For those who have got lost with the different versions and updates for the DDI-exclusive new build for the Assassin class, this is the story so far. The Executioner, an essential-styled assassin variant mixing martial exploits and minor shadow features, was released three months ago, as a work in progress, so that the community could playtest it and provide feedback. Which the community did (here is what we had to say about the class), and apparently it got put to good use: after a confusing false final release, where an intermediate build of questionable quality(many saw it as a step back from the original) got to the public by mistake, causing considerable uproar, we have finally seen the real, complete version of the class. And it’s a killer.
The basic framework of the class is mostly intact from the earlier versions: many situational at-will attacks for specific situations, basic attacks as a default option, a single concentrated encounter attack (Assassin´s Strike) taking the place of all encounter slots, and special poisons in the place of daily attacks. That was a solid foundation, and I’m glad they have chosen to keep it.
That said, many details about the class have changed, almost unanimously for the better. Most notably, the selection of at-will attacks has suffered a deep revision. Previously, too many at-wills were excessively situational, to the point that the temptation to just forget about them and stick to the simple yet reliable basic attacks became too strong. In fact, going back to my *critique of the playtest build*, we can see that most of my complaints were related to at-will implementation - and they have all been addressed.
Both the melee and ranged builds of the class (Red Scales and League of whispers, respectively) get three at-will powers at first level, with each covering some specific niche (mobility, control, poison application) but also having potential for more general use - some of them sacrifice damage or have special requirements, but you don’t have to look to hard for a power that deals any damage and can be used without being hidden in melee (!), as before. Also, they are pretty cool.Quick Lunge replaces the power known as Unarmed Throw in earlier builds, and allows you to shift, damage a target and knock it down, and shift back. Ranged executioners now have exceptional accuracy, with both Bola Takedown (a ranged proning attack) and Precision Dart (a power for delivering poisons) targeting Reflex instead of AC.
The greatest loss in the at-will department is the jaw-dropping Unseen Spearhead, which was a highly complicated, yet awesomely rewarded, maneuver. The ability to make a coup de grace every two turns if everything turned out right (which didn’t happen all that often, even in dedicated builds) was considered too strong by the developers, so it got removed. It is a shame, but probably a good decision nevertheless. While I don’t agree that it was overpowered (all things considered, too many things had to fall in place to pull it off), it can’t be argued that it was an excessively swingy mechanic, which could result in trivializing some encounters or just wasting actions, depending on too few dice rolls. Fortunately, every other thing that made the class special is still in place.
As for performance, various numbers have been adjusted all around in order to make the Executioner a pretty decent striker. Damage won’t be spectacular, but it won’t feel lackluster either, and there are a few niches (such as concentrated damage or finishing off wounded enemies) where the class will definitely shine. It’s also fitting that, while basic attacks will still be your main offensive tool, using them with unsubtle two-handed weapons is no longer the superior choice - your striker damage now depends on wielding appropriate, assassin-y weapons. Moreover, proficiency with the light shield, which was always a bit unwieldy and off-flavor for the class, is now optional, and a choice to use dual wielding for an equivalent bonus is provided.
My final verdict is extremely favorable. This is one of the most original classes in the game, yet it manages to include both at-will, encounter, and daily powers, have a well defined personality both in flavor and mechanics, and be potent and interesting. Also, it is one of the best examples of the design potential opened up by the Essentials philosophy of classes that don’t necessarily adhere to the rigid 4E power structure. This one has certainly taken it’s time, but it’s been well worth the wait: it is a must-have.