Zarya Guide: Strategy & Gameplay “Together we are strong.”
Table of Contents
- 1. Strengths
- 2. Weaknesses
- +3. Strategy
- 4. Changelog
This guide takes an in-depth look at how to play Zarya in Overwatch. We look at the strengths and weaknesses of the hero, and we go over mechanics, recommended strategies, and things to beware of.
The guide has been written based on our extensive experience playing the game since before the Closed Beta began, and it relies on our decades-long FPS experience. That said, our aim is to keep the guide relatively brief and easy to understand, making it accessible to veterans and new players alike.
If you have any comment on the guide's content or structure, please let us know in the comments! :)
Stamp of Approval
This guide has been reviewed and approved by michr, formerly one of the best Day of Defeat players in Europe, who now plays Overwatch for OWKings. He also writes for Gosu Gamers.
- High damage potential
- Half of her health is a self-regenerating shield
- Can effectively provide short-term immunity for herself and for one of her teammates
- Ultimate ( Graviton Surge) is one of the most effective incapacitating ultimates in the game, setting up her allies very well
- Less health than the other tanks
- No movement abilities or escape mechanisms
- Her shields ( Particle Barrier and Projected Barrier) have a short duration, making timing them difficult
- Cannot protect multiple allies at once in the way that Winston or Reinhardt can
- Difficult to aim with
In this section, we will briefly go over the main strategies you should employ as Zarya. We will begin with an Overview, and then we will go in depth more about each ability that Zarya has.
Zarya is one of the 5 tanks in Overwatch. She has the lowest health of all tanks, and she also has the slimmest model, which makes it difficult for her to protect her allies with her body, but also makes her difficult to hit by her enemies.
What Zarya lacks in health and bulkiness, she makes up for through her large damage output (she has the potential to be the most damaging tank, and extremely damaging overall even considering offense heroes) and through the powerful Projected Barrier she can place on allies to shield them from damage. Making very frequent use Projected Barrier is essential.
That said, since Projected Barrier only works on a single target, Zarya has no way to protect all of her team at once as Winston, Reinhardt, or even D.Va do. This means that she works best as part of a team that already has one of these tanks. Indeed, Zarya functions as a sort of tank-damage-support hybrid, and this is how she should be played.
As Zarya, your place is with your team and near or on top of the objective. However, you will look to do as much damage as possible with your Particle Cannon weapon, instead of trying to keep your allies safe (though, as stated, Projected Barrier should be used nearly on cooldown).
Aside from this, Zarya's Graviton Surge ultimate plays a very important role. It is a fairly easy to use ultimate that will frequently incapacitate several enemies (sometimes, even 5 or 6 of them) for 4 seconds, giving her other teammates an excellent opportunity to land their own ultimates.
Damage blocked increases Particle Cannon damage.
Zarya has a passive called Energy, which increases the damage of her Particle Cannon (both its beam and explosive charge) whenever damage is absorbed by her Particle Barrier or Projected Barrier abilities.
The Particle Cannon charge ranges from 0% (base damage) up to 100% (which doubles its damage output). Each 5 damage absorbed by one of Zarya's two shields increases Particle Cannon's charge by 3%. Finally, the Particle Cannon's charge decays on its own at a rate of 2% per second.
There are a number of indicators available that communicate the level of Energy that your Particle Cannon has.
- A number is displayed beneath your crosshair, ranging from 0 to 100. This is the clearest indicator.
- Your crosshair becomes thicker the more Energy your Particle Cannon has.
- The width of the beam increases the more Energy your Particle Cannon has (which actually increases its collision size, making it easier to hit enemies with it).
- The energy orb that hovers inside your Particle Cannon increases in size the more Energy it has.
- The sound made by the Particle Cannon's beam changes.
Note that Zarya's model lights up the more Energy she has, so your enemies will be informed of how much damage you can do at any time.
With all this in mind, it is our opinion that you should never use your Particle Barrier or Projected Barrier specifically to boost your Energy. This is because those abilities' survival qualities are much more important than a boost to your DPS, and making sure that you keep yourself and your allies alive should be the priority. So, in short, use your Barriers when you need to for their damage-blocking effects (as we outline in the sub-sections that follow), and simply take advantage of the extra damage you gain from this.
Particle Cannon (Beam)
LMB: Short range linear beam weapon. RMB: Energy grenade launcher.
The primary fire of Zarya's Particle Cannon channels an energy beam directly front of her, in the direction of her crosshair. Any targets that the beam touches take a base of 80 damage per second (which increases with Energy charge). The Particle Cannon has 100 ammo, and each second spent channeling it consumes 20 ammo.
