Perhaps the best part of Borderlands 3 is the customization of its heroes. Okay, maybe shooting hordes of bandits, skags, and guardians is the best part, but discovering builds is a close second. Of the four playable characters, Zane the Operative is arguably the most versatile, with a balanced skill set that can excel at offense, defense, or utility.
In this guide, I’ve put together one of my favorite builds for Zane. It focuses on his Barrier action skill and the Under Cover skill tree, which I’ve chosen for a couple reasons. For one, I’m a coward who tends to be cautious. Hiding behind cover is one of my go-to strategies. I might as well be rewarded for it, right? Second, Zane’s Barrier is capable of significantly bumping up his damage output, which, for a defensive-minded player like myself, is a dream come true. Below, I’ve run down the skill choices for this build, and discuss the reasoning behind my choices. For those that want to follow along, here’s a link to the skill calculator on the official Borderlands 3 site.
A quick note: this build isn’t universal. What’s right for me may not fit with your personal play style. This loudout isn’t focused on crazy amounts of damage. It is great at providing support and utility to your and your team, which is my personal modus operandi when playing Borderlands 3. While you can play with this build solo, it’s not necessarily the quickest way to farm for Legendary and Anointed gear. You will, however, be able to tank basically anything the game throws at you.
Borderlands 3 Zane Barrier Build
The cornerstone of this Zane build is the Barrier action skill, which allows you to deploy a shield for you and your team to hide behind. Not only does it block incoming damage, it also amplifies gun damage for allies shooting through it. This loadout looks to capitalize on these two conditions by improving their effects and choosing complimentary skills. We dip into the Doubled Agent tree too. It offers a handful of great additions to a shield-centric build, giving Zane some much-needed late-game damage buffs.
Under Cover Tier 1 Skills
The first tier of the Under Cover skill tree presents three attractive passive abilities. I’ve gone with a full suite of skill points in Hearty Stock and Ready For Action. This is a shield-heavy build so Ready For Action is a must-have thanks to the increased shield recharge rate and a decrease in the recharge delay. By the same token, Hearty Stock raises the maximum capacity of your equipped shield, another no-brainer when putting together a Barrier build. I’ve left the Adrenaline skill untouched because, while cooldown reductions are always nice, we’re focused on maximizing our shield capabilities.
Under Cover Tier 2 Skills
When you hit the next tier of skills in the Under Cover tree, you’ll receive the first major buff to the Barrier action skill. The Charged Relay skill augment applies a movement and reload speed buff to allies who walk through the Barrier. For now, this augment is a great addition to Barrier’s utility, but we will be replacing it in time.
You’ll want to spend at least a few skill points on Brain Freeze here. Since we’re building around Zane’s support sensibilities in this situation, the crowd control that comes with slowing enemies down when landing critical hits is too good to pass up. As such, I’ve tossed three points into Brain Freeze. Next, I went with five points in Rise to the Occasion to give Zane up to 5% of his health back each second. Stiff Upper Lip’s damage resistance is also a good choice, but I prefer to pair Rise to the Occasion with the next tier’s Nanites or Some Shite augment for some truly bonkers health regeneration.
Under Cover Tier 3 Skills
Tier three of Under Cover has only one skill, but two new augments more than make up for it. Both Nanites or Some Shite and All-Rounder are exceptional augments. Once unlocked they’re unlikely to leave your skill bar. As mentioned, Nanites or Some Shite pairs well with Rise to the Occasion, almost doubling your maximum health regeneration per second. The reload speed and shield recharge bonuses aren’t bad either. All-Rounder is also an incredibly useful augment because turns your directional shield into a dome, providing much-needed rear defense.
Confident Competence, the tier’s lone passive ability, is a game changer. For a single skill point, Zane gets a boost to gun damage and accuracy while his shields are active. Since this is a shield-focused build it’s an instant purchase.
Under Cover Tier 4 Skills
By the time you hit tier four of the Under Cover tree, you must determine how you want to specialize Zane. For my money, Best Served Cold is the prime skill in the tier. With it, enemies explode in a frosty cryo nova when killed, dealing damage to other nearby enemies. It’s a great area-of-effect skill, which is something we lack until this point. Futility Belt is also great because it gives Zane resistance to non-elemental damage, and, upon killing an enemy, all damage is converted to non-elemental. This is great because we skipped Stiff Upper Lip back in tier two and lack much in the way of elemental resistances.
We recommend skipping over the Deterrence Field augment as it is far too situational to be of much use. Most enemies—the most dangerous ones, anyway—are likely to be out of melee range. Retaliation is a great augment on paper, but its bonuses aren’t enough to make it more attractive than Nanites or Some Shite or All-Rounder.
Under Cover Tier 5 Skills
Tier five offers bonuses for freezing enemies. You’re likely going to want to pick up at least a couple of Cryo element weapons by this point. Calm, Cool, Collected will instantly begin recharging your shields when you freeze an enemy, which, again, is great for this shield-dependent build. I also like Nerves of Steel here because it rewards keeping your shield topped off.
Under Cover Tier 6 Skills
The capstone of the Under Cover skill tree is Distributed Denial, which gives Zane’s Barrier the abilities of his currently-equipped shield mod. This is a gear-dependent ability that is useful only if you’re wearing Legendary shields like Re-Chargers and Big Boom Blasters. Stop Gap mods in particular compliment our Barrier build thanks to the invincibility benefits gained upon shield breaks. Whiskey Tango Foxtrots also pairs well with Distributed Denial, as your Barrier is going to be under near-constant attack. For this reason, take Distributed Denial only if you’ve got the mod to make it useful. Otherwise, the rest of your skill points go into the Doubled Agent tree.
Doubled Agent Skills
If you’re following along at home, we’ve got 20 skill points to play with. I’ve found the Doubled Agent tree and the Digi-Clone action skill are the best compliments to the Barrier build we’ve got going. Smart use of our remaining points will provide us with great mods and make Zane a bit more viable in the damage department. Here’s what I like:
By sinking a full five points into Synchronicity, throwing down your Barrier and activating your Digi-Clone yields you a 40% increase in gun damage, an absolutely enormous gain. This is a must-have.
Because Synchronicity benefits from having our Action Skills active, it makes sense that we’d want them to be active for longer. A full stack of Borrowed Time adds 15% to the duration of Action Skills, meaning you’ll be doing more damage for a longer period of time.
Fractal Frags & Duct Tape Mod
With one more point investment, Fractal Frags lets Zane begin to passively hurl grenades around the battlefield. Couple this with five points in Duct Tape Mod and you’ll be up to your neck in explosions.
This skill is great because it benefits our already robust shield mod functionality. Swapping places with your Digi-Clone immediately causes your shields to begin recharging, which is a great way to recuperate during a hectic fight. Coupled with our other skills, Zane’s shields surge back.
I dropped my last three points into Supersonic Man because we’re already benefiting from having our Action Skills active and we might as well gain a movement speed bonus while we’re at it.
Doubled Agent Skill Augments
I’ve chosen Schadenfreude and Digital Distribution as my two Digi-Clone augments . Schadenfreude is yet another boost to our shield utility, which, at this point, makes it an obvious inclusion to this build. The reason why Digital Distribution is my second augment choice is because it allows us to double down on Zane’s survivability. This build is already heavy on tankiness, and Digital Distribution lets us lean further in that direction.
And that’s it! Have your own favorite Borderlands 3 Zane build? Leave a link to it in the comments below!