Co-written by UTDC.Justin
(Updated to 6.61b)
Zeus remains one of the most popular heroes in DotA. Not only is he incredibly fun to play in public games, but he is considered so powerful that he is a worthy pick in competitive games. Although he does not have an escape mechanism, he is one of the few non-stun Intelligence heroes to see competitive play. Zeus is not too complex of a hero: He has insane burst damage early game, with great scaling lategame thanks to Static Field, and a global nuke that is perhaps one of the most annoying skills in all of DotA.
Basic Skill Use
Arc Lightning: A great skill for finishing off creeps, harassing and controlling a lane. With static field the damage it does is highly significant.
Lightning Bolt: A very powerful single-target nuke that not only does 350 damage at level 4, but also gives true sight.
Static Field: This skill enables Zeus spells to effectively scale lategame since it does a percentage of HP.
Thundergod's Wrath: A global nuke that is extremely useful for comboing, finishing off heroes, granting vision, and in team battles, it adds effective AoE.
Level 1 - Arc Lightning
Level 2 - Static Field
Level 3-5 - Lightning Bolt
Level 6 - Thundergod's Wrath
Level 7 - Lightning Bolt
Level 8-10 - Static Field
Level 11 - Thundergod's Wrath
Level 12-15 - Attribute Bonuses
Level 16 - Thundergod's Wrath
Bolt and Wrath are maxed as soon as possible since they are his most powerful spells. Static Field is gotten immediately afterwards instead to add multiple-target damage during team fights.
While it is true Arc Lightning has been been mechanically fixed (you can now cast it again before it finishes bouncing - you lose valuable Static Field damage if you leveled it), getting it instead of Static Field and valuable stats early on has little value.
In some cases, you can get additional levels for pushing or getting rid of creeps quickly if absolutely necessary but you do NOT want to lose out on the mana availability to Bolt or Wrath.
In rare occasions sometimes you might want to go:
I'll explain that more later in soloing.
Nulls/Bracers: I started getting 3 nulls instead of arcane ring when Nerubian Assassin was popular. I feel that maximum hp / mana is very important on fragile int heroes: Feel free to make bracers instead.
Point Booster: Since a lot of battles are 2v2 3v3 or whatever from full health to death, mass hp is the most important factor for survival. Point Booster provides great hp/mana for its cost.
Bottle: Enables you to control the lane, have regen, and if you are soloing mid, collecting runes is very essential to your game.
Aghanim's Scepter: The natural and easy buildup that includes the point booster for a lower cost makes this item a worthy addition and will nicely supplement your mana pool and ultimate.
Guinsoo's Scythe of Vyse: Lategame, having a guinsoo will work wonders for your team - great stats, imba range, and mana regen, and of course hex is a priceless ability.
Boots of Travel: It is a standard choice on Zeus for mobility and movespeed.
Additional Item Discussion
Arcane Ring: You dont see many people going for mana regen or arcane because those only help with the laning phase and since zeus is such a glass cannon, he is often focused first. However, it can provide pushing power in the right lineup.
Phase Boots or Boots of Travel?
I would definitely say that Phase Boots is a core item if you are in a dual lane with Zeus, while getting Phase Boots is situational if you are soloing. Just take a look at your team. If there are gankers on your team with BoT (such as Earthshaker, Tinker, etc.) then you should more than likely get BoTs as well to assist them in ganking. That is the only time I would say to 'definitely' get BoT over Phase Boots, and again, that is only if you are soloing and farming rather well. Otherwise, the choice is up to you. But if you get Phase Boots in 100% of your games, nobody is going to criticize your item selection. Just be at the right place at the right time, which is much easier said than done.
Other Lategame Items: If you farm more than a guinsoo etc., you are probably farming too much (taking away from carries) or not fighting enough, or both. Zeus is still very potent late game, but reserve the farm for heroes on your team who are more item dependent.
Early Game: For starters, its 4 branches + 3 clarities + eaters (tangoes). Since I tend to solo middle when I play Zeus, I rush bottle to get the quick lane advantage. Usually my build is 3 nulls, boots, tp scrolls, and bottle.
