Zane the Operative is the most flexible and versatile of the four Borderlands 3 characters, thanks to his unique ability to equip two Action Skills at once. But all that choice can also make things difficult as you try to decide how best to build him. In this Borderlands 3 Zane build guide, we've laid out 3 top-tier builds that you can use to get the most out of this wise-cracking Operative: one for Barrier & Digi-Clone, one for Barrier & SNTNL, and one for Digi-Clone & SNTNL.
Borderlands 3 Zane build guide
When it comes to creating a Zane build, the only aspect that stays permanent is his particular brand of Irish charm. Everything else is completely up in the air, because - more so than any other character - you can customise him however you want by mixing and matching the following skill trees:
- Hitman revolves around making use of lots of Kill Skills to make Zane more powerful and enhancing his damage with each life he or his SNTNL drone takes. If you want a high-damage Zane build, you'll need to invest at least partially in the Hitman skill tree.
- Doubled Agent gives you a great many ways to improve the utility of Zane's Digi-Clone Action Skill, and increases the benefits of having two Action Skills equipped. Synchronicity in particular is a must-have skill for almost any Zane build.
- Under Cover is the route to take if you want an incredibly tanky and survivable Zane build to play around with. Your Barrier Action Skill will only get more powerful (both defensively and offensively) as you progress down this tree.
Due to Zane's nature, the below builds each focus on a pair of Action Skills (Digi-Clone/SNTNL, Barrier/Digi-Clone, and Barrier/SNTNL), each offering a different way to upgrade and play as the Operative. As well as providing a detailed walkthrough of each build, I've also included a cheat sheet of the skill trees and skills acquired, as well as stars to indicate which skills would be particularly good to augment with Class Mods.
If you need a bit of a primer on the various Borderlands 3 characters and classes, look no further than our fully up-to-date Borderlands 3 characters & skill trees guide. If not, let's skip right ahead to the Zane builds! Click any of the links below to be brought to the build of your choice.
- Digi-Clone & SNTNL (High Damage) - Borderlands 3 Zane build
- Barrier & Digi-Clone (Tanky) - Borderlands 3 Zane build
- Barrier & SNTNL (Versatile) - Borderlands 3 Zane build
Digi-Clone, SNTNL, High Damage (Borderlands 3 Zane build)
- Borderlands 3 Zane build planner link: Digi-Clone & SNTNL
- Primary Skill Tree: Doubled Agent
- Build Focus: Sustained High Gun Damage
- Best Skills for Class Mods: Synchronicity (Highly Recommended), Donnybrook, Trick of the Light, Violent Speed, Violent Momentum
For those who want to take Zane down the uber-high-damage route, you'll probably want a build such as this one, which invests heavily in the Doubled Agent skill tree as well as the Hitman tree. With Digi-Clone and SNTNL as our Action Skills of choice, we're missing out on the tankiness provided by Barrier and the Under Cover skill tree, but in return we're getting two damage-based skills that can grow to become extremely powerful.
You've got some great early skill pickups across both skill trees for increasing your damage: namely the duo of Violent Speed and Violent Momentum, which begins the snowball of increasing damage based on movement speed; and particularly Synchronicity, which is definitely the skill that you'll want to prioritise over-charging with a good class mod. After that you can push on through the Doubled Agent tree by maxing out Donnybrook. Your aim is to reach Supersonic Man, Trick of the Light, and finally the Capstone that is Double Barrel as quickly as you can, because your damage will be just way ahead of the curve as you follow this route.
Heading back to the Hitman skill tree, you'll want to pickup both Drone Delivery and Death Follows Close (both of which are just indirect methods of further increasing your damage potential), and then investing your final points into Playing Dirty for the extra projectile chance. All this will have unlocked some excellent Skill Augments for both your Action Skills: Boomsday and Almighty Ordnance are the obvious choices for upping your SNTNL's damage to pretty stonking levels, while for Digi-Clone I've elected to go for one defensive and one offensive augment. Schadenfreude, as well as being an excellent term that makes me smile whenever I hear it, is a great pickup for increasing your survivability a little bit; but the real star of the show is Doppelbanger, which deals absolutely insane damage if you detonate your Clone very shortly after summoning it.
