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Borderlands 3: How to use Action Skills and upgrade them

It’ll take more than guns to survive

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A character from Borderlands 3 shoots a winged creature from its hand Gearbox Software/2K Games

Borderlands 3 is all about the loot, but even if you’ve upgraded your inventory to carry all the guns and gear you can, you’ll need more than that to survive your time as a Vault Hunter.

Each of the four characters you get to choose from has unique skills to complement all the firearms and grenades they have access to. Their skills set them apart, so it’s worth considering which Borderlands 3 character to pick before getting started.

But even after you’ve looked over each skill for Amara, FL4K, Moze and Zane, you might be confused about how to use their Action Skills, especially since you don’t have access to them right at the start. So what are Action Skills, how do you use them and how can they be upgraded? We’ll explain below.

What are Action Skills?

Each character in Borderlands 3 has three different skill trees. You don’t gain access to those skills until you reach level 2, which happens after the first boss fight. The game will let you know that you’ve gained access to and run you through a short tutorial on how to choose and equip Action Skills. In a case you accidentally skipped over it or need a refresher, let’s run through the basics.

An information screen from Borderlands 3 explaining action skills Gearbox Software/2K Games via Polygon

After getting to level 2, an info card will appear on screen letting you know you’ve unlocked Action Skills. Depending on which character you chose, the way Action Skills work will be a bit different. But equipping skills is the same for all characters.

After unlocking the ability to equip Action Skills, open your character menu and navigate to the Skills menu. From there, you’ll see three skill trees represented by three colors (red, blue and green). Each set of skills revolves around a different play style for each character. So look over the skills before equipping them. And don’t worry: If you ever want to try out a different skill tree, you can always respec.

Once you select a skill, just press the Action Skill button to use it.

You can’t use this skill as much as you want. Each Action Skill has a unique cooldown, which you can see on the information panel on your skill screen.

An information panel about action skills in Borderlands 3 Gearbox Software/2K Games via Polygon

In the example above, we’ve highlighted FL4K’s “Rakk Attack!” skill in their Hunter skill tree. By pressing the Action Skill button, FL4K will send out two creatures that hit for a set amount of damage. You can use this skill twice before it goes on an 18-second cooldown.

FL4K’s other skills are radically different and totally changes the way you might play them. So when deciding on your first set of skills with any character, read over each Action Skill’s effects and cooldown times before making a selection.

How to upgrade skills

You won’t be able to upgrade your Action Skill for quite some time, but it’s possible. Upgrading skills changes the effect of Action Skill and makes them stronger or adds unique effects to them.

Action Skill Augments supplement Action Skills. Each of these requires several Action Points to even unlock the ability to equip them, so don’t expect to use these until you’re a few levels deep.

An info panel showing off action skill augments in Borderlands 3 Gearbox Software/2K Games

In the example above, we’ve selected the Action Skill Augment “Atomic Aroma” for FL4K’s Action Skill, “Gamma Burst.” Whenever we use Gamma Burst, this applies an additional effect to the attack. In FL4K’s case, we can add two augments to this action skill.

Note that Action Skill Augments understandably only affect that skill tree’s associated Action Skill. So while you can mix and match different perks between skill trees, Action Skill Augments only work on that skill tree’s unique talent.