So, to begin off, melee in Beyond the Wire is a lot more meaningful than I expected it to be, certainly moreso than in other comparable titles. With how close-quarters fighting in trenches can be, it's sometimes better to cave some skulls in with your club, or shank the baddies with a fixed bayonet. Mopping up trenches, clearing houses, and flanking unsuspecting enemies all lend themselves very well to some silent stabbing.
I'll begin off with the positives of melee in terms of gameplay. First off, for hand weapons - blocking! An important aspect of melee oft overlooked in games where the main aspect of gameplay is shooting. This allows the player to defend themselves if caught on the wrong foot and fight back. Secondly, having a hand weapon equipped improves your movement speed by a significant amount, and mobility is paramount when your enemies have ranged weapons.
However, in my opinion, there are a number of problems with how melee is implemented in the game - the first of these is the directional melee system, including object collision on attacking. There are two distinct issues with it: the first is the clunkiness with which you have to pick your direction, and it's practicality in the heat of the moment. Say I'm fighting someone in a trench - I round a corner going right and he's right there, in front of me. First instinct: I click to attack. But, since I rounded that corner, my melee is going come from the side I just rounded, hitting the wall and thwarting my attempt. I would have to move my mouse up or down to attack from a vertical direction - a thought I really shouldn't have to process in the heat of the moment. Both these systems are counter-productive to the fast and brutal pace of melee, especially when firearms are still deadly in close quarters.
There's also issues with how blocking interacts with yourself. If you make an attack, during the (quite long) wind-up period you can cancel it to block - however, once you start making the attack, you're locked in and can do nothing to stop it, and as such you are incredibly vulnerable for a quite long period of time.
There are also problems with melee in how it interacts with a firearm-wielding opponent. The first, and most obvious one, is that they can just shoot you point-blank with no issues. They need far less time to shoot you than you need to wind up your melee, which is an excessively long period. Secondly, the barrel collision that makes you lower you weapon is virtually nonexistant against players, making getting close to disable their ability to shoot you just not possible or impractical.
Another, minor gripe I have is that there's no practical difference between the unmounted bayonet some classes get and the club that others get. There should be at least two variations of melee weapons, along with meaningful differences: bayonet / trench club, and a raider club. I'll dive into more detail later.
And so, I come to a list of suggestions to help improve the melee experience and power vs. firearm-wielding opponents. There are a number of changes that require eachother to make sense. I apologize if I've missed or gotten any mechanics wrong, as melee currently is a bit buggy and difficult to understand with certainty what's supposed to be happening.
Firstly, remove melee collision on environmental objects. This is an unnecessary element that does nothing to improve the experience, and really only makes it more frustrating.
Secondly, allow blocking to take priority over an attack in progress. If you hit the block button you should instantly stop your attack mid-swing and assume a blocking stance. This is very important for being able to control precisely what your character does, especially in melee, where one mistake can, and oftentimes is, fatal.
Increase movement speed when a player has their melee weapon out by 15% over what a player normally moves at with a rifle or pistol out - admittedly, I am unsure what the movement speed bonus is currently, but there is one to be sure.
Onto a more chunky, possibly overreaching suggestions to change how melee works. Many ideas are inspired by Vermintide, but only the ones I feel would be pertinent to a game like this.
Remove directional melee. Yes, it's an important advertised feature of the game, but as with melee collision, there appears to be no real benefit to it, and when in combination with melee collision on environmental objects all it does is breed frustration. Change a basic set of attacks the player can use, as follows:
Light Attack: The current melee attack. Fast attack, but requires 2 hits to kill a player from the front. Light attacks stagger an enemy with a firearm out for a short period. Light attacks slows the player by 10%.
More or less identical to the current melee attack, except it has a much shorter wind-up period and less damage. I cannot say exactly how fast it should be, but it should be quite fast.
Heavy Attack: A strong attack requiring you to hold down the attack button for a short period, and upon releasing throws a powerful attack capable of killing a player from full health. Breaks the block of a player, and prevents them from blocking for a moderate period. Charging up a heavy attack slows the player by 25%, allowing a savvy enemy (armed with either rifle or melee weapon) to move out of range and avoid it.
Counters blocking and lets you 1-hit a player from the front.
Push: When blocking, hit the attack key to initiate a push. This is a very fast attack that deals no damage, but stumbles the target for a moderate period, less vs. a target with a melee weapon out. Stumbled targets cannot shoot, attack, or block for the duration. Pushes will interrupt a player charging up a heavy attack. Pushes do not affect a blocking player.
This is possibly the most important attack: this lets a player with a melee weapon out get the jump on someone, especially someone with their firearm out. It also adds some counter-play to the aforementioned heavy attack.
Pushes should also, as the name implies, push a target slightly in the direction the pusher was facing, though the feasibility of this might not be great, as I'm not familiar with how physics are handled in the engine.
Add melee combos, in lieu of removing directional melee. As melee isn't the emphasis of this game, the combos can remain short and simple.
For Bayonets and Trench Clubs, The Combo
Simple, wide sweeps that doesn't require much skill but has a high chance of hitting the enemy. Heavy 1 is a vertical attack that requires more skill to land.
Add in the Raider Mace, which the Assault role should use. A meaner looking and spikier variant of the Trench Club. The Combo
The Raider Mace rewards skill, as seen with light 1 - a downward swing that, if aimed well, will hit your enemy's head. Light 2 is a wide sweep to compensate if you missed light 1. Heavy 1 is also a downward strike, but wider than the Bayonet one.
The Raider Club is supposed to have a distinct advantage over Bayonets / Trench Clubs to emphasize the close-quarters nature that the Assault Class gets themselves into.
Combo chains are simple - initiating a light attack after a heavy attack will go into light 2 for both. Block canceling will reset the chain to light 1.
Add headshot bonus. Any headshot with a melee weapon should instantly slay the enemy.
Increase the barrel obstruction distance vs. enemy players (when using long arms). This will make it less viable to just sprint through a trench barrel-stuffing enemies with your 1,25-meter long rifle. This should give pistols and melee weapons a more distinct advantage in the twisting turns of a trench.
Allow any backstab to instantly slay the enemy regardless of their health.
Melee kills render the enemy unrevivable - it not only emphasizes the brutality, but also gives melee kills a tactical advantage over just shooting them since that player can't be revived.
Questions? Comments? Changes too extreme for a game like Beyond the Wire? Don't understand something? I'd like to hear it.