In most combat scenarios, swords aren't as good as axes. The axe deals a hefty amount of damage and disables shields, while the sword's main asset is its attack speed. A solution to this could be to give the sword an additional ability, the counterattack. This would be activated by holding right-click with the sword (and no shield) while sneaking. After 1 second, the counter stance would revert to a regular sneak and the ability would have a cooldown that lasts 8x how long the counter stance was held, plus an additional 2 seconds if it expired. This is to reward people who can time the counters.
The counterattack would essentially be a sweep attack delivered instead of getting hit. Different swords would have different multipliers on these attacks. Wood, being early-game, would have an x0.75 multiplier. Stone, also being early-game, would share wood's x0.75 multiplier. Iron, being more mid-game, would have an x1.0 multiplier. Diamond, being end-game, would have an x1.3 multiplier, while upgrading it to netherite would boost it to x1.6. However, a gold sword would have the best multiplier of all, x2.0, to give the underrated gold tools an advantage.
Only direct attacks, such as being punched by a zombie or tackled by a magma slime, would be able to be countered. Creeper explosions would also be able to be countered, but they'd have to deal much less damage as they deal a lot of damage.
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