Elemental weapons sucked in the first game? This is the first I've ever heard of that.
Given my primary was Lilith with a lot of elemental skills but I always found them to be much more powerful then their standard counterparts. There weren't even that many SMGs and Pistols that didn't have elemental damage. It seemed like snipers proced almost every time with any character, and it was one of the best parts about grenades and rocket launchers.
Assault rifles and shotguns didn't have nearly as many elemental options, but most of the time I found both of those gun types to rate low on my preferences.
It wasn't that they suck, but the system was rather byzantine. Procs in general required a percentage chance and a "tech pool" cost (which can vary wildly between gun types), tech pool only regenerated while the weapon was held (unlike eridian weapons, which can recharge while unequipped), higher elemental multipliers could proc at different intensities with differing chances and costs, all three damage-over-time effects are based on the target's health (and the difference between your level and the target's) and not on anything to do with the gun itself...and none of that is directly mentioned within the game itself. Choosing weapons with guaranteed procs (launchers, revolvers, explosive sniper rifles, certain eridian weapons and legendaries) was probably as good for sanity as it was for output
The explicitly listed percentages and damage on the item cards in BL2 are far easier to make sense out of.