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Zarya guide - 2017 - Overwatch

Our updated guide to tanking like a pro with Overwatch's Zarya.

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About John Bedford

John is a freelance writer based in West Sussex.

Updated 9th March 2017: Our next Overwatch guide explains how to master Zarya, with tonnes of tips for making the most of her powerful tanking abilities.

Zarya isn't exactly the most robust Tank hero in Overwatch, but to make up for a comparatively small health pool she is capable of dishing out an impressive amount of damage thanks to her barriers and her deadly Particle Cannon. The precise way in which this system works is pretty unusual though, even by Overwatch's outlandish standards.

Whenever Zarya - or one of her allies - is under the protection of one of these shields, any damage that lands on that barrier will be converted into energy that in turn increases the strength of her weapon. These shields are on relatively awkward cooldowns though - and they don't last particularly long either - so careful timing is a vital part of mastering this hero.

All things considered, we think Zarya is one of the toughest tanks to master in Overwatch, but also one of the most rewarding if you persevere. In the wrong hands, she can be something of a liability for any team composition - on any map - but a skilled Zarya player can be a one-woman wrecking machine on the battlefield.

In the next of our Overwatch hero guides, we'll explain exactly how Zarya's unique abilities can be blended together, and set out some very useful tips to help you get ahead of the competition quickly. In the coming weeks we'll also be adding some map-specific advice for the hero, and outlining how she stacks up against the rest of the hero roster in the ever-shifting Overwatch metagame.

Editor's note - March 2017 update: We've not updated our Zarya guide for a little while now, so we've taken the opportunity to tidy things up, add some new map-specific advice (with more of this to come), and also updated the cosmetic items list. You'll also find a great video guide for getting started with this tank made by YouTuber Stylosa.

A new event has just hit Overwatch! Check out our essential Retribution guide for all the tips, tricks and strategy advice you need to master this new PVE mode.

Zarya's abilities and strategy tips

Zarya is one of the more unusual tanks in Overwatch, and having a good understanding of her unique abilities is essential if you're going to be of much use to your team. Here's a quick look at all of her core skills, and how they interact with one another.

Particle Beam [LMB] - Zarya's default weapon allows her to fire a beam of energy at a single target, although you should be aware that it will not penetrate any barriers or shields that are currently protecting your prey. Keep in mind as well that the strength of this weapon is increased whenever Zarya's various shields take damage - more on this a little further on in this section.

Explosive Charge [RMB] - This alternative weapon mode shoots an explosive charge that damages the first enemy it hits, and then delivers a small amount of splash damage to any nearby enemies. Save Explosive Charge for when you need to hit an enemy who's further away or is hiding within - or behind - a structure. All up-close and personal combat should be undertaken using Particle Beam as it's simply much stronger overall.

Particle Barrier [LSHIFT] - By activating this ability, Zarya gains a protective shield which absorbs incoming damage and directs it into her Particle Cannon, increasing her own personal damage output. It only lasts a couple of seconds and has a ten second cooldown, so you need to time your use of it quite carefully. Each point of energy gained by Zarya is converted to 1% bonus damage, but do remember that this boost decays over time.

Projected Barrier [E] - To improve the up-time of your turbo-charged weapons, Zarya has a second barrier which can be applied to teammates. Like its Particle Barrier cousin, the Projected Barrier both absorbs damage being aimed at your friends, and increases the strength of Zarya's weapon. Note that this particular barrier has a shorter cooldown and can absorb twice as much damage. As a result it's vital that you keep this barrier up as much as possible, in addition to your own personal shield.

Graviton Surge [Q] - Now we're onto the good stuff. Zarya's Ultimate is a deadly bomb that explodes on impact with a environmental surface, drags every enemy inwards, and then keeps them pinned in place for a few seconds. This, of course, provides an excellent opportunity for your team to pile in with everything they've got and obliterate the enemy - you yourself should throw an Explosive Charge or two into the mix. Don't be too cocky though, as the heroes grabbed by this Ultimate can still use their own abilities.

Energy [PASSIVE] - There's nothing much to say about this that hasn't already been covered! This is merely the passive mechanic through which Zarya translates incoming damage into weapon strength.

AbilityHPAmmoFire RateDurationCooldown/ReloadShield StrengthDamageRange
Particle Cannon [LMB]40010020 RPS-1.5-~95 DPS16m
Particle Cannon [RMB]-1001 RPS---452m
Particle Barrier----2s10s200-
Projected Barrier----2s8s20030m
Graviton Surge---4s4s-5.5 p/s9m

Juggling Zarya's barriers takes a little bit of time to get used to, but there are a few general gameplay tips you can brush up on in advance.

Here are some of the best tips unearthed by the community since the game went live last year.

