Have you ever wanted to play a butch pink-haired Russian woman with a big gun? If you have, Zarya is the hero for you. To be serious, she is one of the more difficult tanks to play, requiring knowledge of when to engage, when to get out of the fight, and how to optimally use her tools to create advantages for the team. One thing you should know – you’re probably saying her name wrong. You should say Zar-YAH, not ZAR-yah.
The most interesting thing about this strongwoman is her Energy mechanic. Zarya spawns with no Energy. When her two shields absorb damage, she can gain up to 100 Energy, at the rate of 1% Energy for every 4 points of damage absorbed. For each point of energy Zarya has, she deals 1% more damage. To keep you fighting like a true tank, your energy decays at the rate of 2% per second. Energy is essential if you want to be an actual threat to your opponents. A low Energy Zarya is like a mosquito that pricks you every so often, trying to poke your skin. At full charge, Zarya hits like a truck.
Zarya’s weapon is called Particle Cannon. It has two modes of fire, a hitscan beam that consumes 20 rounds per second on a 100 ammo clip, dealing 4.75 damage per round, or a projectile ball of energy similar to Junkrat’s grenades, that deals less damage (45) if it hits, while consuming 25 ammo and being available for shooting once every second, however, compensating for it with rare long range potential for a tank. You should use primary attack for single targets you can hit easily because it’s a reasonably precise weapon. Secondary fire should be used against clumps of enemies or the annoying mobile offensive heroes like Tracer, where precise aim is quite hard because the target simply doesn’t stay in one place long enough. Keep in mind that Genji’s Deflect doesn’t work against your primary fire. The same can also be said about D.Va’s Defense Matrix. Finally, as your energy level increases the size of your alternate fire explosion will scale accordingly.
One of the shields that charge your Energy is your Left Shift ability, Particle Barrier. Once you use it, Zarya surrounds herself with a very strong personal shield that lasts 2 seconds and absorb a lot of damage on a 10 second cooldown. While it’s active, you will be immune to all negative effects like CC. It’s best to use this ability predictively, for example, when you see Junkrat’s Rip-Tire approaching you, or when you go around the corner only to meet Reaper. Keep in mind that if the barrier has at least 1 health left, you will stay immune to CC. Also, it doesn’t work the same as Reinhardt’s Barrier Field. It stops even the skills and weapons that normally pass right through shields.
Zarya’s E is basically the same as Left Shift, it just works on allies instead of you, on an 8 second cooldown instead of 10. We remind you, it lasts 2 seconds. Don’t use it in a spammy manner, try to predict incoming damage and cc on your allies, shielding accordingly. Maximising the use of these abilities also maximises your Energy gain, making you do more damage. To be strong, you need to master these two skills correctly. It’s a big part of the reason why Zarya is hard to play, the other being that she’s quite squishy for a tank, with no self-healing and a short-lasting personal shield.
Once you charge your Graviton Surge Ultimate, you can press Q to activate it. If you have ever played League of Legends, you might notice that it works in a similar manner to Orianna’s Ult, just slower. For those who haven’t played League, Zar-YAH fires an energy projectile in an arc. Once it hits, it starts suck all enemies who are in range of it into the center, like a Black Hole, keeping them CC’ed.
On it’s own, Graviton Surge isn’t very strong because it needs other players to help take advantage of it; however, if you, for example, catch the whole enemy team and the rest of your team takes advantage, blowing their own damaging ults, it will result in a team wipe for the enemies.
Even though it’s very strong, movement abilities, like Tracer’s Blink, can help enemies escape the pull of Graviton Surge’s gravity. Also, be careful if the enemy team has a Zarya, D.Va, Winston, Reinhardt, and especially Genji nearby. Zarya’s and D.Va’s shields destroy it, Winston’s and Reinhardt’s shields simply activate it on point of impact, and Genji can Deflect it towards your team, making it function as if it was used by enemy Zarya.
As you might have noticed, Zar-YAH is a complicated champion, requiring true skill to maximize her potential. The sad thing is that while you can definitely do great damage and protect yourself and allies from certain death with your two shields, it’s not as good as Reinhardt or Winston at stopping incoming damage or sowing chaos among enemies. One final tip: half of your health is composed of a shield. When you see yourself getting below 50%, duck out of the fight to allow the shield time to regenerate. This will help you stay in action longer. Finally, it’s Zar-YAH, not ZAR-yah. Remember that and good luck playing the Russian Muscle Tonks.