Attack Animation: His wind-up (frontswing) is very long, but you can use that to your advantage to S-cancel your attack and out-lasthit your opponent. Many players rely on Arc Lightning too much.
Lane Control: Arc pushes the lane and is also dependent on clarity potions, but pushing the lane also gives you free time to check the runes, so you have to weigh both choices. Both Arc and Bolt have a range of 700, enabling you to stay out of danger when casting.
Strong Enemies: Against a good laner, Bolt/Stats build is needed sometimes against Shadow Fiend or Silencer. It is important to get early last hits against SF, and stats helps with both allied/denied units (obviously, Arc only works for offensive purposes). When dealing with a really problematic hero like Broodmother, make sure you keep a tp scroll on you at level 6 and definitely go Arc. Try to rune whore it with bottle while keeping sentries up (from teammates) and you should do ok. Go gank the side lanes
Oh, maybe try out the stats/bolt build a few times so you can work on last hitting with zeus
The 5 MYM|Merlini Golden Rules
1. Always Lightning Bolt before Arc
It may seem better to Arc before Bolt to get maximum effect from Static Field but if you Arc first you may lose your opponent in the fog
2. Always ALWAYS watch your positioning
Lightning Bolt has a hell of a long range, Thundergod's Wrath has infinite range, and Arc has pretty damn long range too, so there is almost no reason to be up close and personal in battle unless you are chasing down heroes.
3. Wrath for Vision
When trying to kill low hp heroes (low, but not low enough for Wrath only) in hard to navigate areas (e.g. below sentinel bottom right tower), use Wrath to gain vision of your enemy so you can Bolt them to death.
4. Share control with your allies
Communicating to a teammate to do something is always much slower than doing it yourself.
5. Abuse Bolt Range
Try to ninja that extra Bolt in before team fights actually start - it has ridiculous range and helps in battles way more than you think.
The Zeus Clip
Alright, somebody pointed me out to some of the more constructive criticisms in the thread and I'll try to expound on some of the finer points of Zeus. Some people may say that I'm holding something back in my description of how to play the Lord of Olympia; however, I feel that this is more of a reference to my personal playstyle. There are many different ways to play Zeus and I don't want to say that one particular style is better than another. Some games you gank a lot because the other team has a lot of late game, you have good ganking heroes, and your support player is badass at taking out enemy wards. Some games you have to settle for farming for the first 15-20 minutes because your opponents have vision of the whole entire map or you have better late game and are turtling until late game. Because a lot of the playstyle depends on the exact situation of the game, I choose not to explain the intricacies of play that may change from game to game.
Zeus only has 3 nukes. He is not a very difficult hero to play per se. How difficult can a hero be if they don't have any difficult to use spells (Earthshaker's Fissure, Meepo's chain netting/poofing)? Some people use this same argument to relegate Skeleton King to a noob hero. After all, he only has 1 activated skill (3 passives!?!?). But of course, it is easy to tell the difference between an experienced Skeleton King from a first-timer. Things to note include how aggressive the player is, the timing of the actual stun (are his teammates close?), target of the stun, target of attack, map awareness, etc. But these are things that come with many many games played, not something that can easily be taught in a guide. However, maybe there are some skilled maneuvers that can be taught in a guide, and I'll try to the best of my ability:
1. Lightning Bolt has a very short mini-stun. Some uses are obvious - canceling tps, canceling long channeled spells (Black Hole, Shackle). Others are less obvious. Canceling blink animation of QoP. Interrupting the delicate timing of Earthshaker's Blink Echo, Fissure, Enchant Totem combo. Canceling 1 of your opponent's attacks. The last one may seem ridiculous, who cares about just one attack? My argument is that, in the solo lane, everything matters. One gank, one extra attack thrown in, can upset the balance in one person's favor. Use the mini-stun to maximum effectiveness!
