That was pretty much my brief mate when I bought mine. I bought a Giant Anthem 2 29er and been very happy with it. I bought a pair of Hunt XC wheels which were great value and sold the old wheels. I also bough a 2nd hand dropper post.
If I was buying again, I’d up the ante to a model that had the inbuilt dropper but that meant quite a leap in ££. My other shortlisted bike was the Scott Spark but I found the cockpit a bit too busy for my liking.
Do you intend on doing it locally? If yes, have a think what your local area is like for MTBing. While we have a lot of bridle paths around here (North Downs) the soil is awful and turns to deep mud very early in the autumn and becomes unrideable very soon after. Already this year there’s a lot of mud about and it’s only rained half a dozen times off the back of the mega dry summer. I asked at my local bike shop what tyres are good for our area and they said nothing will cope with the mud.
That pushes the horses and MTB people onto the footpaths to avoid the mud, the foot path people create their own new paths, that up sets the “friends of the woods” morons and everyone is moaning about everything.
@GRamsay trails round here - we are close to Pennines - not that far from Sheephouse Lane, an hour from the Peak District an hour to the Lakes and an hour and a half to Snowdonia
Budget - don’t mind paying some £ but not going to be a full time hobby thing
Suspension - that’s the one thing I have decided on - we tried some trails in Whistler one summer - chairlift up and the. Trails down. With full suspension it felt like most of the effort through the pedals went into generating up and down motion
Droppers allow you to quickly lower the seat post from a switch on the handle bars. On big downhills you want to shift your weight back as much ss possible to stop you going arse over tit and lowering the post helps with this.
Persoanlly I never bothered with one but then with my height it was easy to move back over the daddle and grip it with my thighs. Plus I was shit a downhill anyway and avoid the big drops.
You asked about disc brakes. My experience is that as long as they are hydraulic, they work great. More or less zero maintenance between pad changes. A bit more awkward getting the wheels back on but it’s only minor. Changing pads when they need it is no worse than rim brakes although maybe a bit fiddly the first couple of times. Probably want to get a shop to service the hydraulics when they eventually need it but that’s only every few years unless they’re getting very heavy use.
OTOH, cable operated discs are a PITA. They need endless fettling to catch the sweet spot between not rubbing, and not stopping .