I think that they're not useful in practice, but in theory they're better for balance purposes. --- "Murder of the living is tragic, but murder of the idea is unforgivable." - Janus, speaker of the synod
The damage boost has gotten me through a lot of dire ingame battles already. The abilities themselves aren't useless, it's more that you either don't want to be in the situation where the boost occurs or later in the game never even get into that situation.
I agree tough that the starters would be more interesting if they got different abilities instead of just slapping the same thing on every gen.