I’m trying to figure out whether it’s best to utilizes a class based combat game or just have individual weapons a player can equip.
Games like Q-Clash which utilizes classes, each class has its own stats, weapons and weapon types. Primary/Secondary/Melee are all predetermined by the class you pick, only allowing for minor customisation.
Basically you can equip any weapon/set of weapons. Choose your own Primary, Secondary and Melee weapon instead of it being set.
I think either system can be just as good. “Individual” is good as it allows for a lot of player freedom and customization, however classes - if done right - can create some really interesting and fun mechanics.
Neither is strictly better, they’re just different tools for different situations. Tells us more about your game design, and let us know about the thoughts you’ve had so far. That way we can help you to actually adapt this choice to the rest of the design.
Generally though, class based systems will probably be a lot easier to balance while allowing very big differences in weapon types, while “individual” allows for more player expression at the cost of difficulty in balancing, and the risk of “different” weapons feeling samey/bland. A class based system will require more effort design-wise, while a “more content is better” approach where all the weapons are just minor variations has less chance of going wrong. I think.
An example of weapons feeling samey is something like Phantom Forces. Sure there are like 20 assault rifles, but most of them are just generic modern military full-auto medium range medium damage guns. There’s room for variations within those constraints, but IMO not room for 20 different weapons that feel unique and actually play differently. Still, it can be fun for the player to explore the possible combos and seeing which are fun/good/interesting and which are pointless or bad. It can be fun to purposefully play with bad combos, because they’re silly and that’s fun. That’s the player expression part, I guess.
You can even go with a hybrid, like TF2 with different weapons for each class, but e.g. a spy still can’t use a rocket launcher.