  • If you're playing against Zarya, make sure you know exactly what her barriers look like. They will expire after a short amount of time, but if you blast away into them you're only feeding her weapon!
  • You have some visual aids to indicate how charged-up Zarya's weapon. Not only does the weapon get louder, your crosshair also changes appearance, and the ball of electrictiy sitting atop Zarya's gun glows bigger and brighter!
  • Focus on the biggest, easiest-to-hit part of your enemy. Unlike many other weapons in the game, the Particle Cannon does not do any extra damage when it's aimed into the side of someone's head.
  • As a general rule you want to wait until you or your allies are actually taking damage before activating either of your shields. They don't last long and have a reasonably long cooldown, so you've got to make the most of that damage boost at all times. If you pre-emptively apply a shield, most players are smart enough to simply delay the fight until the shield goes down.
  • Keep one eye on your Support characters at all times. If you see one of them coming under heavy fire, or they've been separated from the pack in any way, toss a Projected Barrier on them quickly.
  • The alternate fire mode of Particle Cannon requires you to compensate for drop-off, so spend a bit of time practising your aim. It won't take you long to master making the necessary adjustments, but it's something to keep in mind when you're starting out.
  • Try to remember that the splash damage dealt out by Explosive Charge will also damage Zarya if she's caught up in it. If you're that close to your target, you should probably be using Particle Beam anyway!
  • If a massive spike of damage - greater than the strength of a given shield - hits a shielded ally, it will absorb the whole lot and disappear immediately. Any leftover damage will not be transferred onto the target.
  • If you fire Graviton Surge and it hits an enemy barrier then the effect will not go off and you will just have thrown your Ultimate way. Aim it into the ground to be sure of having the detonation go off.
  • Assuming you're playing with a reasonably well-coordinated team, try waiting until your team's Ultimates are ready before firing off your own. Stacking these together could well mean a total wipeout for the enemy team.

Map-specific advice for Zarya

Here's a little extra advice for how you can use Zarya to greater effect on the many maps of Overwatch.

Zarya: Assault tips (Hanamura, Temple of Anubis, Volskaya Industries)

Make sure you are applying your friendly shields liberally if you're playing on the attacking team, in order to assist with the initial push. These are particularly useful when trying to breach those tricky early-game choke-points that are common.

Keep the lines of communication with your teammates open as much as possible, as Zarya's Ultimate is best played in conjuction with another. You can easily imagine how useful this kind of teamwork can be on these sorts of maps, where enemies frequently cluster around a capture point.

Zarya: Control tips (Ilios, Lijiang Tower, Nepal)

Zarya can be a pretty strong tank on these sorts of maps as she can provide an offense as well as a defensive boost for your team. Communication is vital though, as your Ultimate can swing point control hard. Make sure you're combining it with an Offense teammate to capitalise on the opportunity your own Ultimate represents.

Zarya: Escort tips (Dorado, Route 66, Watchpoint: Gibraltar)

Coming soon!

Zarya: Hybrid tips (Hollywood, King's Row, Numbani)

Coming soon!

Unit Lost's Zarya guide

If you'd rather get a look at Zarya in action before heading into battle with her, here's Unit Lost's overview of playing this tank.

Zarya counters and match-ups

As with all heroes in Overwatch there are certain characters that Zarya can come unstuck against, and other heroes that she counters particularly well. Here's a quick look at how she compares to the rest of the roster in a top-three format.

Zarya is strong againstZarya is weak against

The nature of Zarya's shielding effects means she's an incredible counter to anyone who specialises in picking off the backline characters. Think of Widowmaker targeting those caught breaking cover, or a Roadhog pulling squishy characters away from the pack.

Any characters with strong mobility, such as D.Va, Genji and Winston, should be closely monitored. I you see them heading towards one of your friends, throw a shield on the target fast.

Anyone who can get up close to Zarya and deliver burst damage to bring her down represents a particular threat. Characters like Reaper - and even an agile Tracer - can get the job done here. If Roadhog lands a clean hook on her as well, she loses much of her potential in battle.

Zarya's quite slow all round, and that means if players are savvy enough to not play into her shield games, she can be taken down pretty quickly whenever she's exposed.

For help with other heroes, make sure you check out our complete Overwatch: Counters guide.

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Zarya's Skins, Victory Poses, Emotes and Voice Lines

If you're bored of Zarya's vanilla looks and poses, you can spend some of your Credits on new customisation options, or cross your fingers and hope the Loot Box gods are feeling kind.

Here's a quick breakdown of everything you can currently unlock for this character.

Siberian Front1000Legendary
Bring It On250Epic
Comedy Gold250Epic
Crush You250Epic
Pumping Iron250Epic
Take A Knee250Epic
Mystery GiftSeasonalLegendary
Victory Pose
Check Out This Gun75Rare
Voice Line
For The MotherlandSeasonalCommon
Get Down, Give Me 2025Common
Get PumpedSeasonalCommon
I Am Mother Russia25Common
I Can Bench More Than You25Common
I Will Break You25Common
In Russia, Game Plays You25Common
Need Personal Training?25Common
Never Forget The FallenSeasonalCommon
No Mercy25Common
No Pain, No GainSeasonalCommon
Siberian Bear25Common
Strong As The MountainN/ACommon
Together We Are Strong25Common
Welcome To The Gun Show25Common
Highlight Intro
Maximum Charge250Epic
This Is Strength250Epic

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