Hmm, let me see if I can shed some light here with a quick list of facts about combat:
There is a softlock system in the current build of the game. It's not necessary to fight, and the intention is to allow people to turn it off, though at the moment you can't do that.
When you execute an attack it is a full animation and your sword will swing where that attack takes it. There's a "martial arts" system in the game that requires you to learn combat styles, their related stances, and the attacks one can throw from each stance. This system allows for warrior-style player where a player seeks out training in a style, learns that style and eventually makes it their own, allowing both personal customization (once you attain mastery you can build your own combat style out of what you know) and regional variances in types and tactics of combat. However, where the blade lands in a attack is what was hit, meaning none of the positional play of a duel or tight melee is lost; what's different is that to properly aim your attack is to know which attacks to throw when, rather than where to look when you press the button.
No attacks are instant, all movements in attacks are "real" in that no animation snapping or other shortcut methods are used. If your axe needs to be above your head for an overhead swing, your character will first raise that axe over their head before swinging it down on its target.
As for the importance of stats, gear, and player skill, it works somethings like this: A character's stat determines things how quickly they can move, how much energy they can use in short bursts, their overall health/vitality, and how much natural damage resistance, if any, they might have, and plays a secondary role in other determiners like how much damage an attack does. The weapon determines the type of damage being done, the reach of your attacks, how much damage is being done (in conjunction with character stats), and a few other things like how badly your attack will degrade armor if it hits. Player skill determines everything else.
That generally means that a farmer vs. a knight in-game has about as much chance as a farmer vs. a knight in real life: All other things being equal, with a lot of skill to properly place attacks, avoid being struck, and maintain the initiative in the positional aspect of combat, the farmer can win with nearly any equipment. But the right equipment, along with actual training, will still make that task easier for the farmer, or if the skill and eq is on the knight, make the farmer's job more difficult in that fight. As Kaynadin said earlier, it's something of a hybrid. Player skill will always play a part, but so will the state of your character.
Hope that helps! :)