2. Zeus is one of the rare heroes that can see an opponent in a fight without the opponent seeing Zeus. Other heroes that can do this are Bloodseeker, Alchemist, etc. When you bring a fight to a place heavily obscured by fog, Zeus has a huge advantage if you can get a Lightning Bolt or Wrath off. You can cast spells/attack normally (as can your allies) while your enemy is still searching for you in the fog. It's like creating your own hill. I abuse this aspect of Zeus more than anybody I think, and this can dramatically improve your Zeus play.
3. Going along with the first point, Zeus only has one way to cancel tps. This can be an issue when you are ganking heroes with relatively high hp left because an enemy needs to feel threatened in order to tp. Typically you start off a gank with a Lightning Bolt / Arc Lightning combo, then recast each spell when you can and Wrath if needed. A skilled opponent will just tp after your first Lightning Bolt then you are shit out of luck because of the 7 second cooldown. If you save bolt for his tp, then he'll just run away (and he surely won't die from Arc Lightning spam). Sometimes forcing an opponent to tp out is almost as good as killing them. They lose out on a lot of farm and they won't be able to tp assist their teammates for another 60 seconds. But if you really want to kill somebody and you think that they will tp out safely, you could actually start off with Wrath then arc, to fake your opponent out into thinking that you bolted them first (the animation is the same), then bolt when they tp. There is no mini-stun on Wrath, but if your enemy is so observant that he notices that, then he probably deserves to survive anyways. Most people just think, "Oh fuck, Zeus!" and run away panicking.
I'll try to add more of these detailed descriptions of specifics if I can think of any more. Good luck in your Zeus endeavors!
Q&A / Comments
Why not get level 2 Arc against dual lanes?
Getting Level 2 Arc means that you have to sacrifice a level of Lightning Bolt or a level of Static Field before level 8 (which is a big deal). I advise just waiting until some creeps die so that Arc will hit all 5 targets instead of leveling up Arc in this case.
Why not get Arc/Bolt/Bolt/Static/Bolt instead of Arc/Static/Bolt/Bolt/Bolt?
If you start spamming at level 3 (when the build is actually different), then mathcrafting it:
It's 65 mana for 85 damage + 5% of Current HP (~25 hp) + almost a guaranteed creep. 95 mana for 175 damage. I value the former choice over the latter. And I don't usually spam bolt until level 5 anyways unless I'm at full mana (rare) or I think I can get a kill. Another argument for static at level 2.
How is Eul's for Zeus?
I view Eul has an item well suited for very few heroes. The heroes that I like to get it on are Lion and maybe Rhasta. I think that there are much better item choices for intel heroes. If you are looking for survivability, the same gold (~3200 for Eul's) can get you an Ulti Orb and Point Booster for huge stats gain. Eul's offers no strength or hp, so if you get it on Zeus, you are a very fragile int hero with just Cyclone (not much) as an escape mechanism. I view the almost 400 hp given by the PB/Ulti Orb combo far more valuable because it will help you survive chain stuns and it allows much more room for error so to speak. Sometimes you have to be really quick on the Cyclone to survive while straight up HP will get you through a lot of situations. Also, Sheep is unquestionably far superior to Cyclone (although it costs almost twice as much), and since Zeus probably won't be getting that many items, working ultimately towards a Guinsoo will serve you far better than a Eul's in my opinion. The comparison of mana regen is almost nonexistent - if you are in dire need of regen, you can get an early Void Stone that will help towards your Scythe as well. Eul's components are much easier to farm; however, if you have trouble farming, I would just suggest getting 4 bracers/nulls and tp scrolls and learn how to fight without a huge item advantage.
In short, Zeus is a glass cannon. His firepower is incredible but his defensive abilities are lacking. If you are one of those people that believe that the best defense is a good offense, then you'll love Zeus. He is easily focused down when out of position (as are most non-strength heroes), but if you make good use of fog, know when to move in and out of battle, have extremely good awareness of your surroundings, and love last hitting with a shitty attack animation, then you can give Zeus the loving he needs to nurture him into a true Thunder Badass.