My $0.02 is a Rock River Arms or a Colt. But I tend to end up on the higher end of price scales. I've had 1,000's of rounds through my Rock River (often without cleaning for 500 to 1,000 rounds--cheap American Eagle brass), and only operator induced malfunctions on the gun. I've shot in snow, rain, and have used it deer hunting (though you already sound like your down with .223 for hunting). Yeah, it's a weak round, but it still broke a shoulder, went through a rib, through both lungs, broke the rib on the opposing side, and stopped in the hide.
As far as the forward assist is concerned. I like mine. I'm sure you could live without one, but I like mine for brass checking (if you ride your bolt it usually won't close fully) and sometimes I like the ride the bolt when hunting. If you like to slowly drop your bolt to reduce noise, then you may indeed like a forward assist, even when conditions are good.