Overall, the Particle Cannon's beam is a pretty good weapon, but it truly shines when its damage is amplified by your Energy level.
When using the Particle Cannon beam, the first thing to keep in mind is that the beam is very long, much more so than the visual effect would indicate. To test it, simply use it to knock over some of the objects in your spawn room. This is important to know, because it means you can damage enemies who are pretty far away from you, which comes in handy especially when you are chasing down someone with low health.
Aside from this, you will simply use the beam to damage anyone in its range. There is not very much feedback provided to help you tell when your beam is actually damaging your target, but with practice you will get a feel for this.
It is also important to keep an eye out on your Energy level. Even when the Energy is low, your beam is quite damaging and it allows you to perform well. However, when your Energy is high, your beam becomes extremely dangerous, and in these moments you are encouraged to really dive into the enemies aggressively (without getting yourself killed) and devastate them.
It should go without saying that, since the beam has limited range, using it on enemies that are too far away has no effect. At these times, you should instead use the Particle Cannon's alternate fire (explosive charges), which we explain below.
Particle Cannon (Explosive Charge)
LMB: Short range linear beam weapon. RMB: Energy grenade launcher.
The alternate fire of Zarya's Particle Cannon fires an explosive charge (an energy orb) at a location in front of her. The orb travels in an arc, so you will have to aim up in order to compensate for this. With sufficient practice, this should not be an issue.
Each orb costs 25 up to ammo, so Zarya can fire 4 orbs with her 100 ammo capacity, before needing to reload. It is important to note that since the orbs cost "up to" 25 ammo, Zarya can also use these orbs with as little as 1 remaining ammo in her Particle Cannon (meaning that you can fire a full damage orb with 5 ammo, for example). The orbs deal splash damage in an area, and they also knock back any affected targets (a small distance only, though). Zarya herself can take damage from the splash effect, if she is in range of it.
Each orb deals a rather low base damage of about 45, but this is also increased by Zarya's Energy level, as with the Particle Cannon's beam.
The explosive charges of the Particle Cannon are Zarya's only means of doing damage at range. While using them is a bit clunky, she still has more ranged damage potential than any of the other tanks. The knock back effect is also quite significant, as it allows Zarya to disrupt enemy positions, push players off of ledges or bridges, and sometimes even knock enemies off the map.
Usage of the ability is fairly simple. When an enemy is outside of the range of your Particle Cannon beam, shoot explosive charges at them, correcting for the trajectory drop-off as you do so. Given the AoE effect of the explosive charges, firing them at groups of enemies (including things like Torbjörn turrets) is beneficial, and this is something you should choose to do over using the beam even at close range. Finally, it is worth using an explosive charge instead of the beam if your ammo is very low (10 or lower). Otherwise, you should always use the beam.
Keeping track of your Energy level is still important when using the explosive charges, and you should try to do as much damage as possible when you have high Energy levels.
- Cooldown: 10 seconds
Create a damage barrier around you.
The Particle Barrier is a 2-second shield that Zarya places on herself, which absorbs up to 200 damage from any enemy abilities. As stated earlier, every 5 points of damage absorbed by the Particle Barrier increases Zarya's Energy by 3%.
It is very important to note that Particle Barrier will absorb all the damage of any attack that hits Zarya while the Barrier is active, even if that damage exceeds the Barrier's remaining capacity. For example, Tracer's Pulse Bomb deals 400 damage if it is stuck to Zarya. If Zarya has her Particle Barrier active when the Pulse Bomb explodes, this will consume the Barrier (as its damage exceeds the Barrier's capacity) but it will also means that none of the damage from Pulse Bomb will reach Zarya. It is useful to know this because it allows Zarya to survive several of these very damaging one-shot ultimates (like Junkrat's RIP-Tire or D.Va's Self-Destruct).
Particle Barrier is Zarya's only means of protecting herself from damage, so it is important that you use it to block as much incoming damage as possible throughout a game, especially when that damage threatens to kill you. But absorbing damage with Particle Barrier also has the important role of contributing to your damage output, which makes it all the more essential that your Barriers actually blocks damage.
You will need to evaluate each situation to tell whether or not you should use the Particle Barrier. Obviously, if there are no enemies around, or if no one is damaging you, then you need to save the Barrier. Aside from this, every time someone is dealing damage to you (as long as it is not very low collateral damage), you should use the Barrier. Moreover, if you can bait opponents into focusing you down when your Barrier is available and you can easily use it, you should do so (as long as your passive damage increase is not already very high), since this is an effective way of both increasing your damage and distracting the enemies.
