And I missed one major point here.
Without feats the only way to specialise in archery as the archer fighter is to take the archery fighting style. All this does is a bland +2 bonus to hit on a d20 roll. In other words out of every ten arrows you fire if you are a specialist archer on average one will hit that would otherwise have missed. Given the variances involved in a d20 roll and how much bounded accuracy narrows the target range (so a first level fighter firing at a CR 17 Adult Red Dragon probably needs a 14 to hit or 12 with the archery style) this doesn't feel meaningfully different from any other Dex based fighter. With just the archery fighting style you are average as a dex based fighter. Typical. Bland. Expected.
On the other hand the Sharpshooter fighting style does make a specialist archer meaningfully different from a dex based fighter. So what uniqueness do you get from taking Sharpshooter? It actually makes you into an archery specialist rather than a jack of all trades fighter who isn't much better at archery than any other fighter of the same Dex.
This doesn't mean that the regular fighter is bad. But the regular fighter is a jack of all trades. And the fighting styles are pretty bland (+1 to AC?) - the only interesting one that's not just a splash of extra DPR or +1 AC in the PHB is Protection. If you want to play an actual specialist archer fighter without playing an Arcane Archer you want feats.
And this for the fighter type that provides the fewest options. Almost the cherry picked one I'd have said.
I get that this is what many proponents of Feats (and MC, I suppose) "see" as a good thing. As a "needed" thing in order to more aptly distinguish, mechanically, a "Fighter" from an "Archer". I get that mindset. The thing is...I, and my group, don't put much emphasis on the mechanics of the game as the "default capability" of a PC/NPC/Monster/etc. For us, a +2 is mechanically significant enough.
For us, a Fighter who has taken the "Archery" fighting style is "An Archer". A Fighter is not an archer...even though he knows how to shoot a bow, how to maintain the bow and, well, that's about it. When a fighter goes to buy a bow...he buys a bow. When an Archer goes to buy a bow...he knows what he's looking for, what is good, what is bad, what price is acceptable, etc. When a fighter enters an archery contest against archers...he will likely loose. He might make it one round in, maybe two (assuming all contestants are equivalent level)...but the actual Archer is the one who's going to get to the end. And yes, mechanically, it is because of that "paltry +2" (and the likely higher Dex than the Sword & Shield fighter). That is more than enough for us.
Additionally, the Archer just KNOWS stuff about archery related things and the S&S Fighter just doesn't. I mean, I know how to shoot a bow. I've done it a few times. I'm no archer by any stretch of the imagination! If I was to go to an Archery tournament, I'd get hammered...I'd also sound like a complete idiot to the other Archers around when hanging out and "talking shop". I'd have no clue what brands are good for X, what brands are good for Y, or why someone would want Bow Type ABC over Bow Type XYZ when going pheasant-hunting, let alone what kind of arrow to use. ... ... None of that would be "mechanical", in game terms. It would be Roleplaying considerations and implied superiority. In my game, a Player who says "I tell him to toss that apple up into the air, and I shoot the apple out of the air when he tosses it up" would have me asking "Are you an Archer? Do you have the Archery Fighting Style?". If the Player say says No, then "Ok, AC20". If the Player says Yes, then "Ok, you shoot the apple out of the air". Why? Because the Player of the Fighter is a Fighter...and 'archery' isn't his thing; but the Player of the Archer...Archery is
his thing, so I give the benefit of the doubt and let the PC look cool because, honestly, the Archer hits targets like this all day long every day. This is no stressful situation and is something familiar enough to the Archer to be more or less "routine". Now, if the Archer (or Fighter) wasn't prepared, and the guy tossing the apple up was just doing it to be cool and intimidating as he and his 'boys' threatened the Archer (or Fighter)...well NOW we need a roll for both; AC20. The Fighter shoots with his +2 and the Archer shoots with his +6...and I'm apt to give the Archer Advantage simply because it's an 'inanimate' object and the Archer can clearly see and guage where the apple is going to go.
So, yeah. My DM'ing style obviously "accounts" for more than the Feat, and for games that have a DM that is more "RAW" over "RAI" or even "RAD" (Rules as Desired). But that's kinda the point; the way Feats are right now in 5e...they just do NOT work for us. They make every PC seem "same-y" or "forced to comply" with certain 'optimal Feat/MC choice builds', else the PC automatically be worse than every other PC/NPC that does
have the 'required' Feat/MC/Build. I, and my group, much prefer a more "role-playing centric" take on PC's and their capabilities.
Clear anything up...or did I just muddy the waters worse?
Paul L. Ming