“Nobody has really made story the central pillar of an MMO game,” said Dallas Dickinson during the behind-closed-doors demo of Bioware’s highly-anticipated MMO. The Old Republic will be the first game to do it, he claimed. The game’s stunning E3 trailer (showing the Sacking of Corsucant) had us salivating at the prospect of an all-new Star Wars tale, but from the live gameplay footage we saw today, we think Bioware may just be right.We were shown gameplay involving three of the game’s classes: Bounty Hunter, Smuggler and Sith. First up Dickinson showed us the Planet Hutta (the rather skanky home planet of the Hutts), the venue for the Great Hunt, a competition to find the greatest bounty hunter in the galaxy. Our character was tasked with making contact with his mentor and we had our first glimpse of NPC interaction. The Old Republic is the first ever fully-voiced MMO and the cutscene we saw as the player character interacted with his mentor, Bradan, showed off some solid voice acting, and cinematic style. As in previous Bioware titles the player is given conversational options, done via a wheel system and Dickinson explained that your choice will affect how NPCs view your character. After meeting Bradan, we headed outside and saw our first view of the external game world.The visual style is described as “stylised realism” and we were told that the game’s “almost painterly” appearance provided the dev team with much more freedom than they would have if they tried to make the game look photorealistic. In outdoor environments, the game looks detailed and displays an impressive draw distance.The second class we saw was the recently-announced Smuggler, allowing players to indulge their Han Solo fantasies and it was here that we got a good look at the combat on offer and the first ever cover system in an MMO. The Smuggler favours ranged combat and can take cover behind certain pieces of scenery which are clearly indicated on screen. From here he gains combat advantages over other classes and Dickinson confirms that not all classes will have access to cover. And, just for good measure, he showed what happens when a Smuggler gets up close and personal by kicking an enemy swiftly in the junk.Finally, we saw what Bioware described as an “action flashpoint” featuring Sith and Bounty Hunter players and it was here that the developer’s claims about the story began to ring true. Our players were travelling on an Imperial transport when they were ordered to relieve the ship’s captain of his command after he disobeyed an order. “Story drives choice and choice drives action,” said Dickinson as he gave the assembled journos in the room the option of killing or sparing then captain. Despite this writer’s hungover bloodlust, the consensus was to spare him and Dickinson explained that this decision would have both short and long term implications. As the ship dropped out of hyperspace and was attacked by Republican ships, we were told that the captain’s experience would come in handy and the players were advised to head down to the shuttle bay to repel the attack. Then the action really picked up as our Sith and Bounty Hunter took on Republican troops, a Jedi and his Padwan in a battle in which we saw lightsaber action and, Vader favourite, the force choke. Once they had defeated the invaders they were able to loot the bodies. “What’s cooler than a lightsaber,” asked Dickinson. “Two lightsabers.”Our first glimpse of the Old Republic felt all too brief and despite our various pleas there was nothing more to show. However, what we did see was undoubtedly impressive, especially the cinematic approach to conversation and storytelling. Dickinson told us to look out for people on the show floor wearing “I saved the captain” badges to find out how differently the final section of the demo plays out if you choose the other option. We’ll let you know what we find out.