I think you'll be pleasantly surprised by the difficulty, they said they felt the first game was too easy for ranged/magic users in general and boosted the difficulty for them considerably. Looking at the gift item list on the japanese wiki, I don't see a thiefs ring equivalent so far. I do see an HP regen I'm definitely taking though considering the drastic changes to the health mechanics.
I'm really going to miss The Nexus though. I liked having a central place for the characters to gather, it reminded me of finding a town after a long journey in those old JRPGs and stuff.
Playing: Dark Souls 2: Scholars of the First Sin Watching: Mr. Robot