I think the panelists frustration with recent civs comes from just not liking the shift away from simulation that happened in Civ 5. That's when the race to 2050 AD became really tight, when individual civs went from being ahead of the curve in a couple of areas to having big game defining powers, and trade-offs for player choices were completely redone.
-I've gotten the impression from this and the original civ6 podcast that a lot of strategy in Civ 6 is basically just doing a list of arbitrary pre-scripted tasks. You research by doing the tech tasks, you do diplomacy by doing whatever task the other leader has, regardless of the geopolitical situation, you get golden ages by doing whatever gets you the points, and your general strategy should be to just do whatever your civ bonus is as much as possible. Is this mistaken? I certainly think it's telling how enthused everyone was by an actual loyalty mechanic.
-Environmentalism is far more likely to be a causality of Jon Shafer's streamlining than of any nefarious political agenda. Civ 4 did all of its environmental simulation at the city level through the health system (modern polluting buildings gave unhealthiness, environmentalist stuff either reduced this or gave health directly), but civ 5 cut the health system and reduced the number of buildings, which meant there wasn't room for buildings of different Eco-frendliesness. Even then, they did add recycling centers.
-I think avoiding making religion all or nothing is why 4&5 didn't have a religious victory. I meant that spreading your religion had to benefit the other victory conditions, and that embracing a foreign religion didn't advance someone else's win.
-If you don't think EU4 and CK2 glorify empire building, I have a bridge to sell you.