Some suggestions for making melee characters more relavent-
Make strength attribute increase storage volume slightly. Being strong entails having a larger body, which does improved the ability to carry bulky objects. This would help melee characters, which often have to function without backpacks.
Add hard/soft/metal leg guards.
Add some glove-slot items/shoes that improve unarmed damage.
Rebalance melee weapons. Tyres should not be excellent melee weapons. Broadswords and machetes should be better weapons for attacking bodies than combat knives - there should be more benefit for heavier, bulkier weapons.
until all martial arts are learnable ingame via somthing other than broken NPCs, can we please have all styles as an option at startup?
in return for all these benefits, can we see zombies having more effective melee vs weapon wielding characters? Grabber Z’s could disarm players, acid Z’s could erode weapons that cut them etc.
I think the best thing for melee characters would be cutting the encumberance levels significantly, to a realistic level, so while more clothes can be impeding, it won’t be totally game breaking as it is now.
Spiked knuckles and brass knuckles, tied to unarmed combat instead of cutting/bashing etc. combine them with a steak knife or combat knife to make a trench knife (essentially a pair of brass knucks with a knife welded to the inside grip so you can punch, block and stab quickly. Also I second leg armour. Ideas for this would be the soft/hard leg under armour, ballistic kneepads the like you see swat and the army use etc.
I can certainly see wearing 2 backpacks and 2 military rucksacks being encumbersome but at this moment if you want to melee it’s either armour and no storage or storage and find a suitable window-- and in all cases hope like hell nothing bites off your legs. So like jagi says cutting encumberance levels would help, or just allow stronger characters to get more volume out of their clothes (like the op says-- stronger characters generally would have a larger body build, so the suitable clothes they find would need to be larger than normal anyway. and yes, small people can be strong too, but if a stat level of 8 is average 14 str is pretty much world’s strongest man body-builder level.)
While I agree things need to be rebalanced, I have no difficulty whatsoever playing as a melee character with the current system.
So when things are rebalanced, I doubt it will be any /easier/ but it may certainly make more /sense/.