Long time since I've posted! I guess that'll happen when you've been living in free Forest Service "housing" for several months.
Anyways, I decided to take some of the new builds out for a spin, via a couple of "solitaire" encounters. The party was 6th level, and consisted of a Half-Elf Spring Sentinel, an Elf Scout, a Dwarf Knight, and an Elf Predator Druid (since I know the class well, and I wanted at least one non-essentials PC).
Knight: I'll start with this guy since he was released first in HotFL. It was kind of nice, especially for a solitaire encounter where I was controlling everything, that the mechanics for defending were so simple without compromising effectiveness. The defender aura is more intuitive than marking, and doesn't require minis or tokens to be labeled. Honestly, it was a pain before when multi-marks (from Come and Get it, for example) would end after a turn and I'd have to remember to remove labels so I didn't over-extend marks accidentally. One less thing to book-keep.
Mark punishment was brutal! Since it's an OA instead of an immediate action, you can punish multiple enemies per turn. Plus you benefit from whatever stance is active, and you can make punishment more deadly by using Power Strike with it. Higher level elite brutes usually have no qualms about triggering punishment and soaking the damage to do whatever they want, but when the punishment is enhanced with a stance effect and a Power Strike even they start to think twice! Even with two stances, I found it tactically engaging to juggle them on any given turn. You may want one stance for your standard action attack, but another one might work better with your OAs. Assuming you're already in melee, you can switch stance, attack, and then switch stance back. Both of my stances (Defend the Line and Hammer Hands) were useful for standard action attacks and OAs, albeit under different circumstances. A savvy player could certainly be satisfied with the tactical options that the Knight presents, despite its apparent lack of variety in powers.
I'd like to note that I started the first encounter with Measured Cut, and for the first 2 or 3 rounds found myself wishing that I had Hammer Hands. I basically just stayed in Defend the Line for those rounds, and finally decided "screw it, it's a playtest so I'll trade out stances mid-encounter!" As frequently as Hammer Hands was useful, I actually didn't have much luck with it, though that was purely the fault of the dice. Fortunately the Predator could cover the forced movement whenever the Knight missed, but at the expense of other options.
Sentinel: I was really excited about this build, but the play experience was a little dry. That may have been because the Knight and Scout were so surprisingly fun whereas the Sentinel was pretty much what I expected it would be. I also made some "beginner" mistakes with the positioning of the wolf. Basically, the wolf and Knight didn't play all that well together because there were several occasions where I wanted to use Hammer Hands, but it would have pushed the enemy outside of the wolf's aura. Plus you almost always want the wolf to get attacked since it's such an effective damage sponge, but the Knight's aura basically shut that function down. The wolf should almost always go off to establish a "second front" to attract the rest of the party to a focus-fire bonanza, with the Sentinel either joining it or helping the defender. It's hard to judge with a solitaire experience, but I found that the Sentinel itself didn't get attacked all that much. Obviously they want the pet to take the brunt of attacks, but early to mid encounter it's beneficial give the companion free HP via second wind before it's knocked out. The Sentinel just never took enough damage to justify using a second wind. Perhaps he was hanging around the Knight too much.
I can see new players possibly being unsatisfied with the Sentinel, because it's difficult to appreciate how the companion prevents damage. I also found myself spamming Tending Strike most of the time, and it got to the point where the encounter didn't seem all that dangerous between monsters having to chew through THP and wasting attacks on the companion and summon. Effective, yes, but in a very passive way. In two higher level encounters (with one party member short, no less) I actually only used one Healing Word. I'm guessing that this subtle defense was a major motivating factor for the developers locking this guy into Combined Attack. I must admit it was nice respite from all of that damage prevention. Too bad I missed with the initial attack 3 out of 4 uses of it (at least the wolf always got to hit!).
Overall, the wolf's aura was pretty amazing. There was not a single round in 2 encounters that the Predator and Scout lacked for CA (it also helped that both had Cunning Stalker). The lockdown synergy with Summon Pack Wolf worked brilliantly, and I was almost sad when the monster was finally killed.
Scout: Ever since the first PHB I've wanted a Dex-based melee ranger, though the real disappointment had always been that Twin Strike spamming was so gosh-darn boring. Finally, my wishes have come true, and it doesn't disappoint! Between the Wolf's aura and Cunning Stalker this guy could pretty much do whatever he wanted and count on having CA for it (same goes for the Predator Druid, who had never gotten so much use out of Claw Gloves!). My Aspects were Lurking Spider and Cunning Fox, which was a very fun combination. Can't beat Lurking Spider for straight damage and nova rounds, but I found myself mostly sticking with Cunning Fox. Never have hit and run tactics been so easy and fluid to employ. Let me tell you, Scouts absolutely thrive in parties with a good controller that liberally applies immobilized/restrained/dazed/prone. Speaking of which, World Serpent's Grasp turned the Predator Druid into an absolute beast, especially with the Knight constantly slowing with Defend the Line. Probably another reason why these encounters seemed like cakewalks :)
Scouts may not pack the nova punch of their Two-Blade Style cousins, but they're not too shabby. I picked up the Rogue M/C feat for an encounter use of sneak attack (I literally always have CA, and use a rapier + short sword, so it's kind of a no-brainer). My nova round typically involved charging a lone enemy or an enemy in the wolf's aura (with a vanguard rapier). I'd be in the Lurking Spider stance for the extra damage, and I'd blow a Sneak Attack and a Power Strike, then follow up with a Dual Weapon Strike. Bazinga! Between charging, CA, and using light blades accuracy was not even remotely an issue.
I'm usually not the biggest fan of strikers, and the ones I do like tend to be good secondary controllers (Monks, Rogues, and Warlocks). But skirmishing around with the Scout was a blast! It's certainly not as tactically engaging as a controller or leader, but between bouncing around everywhere and juggling stances there's enough there to keep you entertained. Plus I love the Ranger archetype, so it's nice to finally have my vision of the class realized mechanically.
Looking forward to logging some more time with these guys, particularly some more challenging encounters.