Its no secret that range combat has many disadvantages when compared to melee combat: underwhelming damage, no way to keep enemies at bay, stamina consumption, stat investment, carry weight occupied by ammo, material use due to ammo, only viable in PVE/using DOT stacking ammo. The only advantage to being an archer is attacking the enemy from a safe distance, but many times enemies close that distance before they are dispached, and one is forced into melee after investing heavily into a range build. Im aware that bow damage has been increased in Testlive, but I have no access to it because im a console pleb, so i wont be talking about damage improvements. I will be talking about crowd control as well as some QOL improvements.
Power shot stagger: melee weapons stunlock their target with each hit, but arrows never do so, even when fully drawn. If the player takes the time to charge a shot, spending both stamina and munition, they should at least have a chance to stagger the target in order to keep them at bay. I know that if this is applied universaly, including NPCs, it can get annoying to get stunlocked when facing multiple archers, which is why i suggest it be a chance instead of guarantee. This stagger chance could be tied to the proximity as well as armor weight class of the target, light being most susceptible, and heavy being most resistant, with medium obviously being somewhere in between. Using a shield to block nullifies the effect completely.
Button mapping+ CQC: I dont know if this is also the case on the PC version, but on console bows have 2 light attack buttons (R1/RB & L2/LT) while the strong attack button (R2/RT) is both a charge shot that requires a light attack to release and a zoom that breaks lock on. In most console games that involve the use of a bow, Left Trigger is used to aim/zoom while the Right Trigger is used for both arching quickshots, as well as long range power shots, depending on how long the trigger is held. If archery controls are reworked in this way, R1/RB can now be used for a close quarters attack that pushes the enemy out of melee range. Either a wide sweeping swing of the bow that knocks back multiple enemies, or a single target arrow stab that spends the arrow but applies any special properties that arrow may have (arrows with self-damaging AOE are set off after a delay).
Quiver: to lighten the load of all the ammo you need to carry, make the currently equipped ammo become a part of the bow’s quiver, reducing the weight of the stacks to a fraction. The quiver should be a physical object on the character model’s back with a number of arrows on it, these should serve as a visual aid to let the player know they are running out when the number of visible arrows in your quiver starts decreasing.
Auto-equip ammo: running out of an arrow type and having to manually equip a different one during combat is not a good time, so I’d like to suggest an auto-equip mechanic for basic (damage only) arrows. When the bow runs out of an arrow type, arrows in your inventory will be evaluated according to damage and rarity of crafting materials. The bow will auto equip an arrow type that has equal damage, or the next tier below. If multiple types have the same damage, the one made out of the most common materials is selected. Arrows will only go from a lower damage to a higher one if none other are available. Arrows with special properties (DOTs, Healing, Explosive, etc.) never get auto-quipped, since these are more situational and should only be used at the player’s discretion.
Combat ammo retrieval: this one is more for thrown weapons like javelins and throwing axes, but could be applied to arrows too. This is simply the ability to press interact on a still living enemy who has been hit by a thrown weapon/arrow to return it to your inventory/equipment slot.
Crossbows: when I found out that this game once had crossbows and were later removed, I was sad to know that my OC (which I play as in every game with character creation) wont have their signature crossbow. I once heard (might not be a reliable source) that the reason crossbows were removed was because they didnt fit with the new combat system where bows had both light and heavy attacks, but if bows were reworked as I suggested earlier, crossbows could be integrated using the same controls (L2/LT: aim, R2/RT: shoot, R1/RB: melee). If integrated, Crossbows will be more suitable for sniping since they are only caplable of doing fully chaged shots, while bows will be better at stacking status effects. Crossbows will require iron tools feat to unlock, also crossbows and bolts will always be more powerful than the bows and arrows in the same tier to make up for their slower fire rate. At close range the stagger will be very high, and the melee attack will have you swinging the weapon from right to left, knocking back multiple enemies to give you some breathing room. Stamina is spent on reload rather than when fired, meaning it can be used as an emergency attack when out of stamina. Crossbows can be used underwater in case crocs are ever given the ability to swim or if you want to be extra sneaky when attacking an enemy base.
And finally, to make enemy factions more consitent with their technology and aesthetics they could have preference for certain ranged weapons:
Exiles: bows and javelins
Darfari: bows and javelins
Black Hand: crossbows and throwing axes
Dogs: bows, spears, and throwing axes
Relic Hunters: bows, crossbows, throwing axes
Nordheimer: all ranged weapons
Forgotten: all ranged weapons
Undead: bows and spears