DragonStrike was a unique game in several aspects. First of all, it was the first dragon riding simulation ever. As a Solamic Knight, you were battling across the world of AD&D (Dragonlance, to be exact), riding a dragon and destroying everything in sight. In addition to riding the dragon, you had to take care of the beast: feed it, let it rest, etc... Resting was quite easy - you just sailed down the sky when you were safe. Feeding it, on the other hand, proved to be lots of fun: your dragon could eat cows or enemy soldiers. Without descending into blood and gore, the game gave you the idea.
The second unique aspect of the game was the use of vector-based graphics. In fact, this was one of the first games to use these graphics. This enabled the designers to create a very plastic world; almost no terrain was flat. You flew through canyons or over lush pastures, but the terrain always varied. The designers tried to do the same with the creatures and other units. However, these looked really sterile in vector graphics; fortunately the creators included an option to switch into bitmapped graphics here.
The last and least visible unique aspect of the game was the world where this game took place. While there were games taking place in the Dragonlance world before, this was the first game to use the 2nd Edition AD&D rules.
In this game, you assume the role of a knight who rides a dragon. As one of the elite units of the army, your main task is clearing the skies of enemy dragons and support for the ground or naval troops. Your army has the task to cleanse the continent off the enemy. You start out on a small island off the coast. After getting rid of a few enemies and supporting the initial invasion of the continent, you will be thrown into twenty or so more missions, ranging from dogfights in arctic regions to a full-scale multi-dragon battle in the deep south. As the game progresses, you will notice that the story is greatly dependent on the choices you make and the outcome of the missions. In fact, the story is very non-linear, which greatly increases the replay value of the game.
When fighting, you will have three main weapons: the dragon breath, the dragon claws and a lance. While the dragon breath is the most devastating weapon, it needs some time recharging, during which you'll be hard-pressed to use the claws and lance. To make matters worse, there are several types of dragons, most of them immune to a certain type of dragon breath. The type is dependent upon which dragon you are riding. As you play, you will have the choice to be promoted to better knightly orders, each with a different dragon. Yet, even the best dragon does not assure victory.
Both you and the dragon are vulnerable. You have a certain amount of hit points, which are extremely hard to regenerate, which makes the game more challenging and exciting. Due to the sheer number of missions, every hit point counts, and even lesser enemies can wear you down. However, once you encounter Death Dragons, you will realize that everything else in the game (including yourself) is the lesser enemy. I am sorry to say, but this is one of the problems with the game. While the learning curve is flat at the beginning, it just jumps up a lot at a certain point. You may have been comfortable before, but if you didn't mind to lose a considerable amount of hit points before, you will have to restart the game and try to do better in the first few missions.
Among other negative aspects I've encountered, I'd mention only two: low simulation level and claw to claw battles. The level of flight simulation is pretty low: the dragon does not lose altitude when turning sharply, and it is much faster than any of your enemies. The claw to claw battles are very long and frustrating. You can do almost nothing to influence the battles, which are more based on luck than anything else.
Overall, however, this is a very entertaining game. It is unique, offers superb graphics (for a 12-years old game) and feels like the designers have built it with lots of enthusiasm and love. It is one of the few games by Westwood that have their own personality, and where the gamers' side of the designers prevailed.
About the authors
This was one of only two games designed by Louis Castle and Brett Sperry (the other being the highly underrated Mines of Titan a year earlier). Soon, their paths parted. While remaining in the same company, Louis Castle concentrated on producing games, while Brett Sperry stuck with design. Sperry became known as the creator of the highly acclaimed Command and Conquer universe, which was partially produced by Castle. After the release of Command and Conquer: Renegade, which posted rather disappointing sales, the two parted ways. Sperry was laid off by Electronic Arts, which owns Westwood, despite the vehement protests of Castle, who runs the Westwood division.