Checking co-op activity and meta.

Hi guys, i'm someone who got the game on launch and played happily through till past the Yuki-Onna/Ice stage. I'm not too certain if i got beyond that. I stopped either there or the level with evil monks and the possesed cats. From Umi bozu onwards, particularly umi bozu, i noticed a drastic drop in people getting summoned, usually getting none at all, actually, past Umibozu. I had to take a break around that point and thus i assumed people had moved on further into the game, or worse, into NG+. I would like to complete the game since time has opened up for me now, but i've heard quite a lot of things have changed – i didn't play at all post balance patches. As someone who prefers to run through the game with co-op, is the non-newgame+ levels still active? Or does it not matter when i have an ochoko cup out and i'll summon anyone who's looking for coop, ng+ or not?

Also i mained Dual Blades since they were the most fun for me, kept a katana at hand, but rarely used it. I heard there was some drastic nerfs to both? Are they worth using? I pretty much didn't play to a proper build and winged most of it – first soulslike game ever – or should i reset and find a proper build to play?

Thanks in advance.

TL;DR Are normal game and new game plus separate in terms of coop, and is normal game still pretty active co-op wise if it isn't, and lastly, played dual blades mainly before balance patches – continue to wing it or highly recommend respeccing?

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