Barrier, Digi-Clone, Tanky (Borderlands 3 Zane build)
- Borderlands 3 Zane build planner link: Barrier & Digi-Clone
- Primary Skill Tree: Under Cover
- Build Focus: Very High Survivability
- Best Skills for Class Mods: Hearty Stock (Highly Recommended), Adrenaline, Synchronicity, Borrowed Time
If you'd prefer a tankier Zane build that makes you feel about as invulnerable as you can feel in Borderlands 3, this is the build for you. Investing heavily in Under Cover will ensure that you can take pretty much anything any enemy can throw at you (particularly useful for certain boss fights), while our remaining skills will be given to the Doubled Agent tree to keep our damage potential up to scratch.
Despite this being a tanky build, I'm of the opinion that damage is your priority in the early levels, so you should probably still start by picking up a good 3-5 Synchronicity. But after that, you should head back to Under Cover and build into Hearty Stock and Adrenaline (Ready For Action is also useful, but you can pick it up later on). Confident Competence, halfway down the Under Cover tree, is sort of like a mini-Capstone for the tree because it's so useful just from a single point assigned, so you should beeline towards that and try to reach it by Level 18 or so.
After this your aim is basically to go straight down the middle of the green tree, investing in Best Served Cold and Calm, Cool, Collected (both of which give you some lovely Cryo-based CC and utility), and finally the Distributed Denial Capstone. Meanwhile you should pick up the All-Rounder augment to turn your Barrier into a dome; and Nanites Or Some Shite, which we care about because of the fantastic shield recharge delay reduction (which combined with your points in Ready For Action will mean you regenerate shields at a ridiculous rate).
When that's all done it's time to head back to Doubled Agent to shore up your damage a bit. Fractal Frags and Duct Tape Mod are both great because they essentially just give you a reason for that grenade mod slot; and Quick Breather again acts as a mini-capstone of sorts which further improves your shield game by immediately starting to recharge the moment you switch with your Clone. Finally, the Skill Augments you'll want to pick up for your Digi-Clone are Schadenfreude (for obvious reasons) and Binary System, which again gives us some extra Cryo damage - never a bad thing.
By this point, there's basically nothing in the game that'll be able to topple you. Just throw out both your Action Skills whenever you can, and enjoy watching your shield basically never go down below 50%.
Barrier, SNTNL, Versatile (Borderlands 3 Zane build)
- Borderlands 3 Zane build planner link: Barrier & SNTNL
- Primary Skill Tree: Hitman
- Build Focus: Versatility, Balance Between Damage & Survivability
- Best Skills for Class Mods: Violent Speed, Violent Momentum, Violent Violence, Synchronicity, Adrenaline, Hearty Stock
So we've had two builds so far which cover opposite ends of the spectrum between high damage and high survivability. But if you're after a more flexible and versatile build, then this one lands you pretty much exactly in the middle of that spectrum. Combining the Hitman and Under Cover skill trees is probably the most unusual pairing we've seen so far, but you'll find that it'll allow Zane to have a great amount of agency in every fight, ducking in and out of danger, and causing mayhem with his high gun damage and many Kill Skills.
But before any of that, guess what! We're going to invest in Synchronicity. That's as far as we'll be going down the Doubled Agent tree, but the extra gun damage is just so useful when you're using two Action Skills as Zane (which you should always be doing - who needs grenades anyway?). After that I tend to build up Under Cover and our tankiness levels before heading over to the Hitman skill tree. So that means picking up Hearty Stock, Adrenaline, Stiff Upper Lip, and Confident Competence first and foremost. These four skills together have such fantastic synergy - high shield levels and damage resistance (tankiness) and then higher gun damage, accuracy, and Action Skill cooldown rate (damage).
You'll also unlock your two Barrier Augments of choice by doing this: All-Rounder (we love the dome) and Nanites Or Some Shite (better shields, hurrah!). But now comes the fun part. From this point onwards, we're putting every single point into Hitman. Of course, we'll start with the whambo-combo of Violent Speed and Violent Momentum - and here we see why it's useful to have a dome barrier: more space to remain highly mobile while still staying protected.
After that, with the exception of Cool Hand (reload speed we can do without) and Cold Bore (ditto with weapon swap speed), we're going to max out every single skill in the tree. Violent Violence and Playing Dirty are fantastic damage-dealing skill pickups, and once you pick up the capstone of Seein' Red, you'll be able to benefit from them instantly at the start of every fight when you use your Action Skills. With each new skill point you assign using this build, Zane will grow so much stronger, while still remaining versatile and flexible enough to accommodate pretty much any playstyle.
Alright, that's probably a good place to stop for the time being with our Borderlands 3 Zane build guide. Hopefully you've found a build or two that suits the way you want to play the Operative - and if not, why not go build your own using one of the above builds as a template?