Pudge is a melee hero with strength as the main stat (25 + 3.2). He is the most popular hero in Dota 2 according to DotaBuff. Ably employed, he becomes a ganking menace in early game, if his Meat Hook ability is used well, and so he is usually assuming the roaming support position to cause trouble for the opposing team.
Pudge’s low starting armor makes him vulnerable to physical attacks in the early game. He is also pretty slow and doesn’t have any escape abilities. Successful hits with Meat Hook require a certain skill level, and, with the hero’s limited mana pool, every use of the ability is highly challenging .
One of Pudge’s greatest strengths is that he is an excellent ganker and roamer in early game, what with his Meat Hook doing pure damage and cutting through magic immunity. He is healthy and his strength grows nicely, and can be boosted permanently from kills through Flesh Heap. The ultimate ability, Dismember, has a quick cooldown and pierces spell immunity; with all this the Pudge is well-suited to ganking, able to play a key role at any game stage and take out the most important enemy heroes.
The skill build for the Pudge will be shaped by the success of his team’s early ganking strategy. At the early levels he needs to pump up Meat Hook and Rot, try to use them on the lanes, lure enemies under tower fire or combine the skills with allied heroes' stunning or powerful procasts. By the time the ultimate ability becomes available, the Pudge will be able to solo frag low-health heroes. For the 7th level the skill build should look as follows: 4-2-0-1.
Given his sluggish base speed, Tranquil Boots can be recommended. They will improve the Pudge’s movement rate by 70, his health regeneration by 14, which will let him shift between the lanes faster and gank with success. A Magic Wand makes sense to round out all attributes. The Pudge’s mana remains low without gear, so instant mana replenishers are very useful to him. If the early game goes well, the player can try to stockpile the gold for a Blink Dagger, which adds mobility and improves the likelihood of a successful gank. But if the gank potential is not realized early on and extra strength is not gathered, there are a few items that will improve the Pudge's protection from magic, armor and ability to survive: Eternal Shroud, Blade Mail and Shiva’s Guard, for example.
With this soft belly starting out, a 10th level right +4 armor talent makes sense. At the 15th level the choice will depend on the game situation. A left +120 to Meat Hook damage talent is attractive, however, if the game looks set to drag on, a right +10 spell vampirism talent will have more potential. For the 20th level you should take the talent that increases the duration of the ultimate ability by 0.8 seconds; this helps with disabling key enemies' heroes considerably. At the 25th level the right talent is a 1.8 increase to damage/healing from the ultimate ability, so that is what it makes sense to pick.
The Pudge shows himself at his best against low-health heroes. He can kill them with a procast (Sniper, Crystal Maiden, Zeus and others). Plenty of health and in-built magic resistance turn the Pudge into a difficult and ineffective target for magical procasts in mid and late game. His Dismember ability goes through magic immunity, so buying a Black King Bar will prevent enemy heroes from absconding or using a spell.
Heroes with escape abilities, like Anti Mage, Queen of Pain, anyone with a Blink, a Weaver with Shukuchi that makes that character invisible and fast, give the Pudge trouble. Heroes who can burn up mana, like Anti Mage, Lion or Invoker, can lock the Pudge out of the fight entirely and leave him unable to use any ability besides Rot. Meat Hook does not do much against heroes with illusions and summons, e.g. Broodmother, Lycan, Nature's Prophet or Chen. Heroes who can block spellcasting take away the Pudge’s powerful magic procast and leave him flailing away like a really high-health creep.
The Pudge is a very strong ganker with a powerful disabling ability, Dismember. His combination of powers suffices to kill off low-health heroes in early and mid game solo. As a valuable extra, the Flesh Heap ability gives him a permanent strength bonus for every kill he has a hand in, which makes destroying the Pudge problematic and improves damage from Dismember.