AI that leg up, if they had the dream location to start with. Possibly more challenging? Yes, the AI's can use a break, but this doesn't address the OP's point, that being that you should be smart enough to seek out a river beforehand in the first place.
Start points in Civ and Alpha Centauri weren't nearly as make or break in the early game as they can be in Elemental, as far as building effective cities in the early game. Also, being a powerful practitioner of magic, you'd THINK that you'd be a little more in tune with good sites as far as enchantments.
BTW, in the code (ElementalDefs), the game talks about starting cities having minimums for Food, Materials, and Mana, but I obviously missed something here because those aren't the values that I see at my starting city.
The OP is simply pointing out here why Elemental has frustrated him to the point that he has decided to invest his valuable gaming time and dollars elsewhere. Other 4x games out at the moment do a much better job in bringing home the wonder of a fantasy world, and stone knives just don't scream wonder out to me. Elemental has a number of kludges as well that were done in the name of 'game balance' but realistically make no sense. My fave to call out is the whole spear and shield thing. Multiple cultures here on earth learned the benefit of the spear and shield (Greek era combat is built around it, and even Shaka's Zulus figured loved using shields with their spears). Medieval Knights? Lance and Shield. The Shield has been a staple of combat alongside the pointy stick for many many centuries now (even cops today use them occasionally), and yet most cultures in Elemental seemed to have missed the boat here...
There are other, more interesting ways to balance things than to ignore such obvious things, and I'll throw in my fave here - armor proficiency. Yes, it should be perfectly obvious that the chain shirt goes over your head, just like the leather jerkin did, but despite legends coming down from pre-cataclysm talking about mighty warriors in suits of armor, well apparently little kids in Elemental don't play warrior, so you have to get special training before you can put the suit on. I'd buy a penalty without training, but not that you can't use it at all. Use your head, people!
For all the pomp and circumstance of the Elemental lore, and the promise it implies, the actual game feels waaay too bland by comparison on a lot of points. Sure, there are some cool elements, but not sweating the small stuff on the designer's part does detract from the overall experience. The artwork screams powerful magic, but the actual world feels sort of like a lame B Movie, with almost no special effects budget to boot.
Sorry to be so harsh here, but I've been with Elemental almost since the beginning (grabbed it at Best Buy the week it came out). For some of the advancements in mechanics since the E:WOM days, I've seen the developers retreat from concept after concept, because they didn't want to invest the time to make those concepts work. Is E:LH a more streamlined game? Absolutely. Is it more stable? Yes. Does it have some fun new concepts? Sure. What it DOESN'T have is ships and dynasties and fun uneven terrain. E:WOM felt like a vast world. E:LH feels more like a tabletop game to me, from a world perspective. I do like the varying 'special realms' that are added (scrapyard, etc.), but the world still feels flat, too small, and even cities seem canned to me. Oh, and despite having a battlefield mechanic, city walls can't even be adequately represented, along with siege mechanics... apparently walls are just for show.
I mentioned in another thread that terrain seems underutilized in Elemental, and that a 'rescale' may be in order in the next iteration. It'd be cool if there was enough varied terrain clumped around the map so that Ironeers could have rugged terrain move modifiers, Tarth with wood move modifiers, etc. for more faction differentiation that actually meant something. Terrain modifiers ALMOST feels like an afterthought in Elemental, and I think that a lot can be done to improve upon it in the next iteration.
Brad, Derek and the team really should to take criticisms like this more seriously before they tackle the next iteration. Spending some time on the small stuff does matter, and the OP has brought up a lot of 'small stuff' that has plagued Elemental since the beginning, in various iterations. Not bothering with little minor details like destructable walls on the battlefield, and terrain in general (impassable is a cludge, people do fight in forests, despite the difficulty!) the next time around will mean just one more point where Elemental will continue to fall short. You can't make everyone happy all the time, but when you don't bother with the (to some) obviously low hanging fruit, well that's your own hard headedness working against you.
The Stardock team has invested a lot of time in the modeling of weapons, armor, peeps, mechanics and such in Elemental. With that now done, it's time to look at why people give up on/lose interest in Elemental, and beef up the rest of the game.