- Cooldown: 8 seconds
Create a damage barrier around an ally.
Projected Barrier is an ability that works almost identically to Particle Barrier, except that instead of shielding Zarya herself, it allows Zarya to shield an ally. Projected Barrier absorbs more damage (400, instead of 200), and it has a slightly shorter cooldown (8 seconds, instead of 10).
Like Particle Barrier, Projected Barrier has a 2-second duration, and it also absorbs all the damage of any attack that hits the shielded target while the Barrier is active.
Projected Barrier is Zarya's only means of protecting her allies, but it is very effective at this. Moreover, damage absorbed by the Barrier also increases Zarya's Energy, increasing her damage, and it also builds up her ultimate charge.
The short 2-second duration of the shield can make it difficult to use, because often, by the time your allies realise that they have been shielded, it is too late for them to re-commit to a fight they were retreating from, or to go in and cast their ultimate. As a result, communication is very important for making proper use of Projected Barrier. If you can tell an ally Pharah, Reaper, or Genji (by voice) that you will shield them if they dive the enemy team with their ultimate, this can have devastating consequences.
Failing to achieve these moves that rely on good communication, you should always keep an eye out for any allies who can benefit from your shield. The best examples are allies who have gone into the middle of the enemy team (as the examples mentioned above), allies who are fighting at the front line and taking damage (Roadhog, Soldier: 76), or any ally who is involved in a duel.
Aside from these protective uses, you should look to maximise usage of Projected Barrier to increase your ultimate charge and damage bonus. Whenever you see an opportunity to have a Projected Barrier block some damage, you should take it (going so far as to coordinate with your teammates to shield them and then have them get in range of enemy fire).
Launch a gravity well that pulls enemies to it.
Graviton Surge causes Zarya to lob an energy orb forward, which persists for 4 seconds at the location where it lands. While active, Graviton Surge orb will suck in any nearby enemies onto it, and it will hold them there.
Enemies who are stuck in a Graviton Surge will take a small amount of damage every second, and they can still use all of their abilities, as well as attack. However, the enemies cannot move out of the Graviton Surge, and most movement abilities that would help them escape will not work. There are a few heroes who can get out of Graviton Surge, however, and we list them below.
- Reaper can use Wraith Form.
- Tracer can use Recall, or she can Blink twice in quick succession.
- Genji can use Swift Strike.
- D.Va can use Boosters.
- Reinhardt can use Charge.
- Widowmaker can use Grappling Hook.
Graviton Surge is not useful for the damage that it deals, but it is immensely useful for its ability to not only hold enemies in place for 4 seconds, but to instantly group them up as well. This means that Graviton Surge is the best set-up ultimate in the game. It facilitates the usage of a very large number of powerful ultimates and abilities which are otherwise difficult to land. To mention only a few examples, think of Hanzo's Dragonstrike, Pharah's Barrage, or Tracer's Pulse Bomb.
In addition to this, Graviton Surge is a good opportunity for Zarya to use her own Particle Cannon explosive charges to deal damage to the trapped enemies, which can result in a lot of damage (especially if Zarya's Energy level is high).
Because of the great teamplay combinations that Graviton Surge is part of, it is highly recommended that you save this ability until you can pair it with the ultimates of your teammates, or at least until enough of your damage-dealing teammates are around to be able to benefit from it. Using Graviton Surge without the help of your team is much weaker, and getting anything out of it at all will rely on you being able to use high-Energy explosive charges.
Lastly, when setting up Graviton Surge combinations, keep in mind that there are several heroes who can counter them quite effectively. Zenyatta's Transcendence can negate the damage, while Winston's Barrier Projector, Reinhardt's Barrier Field, D.Va's Defense Matrix, and Mei's Ice Wall can block it altogether. Notably, keep in mind that Genji can use his Deflect against the initial Graviton Surge projectile to deflect the ability back against your team, which can have devastating consequences.
- 06 Jul. 2016: Added a mention that Genji can Deflect Zarya's Graviton Surge, turning it against her team.
- 22 May 2016: Updated the guide following michr's review.
- Improved the references to Zarya's potential damage output to highlight that it is high even for offensive hero standards.
- Added a mention that her beam is hard to aim with.
- Improved the recommendations for when to use the beam or the explosive charges.
- Added a mention that using Projected Barrier to increase ultimate charge is very important.
- Removed Lúcio's Sound Barrier as a counter to Graviton Surge.
- 14 May 2016: Guide added.
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